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On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright's Father Begs a Boon

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Summary

A dying father confesses his lifelong hatred of his son to someone he presumes to be a priest, but is actually the son himself.

Characters

  • The Father
  • You

Themes/Motifs

Hideousness

As this story occurs in the book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, it is unsurprising that hideousness would appear so strongly and in such a complicated way. At the beginning, the reader sees The Father as the hideous man. He describes the birth of his son, that terribly unpleasant and painful act that perhaps no one described to him well enough, but that everyone knows is not a walk in the park. This was quickly followed by sentences like the following: “The selfishness, the appalling selfishness of the newborn, you have no idea” (257). But of course newborns are selfish. That’s how it goes. They know nothing except whether or not their needs are met, and like the pain of giving birth, The Father should have known this. It seemes The Father looks only at those unhappy aspects of having children, rather than the pleasant ones that cause people to have children in the first place. For some reason, he was predisposed to despise his son.

But as the story continues, The Father provides some convincing evidence about why his son was worth despising. Describing his son’s medical problems: “My son oozed, exuded, flaked, suppurated, dribbled from every quadrant” (259). Certainly the reader can see how that would be difficult to be around all the time, to have to love and support something that was physically not pleasant. But the father started out from the very beginning not liking his son, so this is not enough proof that the son is actually despicable. The scene that is probably the most poignant on this matter is the one in which he describes the son eating chocolate in the living room and then throwing an enormous tantrum when asked not to do so. The way he describes this event leaves no room for anything but sympathy:

“and with his mouth crammed with candy and chewing at it even as the tantrum began, puling and stamping his feet and shrieking now at the top of his lungs in the living room even as his mouth was filled with chocolate, that open red mouth filled with mashed candy which mixed with his spittle and as he howled overran his lip as he howled and stamped up and down and running down his chin and shirt, and peering timidly over the top of the paper held like a shield as I sat willing myself to remain in the chair and say nothing and watching now his mother down on one knee trying to wipe the chocolate drool off his chin as he screamed at her and batted the napkin away” (262).

After this, it is impossible to think of the son as anything but hideous, and the reader is likely to have completely switched sides, now considering The Father just a poor old man. But it is also likely that throughout reading this story, the reader has glazed over the “paused” portions, where the playwright describes what is going on during the breaks in The Father’s speech. It isn’t really a pretty sight; after all, he is dying. If the reader pays attention to these notes, she will start to realize she has been fooled. Whether or not she understands these medical descriptions, it is clear that all of it is certainly unpleasant and a lot of it appears similar to the conditions The Father describes earlier about his son. Clearly, just because he saw that evil in another didn’t exempt The Father from his own type thereof. Like with the Hideous Men elsewhere in the book, the reader can identify with someone she realizes is hideous, and once again is made to ask what really makes people hideous, and why it is so despised.

Voice

The story is written in the format of a play, with stage direction and mainly consisting of The Father's monologues. The title and the character of "You" both put the reader in the play as playwright and as character (especially when the reader realizes this "You" is the son). The reader is thus forced to see The Father through the apparently objective eyes of a priest but actually the very subjective eyes of the despised son.

Context

Criticism