Ruben, Paul Alan. “Terms of Engagement: Stories of the Father and Son”, Larkin Books, 2018.
A Short Story Collection
There are some things than can be learned from reading and there are others that knowledge comes from hands-on experience. Nothing prepared me for what I would face in the classroom when I began teaching for the first time. All of the education courses I took as an undergrad and as a grad student did not prepare me for the experiences I met and even my student teaching experience did little for me to see the reality of having my own classroom. I think the same is true of parenting. Yes, books help but they are no substitute to the real thing. After all, a child is our most precious challenge probably because he is an extension of our own selves.
In nine short stories, Paul Rubens shares intimate information bout father and sons and how each desires to understand the other. Fathers and sons crave validation from each other and we see here how that validation comes about… or, doesn’t. These are not sweet stories; they are, rather, stories of the engagement of fathers and sons at times when collision and not collusion seems to take over. Each side seeks to repair the damage dome by the other side and what is so interesting is that there is always some kind of damage, some point from which to start building a relationship. At least, I believe that is true today when so many fathers and sons were born in America and away from the ideas of the old countries. I know I could never have had the kind of relationship that I read about here with my father; he just did not have the skills to make it work. But time and fathers change as we see here. I found my heart broken more than once in these stories of real fathers and sons. I believe that we live at a time in which we ca actually define in concrete terms what is a father and what is a son.
Of course, I wondered before I read this whether it is possible to use fiction as a guide to parenting but then I realized we have been using the Bible as a guide for living for hundreds of years and much of it is fiction. Next I asked myself if there are “terms of engagement for how to conduct a war or make peace” and the answer to that comes in reading the stories here. Parenting requires consciousness and dealing with challenges. I have noticed that the area between father and son has narrowed compared to what it was when I was a child. I see fathers and sons who are friends and who share intimacies, something that I could never have done. But this can also be a problem as we read here. Before a father can raise his son, he must raise himself to become an adult father and grown-up human being.
Because the stories here are fiction, I believe that it is important to stress that fiction often mirrors society and there is always some truth in fiction. I also believe that we must consider the father as hero, role model, and source of masculine identity and the son’s profound identification with his father.
Rubens sees father and son as “intimate enemies” and he explores the themes in his stories that have led to that. There is a lot here and I found myself returning to some of the stories several times because there is so much here to think about and to me, at least, that is a sign of good writing.