letter to son

Image: Studio Nothing Ahead
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By JOÃO PAULO AYUB FONSECA*

I'm sorry to tell you that in this image we are both fixed like stone, because she also reserves her role as a son in advance.

“When I started to do something that you didn't like and you threatened me with failure, then respect for your opinion was so great that with it failure was inevitable” (Franz Kafka).

On this day when everyone pays homage to people like me, your father, I would like this letter to reach you, my son. Through her I want to tell you the story of a great failure. Yes, son, fatherhood has become a privileged place for me where I see myself failing every day. I know it's not easy to understand, but without that limping step, that collection of hesitant, flustered, incomplete, sometimes absurd gestures and words on the journey we take together, there would be no love.

It all started when you came home and you fit right in my arms. At that moment, I don't know if I imagined that I was facing an immense and radical experience: with you we were born together, father and son. Strangely, this birth is an uninterrupted process that goes through me every day, every day the same thing, while you grow up and can now walk on your own… However, it only sustains itself on the condition that something in me needs to die, or rather, fail.

Birth, the condition of love, radical experience, failure... all of this that is so difficult to name, and around which I go around so many times in search of the right word, concerns an internal struggle, permanent, almost silent, but which often causes a deafening noise. Our meeting, unexpected and intense, contrasts daily with the finished image of a father that inhabited me even before you were born.

I'm sorry to tell you that in this image we are both fixed like stone, because she also reserves her role as a son in advance. A role that crystallizes a way of being and, thus, insists on preserving idealized and unconscious archaic structures. As a constitutive trait, we are anchored and parked over deep waters.

The ready formula of paternity originates both in an infinite, immemorial ancestry, and in last minute psychological, pedagogical and/or political models. Like a real ghost, it often works like an obsolete organ with no function in our body, just waiting for an appropriate moment when the pain erupts and charges its expulsion.

When writing this “Letter to the Son”, another letter, addressed to the father, never comes out of my head, the “Letter to the Father”, by Franz Kafka. In it, the subdued voice of the son testifies to his own crushing under the asphyxiating weight of the father. He realizes that he is no match for his father, a man who embodies brutal strength and solidity in one glass. By acknowledging his failure (a failure that resounds in every detail of his professional, literary, love life, etc.), Kafka confirms the success of this ancestral paternity that is also a privileged figure of power and authority.

Kafka's text is a sad story in which it is the son who fails. An exemplary story capable of showing us even today that the ferment of love and its own conditions of existence are only possible in the fissures, voids and spaces located in the interstices of power structures. At the heart of the relationship between father and son, power relations need to expire.

My failure to sustain and enforce a pre-established image of the two of us is our only guarantee of a real encounter. If love feeds on images projected between those who love each other, it also needs an emptying, a blank canvas from which the unknown expression of otherness can emerge and take place.

Another way of talking about my way of failing, which you teach me to practice every day, not without surprises and difficulties, consists of trying to delimit the meaning of this openness to an unknown being in the very space of my intimacy. A being that announces itself where any expectation expires, or should expire, so that in this game of intersecting gazes you can carve out a true place for yourself in the world.

On Father's Day, I would like to have a space completely reserved for you. A reservation without imposition, absolute hospitality where you can live and express yourself without any constraint. Among your words I also hope to listen to myself and find some traits capable of saying who I am.

Son, thank you for inviting me to be other than myself, even though I am almost always late in this delicate encounter between the two of us. The story of failure that I try to tell you today is a precious version of the love that I learn from you every day.

*Joao Paulo Ayub Fonseca, psychoanalyst, he holds a doctorate in social sciences from Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Introduction to Michel Foucault's analytics of power (intermediate).


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