A father doesn't give up
: The story of a used man
by Karin Jäckel
(German, 2001, Rowohlt, 318 pp., pb., ISBN 3 499 60692 5;
DM 19.90; German title: Ein Vater gibt nicht auf : Die Geschichte eines gebrauchten
Although the book reads as if it were fiction, it is the biography of a real
man, George, a Greek artist and internationally renowned painter, born in Czechoslovakia,
having been raised in Greece, living mainly in Germany - which he now considers his home.
Nothing is stranger than the truth.
The book tells the story of how George fell in love with a young German woman, one who had
lost her father when she was six, who had a weak mother whose life she brought under
control — a woman who had become a stone mason and sculptor but who now had a managerial
job with a cemetery supply company — although she was artistically quite good, one who now
invaded George's life and proceeds to bring his life "under control."
Having made it to page 70, I came to a point that just had to come, just as a bench would
appear that one expects to find somewhere along a European hiking trail at a logical
location for a point of view.
We all reach some view points like that in our lives, view points that are quite profound
and, even though expected, sometimes surprise us even though we knew about the specific
locations of those points as we "hiked" through life but never could properly
comprehend them. One of those was for me when I became the father of my first child and
oldest son, when I discovered father love as a father and became overwhelmed by it.
Another one that profound came when I was out cross-country skiing once, shortly after my
divorce. I had lost my ability then to get a good night's worth of sleep. The experience
of not being able to sleep for more than four hours a night was quite new to me yet. Given
that there was no Internet then, I had to find something better than just reading to pass
the time until I had to drive the long trip to work in the city in the morning, the
sentence imposed on me to ensure that my children could experience away from their home
the comforts they had become accustomed to at home. I got my skis ready before I went to
bed and lost no time to put them on when I woke up around one in the morning.
The night sky always fascinated me, and the night of the view point discovered in relation
to that was quite cold but clear and calm, silent.
Having a bit of an interest in astronomy, I knew where the planets were, and that night
two or three of them were visible, along with a very faint sickle of the moon. Suddenly
something literally jumped into perspective for me, and it seemed that with incredible
clarity I could see Earth's position in relation to the Sun, the Moon and the other
planets I could see. It was truly, literally and just for a few minutes, in perspective.
It was somewhat like some of those stereoscopic puzzles that can be observed in three
dimensions if only we focus on them the right way.
A stereoscopic, three-dimensional view of the Solar system, no matter if you manage to see
it only for a few minutes and only once in your life, is something you never forget.
The first point of such profound interest in the story of George comes on pages 69 &
70 of "A father doesn't give up," when George's fiancée, ostensibly and
profoundly unhappy with her perceived lack of George's comprehension of her needs, wants
to spend a few days by herself. For George, an easy-going and likable guy, the whole trip
with Ursula ("Uschi") had been a long string of discoveries that were basically
nothing other than a series of unmitigated emotional and social disasters. They were like
potholes of various size and destructiveness that one encounters on an arduous journey
during a vacation trip gone sour and are remembered for their impact but lack of any
Quite frankly, the poor fellow should have had his head examined for sticking with his
Uschi, but what was he to do? He was a man and could see no possible way out of his love
and commitment to her, no matter what. He was inescapably stuck to the glue of a
flycatcher and had not quite reached the point were he had to begin the struggle for his
survival. He was to be mired in that glue, and the first sensation of that, in spite of
all the prior warnings of the perils to come, was just now beginning to reach the first
synapses of his brain.
The book reaches a point of interest here that perhaps most men reach in their lives, but
that most who reach it are too busy to take in and behold.
Uschi's prolonged I-want-to-be-by-myself-phase in her room and the invitation to an
exhibition in New York earned George several solo-weeks in the Provence. Time to work.
Time to think. Time to ask: "Who am I?"
Everything that he started seemed to go wrong. Even the brush
on the canvas was going crazy. It became difficult for him to sink creative energy into
new paintings that were to earn him good money in New York.
Certainly, his last three relationships had gone on the rocks. Whether
"Chauvi, Softy, Macho," [sic] it was all wrong. But how was it to be
right? What did women expect of a man? What did Uschi want of him? How was he to be, so
that he was right for her? And did he really want to be that?
Uschi was an alpha she-wolf. How often already had she told him that she
didn't want to be a woman! No, not in the meaning that she was attracted to other women
and that she had lesbian inclinations. She didn't want to be a woman because she assessed
women as the conquered sex. She didn't even want to be a woman who stood as a fully equal
partner at the side of her husband. Uschi wanted to reign. If she had to be a woman, then
she had to be an Amazon. And if an Amazon, then it had to be Penthesilea, the queen, who
had sexual relations with a man only then when he was a hero and simultaneously the slave
of her lust.
At the same time, Uschi was afraid to be a leader, to take on responsibility
and to stand up for herself.
Out of this fear she wailed for firm rules and order, with which she wanted
to suppress the chaos that exists in every human life. Out of this fear she screamed for
the man, the hero, who would as her slave protect the queen of the Amazons and sacrifice
his life for her. Only when her shoe was on his neck, only when he would kiss the foot
that kicked him, only then when he became wax in her hands would she be able to trust her
might over him and trust herself.
George never knew anything about psychology, but his
power of observation was keen. And he stored his observations in the
cells of his memory capacity as bees store honey in honeycombs.
Back to Karin Jäckel's Table of Contents