Parents in writing: or love and its opposites

El Lissitzky, Proun GK, c. 1922–23


Read an article from the recently released book “Laço”, organized by Daniela Teperman, Thais Garrafa and Vera Iaconelli

"Develop your legitimate weirdness” (René Char)

Parents, if I'm not mistaken, have always existed. Fatherhood is a recent invention.

“Life is simple” – says writer and musician Kalaf Epalanga (2019, p. 9). “Being a parent essentially involves reconnecting us with our most primal instincts. We've already been in the place of the baby we now have in our arms, we just don't have the memory of that time.”

Perhaps not as simple as that. Women, yes, have always had their bodies and their destiny immemorially linked to the procreative function, with the right to ills and wonders. Virgin Marys or Medeas, Witches, Stepmothers, Overprotectors, Great Mothers or Pietás, women and their “apron all dirty with eggs” took centuries to distinguish maternity from motherhood, to disown and get rid of the much publicized maternal instinct, as well as to understand that, in addition to them, there was someone else concerned, by the fact, as banal as it was miraculous, of a child coming into the world.

Parents, the founders of culture, it must be recognized, have never looked very good on tape. Our mythical imagery refers to a primordial god, Uranus, who married his own mother, Gaia, and kept his hated children enclosed in his womb. Encouraged by their mother, personification of Earth, the children rebelled against Uranus. Kronos, the youngest of them, castrated his father and threw his testicles into the sea. And thus Aphrodite was born.

The fate of Kronos, however, was not very different from that of Uranus. He took all women for himself, the only one among all males to have the right to come. Fearful, however, of being dethroned by his own children, he devoured them, one by one, as soon as they were born. Their fears and cares were of no avail. Once again a mother intervened: Rhea replaced one of her newborn children with a stone. Zeus led the rebellion against his father, and became the god among the gods.

The history of this primitive horde is full of consequences in Psychoanalysis, from Freud to Lacan. Without any intention of embarking on it, what is up to us, within the limits of this text, is just to note that, after being dead, the father became even more powerful, because he engendered in the children, and forever, the unavoidable and devouring Guilt .

The death of a father still haunts and structures the formation of the human psyche. The myth of Oedipus tells the story of Laius, who, according to the oracle, would be killed by his own son, who, in turn, would marry his own mother. And so it was. An announced tragedy, a fate Oedipus could not escape, no matter how hard he tried. Once again Culpa, omnipresent goddess in the human imagination, enters the scene. Parricidal and incestuous, the unfortunate Oedipus blinds himself when he discovers his crimes.

But there are those who tell the story in another way: contrary to the Freudian interpretation, James Hillman (1995) locates an infanticide in the myth of Oedipus, before his father's death. Indeed, feeling threatened, Laius orders his son's death. Relentless, even if he does not spare what he calls “bad motherhood”, the Jungian thinker sentences: “The murderous father is essential to fatherhood” (p. 87-88).

As a result, the father always appears, in the children's mythical narrative, full of rancor, resentment, dark traits and painful supplications.

When one leaves the mythical universe and enters the profane land of literature, the story does not change much. And here it is impossible not to evoke another prototype, the father figure of Franz Kafka, described in letter to father (2017). Although preceded by a “Dear Father”, the first sentence immediately says what it came to: “You asked me recently why I claim to be afraid of you. […] And if I try to answer here in writing, it will undoubtedly be in a very incomplete way, because even when writing, fear and its consequences inhibit me in front of you and because the magnitude of the subject far exceeds my memory and my understanding ” (p. 7).

If we make a small inventory, pinched throughout the text, of the traits with which Kafka describes his father, we would find: “strength”, “appetite”, “sound of voice”, “gift of speaking”, “superiority in the face of the world”. , “self-satisfaction”, “perseverance”, “presence of mind”, “knowledge of men”, among others. And he does not forget to point out, to be fair, that, after all, it could not be otherwise: the father only reproduced, in his son, the noisy and energetic education he had received.

In a disproportionate correlation of forces, impossible to be overcome, Kafka describes his thin and frail boy's skeleton crushed by the strength of the father figure who, from his armchair, invented laws and governed the world. In front of him, the child unlearned to speak, but he was still grateful to him, as only slaves or beggars can be grateful.

Kafka often also evokes the goddess Culpa. Rather, to disown it, to attribute it neither to the father nor to himself. Like who disguises. But finally he concedes that the feeling of guilt with which he lived in childhood was transformed into an understanding of the mutual helplessness in which both were immersed.

That terrible tone, that painful litany, runs relentlessly through the text, with no possible redemption. But, it is good not to forget – and without going into the merits of whether it is a real, symbolic or imaginary father –, we are facing a father in writing, a father constructed from artifices specific to literary texts. After all, Kafka himself claimed to be all literature and nothing else. Literature is its substance, its flesh, its soul.

Modesto Carone (2017, p. 78) alerts us to this in the Afterword that follows his translation of the Letter. For him, it is not possible to deny the historical and existential foundations of the text, but even so, it is a literary production. The figure of Kafka's father, “the father who punishes”, as Walter Benjamin says (apoud Carone, 2017, p. 78), is projected throughout Kafka's work, and can also be recognized in The process, The castle, is at To metamorphose, to name just a few.

When trying to communicate with his father, Kafka needed many words, and he scattered them throughout his work. Thus, as Carone says, “he was transformed by his father into the son of the century” (p. 80), still referring to the last century, in which Franz Kafka lived. We'll come back to that.

Other sons are more synthetic, but do not fail to assert, in a forceful way, their condition, as the poet Vladimir Diniz (1971) did in the poem “O Filho do Pai”: “P de pai, Ai de Filho”. Or, as Jacques Lacan summarizes throughout his work: “Père [father], Peur [fear]".

Let's go. Another father approaches and, this time, he does not embody the figure of Fear, nor of the Law. Rather, a deep, strange pain. This is the father figure created by Guimarães Rosa in the short story “The third bank of the river” (1994, p. 409-413).

A father in every way unlike Kafka's: “Our father was a dutiful, orderly, positive man. Just quiet. Our mother was the one who conducted and scolded us in the diary”.

But one day, says the narrator, the father ordered a canoe. Without saying anything or saying goodbye, he got into it and headed for the river, without answering his son's question: "Father, will you take me with you in that canoe of yours?" He did not take.

And there he stayed, “in those spaces of the river half and half, always inside the canoe, so he would never jump out of it again”.

The people attributed such a strange situation to some disease, perhaps leprosy, or to a promise payment. Crazy? No, that the mother forbade that word: “Nobody is crazy, or else everyone”.

The son, on the banks, took care of his father. He took brown sugar, a bunch of bananas, bread. The mother pretended not to see, and made it easy, leaving the leftovers in plain view.

Over time, they stopped talking about him, they just thought: “No, our father could not be forgotten. If people, for a little while, pretended to forget, it was only to wake up again, suddenly, with memory, at the pace of other shocks”.

The daughter got married. She had a child and went to take the baby to see the father. He didn't even appear on the banks of the river. They all cried. Little by little, they moved away from that place. First the daughter. The brother. Mother later.

All that was left was the son who, according to what they said, was becoming more and more like his father. Like Kafka, he never managed to get married: “I stayed here, anyway. I could never want to get married. I remained, with the baggage of life. Our father lacked me on the wanderings of the river, in the wilderness – without giving any reason for his deed”.

The father, in his canoe, omnipresent absence, was, in every way, the most perfect opposition to the father of the Kafkaesque narrator. He was just like him in one detail: he installed guilt, like Cronos, like Laius: “I am a man of sad words. What was it I was so, so guilty about? If my father, always making absence. […] He squeezed the heart. He was there, without my reassurance. I'm guilty of what I don't even know, of open pain, in my forum”.

One day, he made up his mind. He approached the bank of the river, called for his father until he appeared. And he suggested: “- Dad, you're old, you've done so much. Now the Lord comes, there is no more need... The Lord comes, and I, right now, whenever it is, at both wills, I will take his place, the Lord's, in the canoe!... ”.

The father made as if to agree, he came over. This time, it was the son who couldn't. He ran-away. And he kept “begging, asking, asking for forgiveness. Am I a man, after this bankruptcy? I am what was not, what will remain silent”.

The only thing left to the narrator was the hope that, one day, when he died, they would deposit him “in a small canoe, in this endless water, with long banks…”.

There is nothing to add to the beautiful tale by Guimarães Rosa, made entirely of pain. It's all there. Everything happens as if the tale already contained its own interpretation.

The father of the Kafkaesque narrator, from his armchair, verbose, ruled the world. In front of him, his son unlearned to speak. Rosa's, on the other hand, locked in her silence, hidden in the bottom of the canoe, only turned her son into a man of sad words. What is similar between the two, beyond guilt – this unavoidable common denominator – is that, even in the face of the obstinate silence of one, and the excessive speech of the other, we are facing two children who narrate.

If Kafka's father, as Carone says, made him the son of the century, it is impossible not to notice that something has changed. Indeed, when we randomly browse the catalogs of some Brazilian publishing houses, from the year 2000 onwards, it is easy to observe a significant volume of books written by fathers who narrate and invent a new, sensitive, albeit difficult, fatherhood, so many times. Tired, perhaps, of embodying this ambiguous place, of Law and Order, they abandon the armchair, or the canoe, take the floor and try to paddle by themselves.

What will these parents have in common... narrators? Mostly young, first-time parents, as they say. Some classify his books as fiction, as it should be, and as Kafka taught. Others point out the testimonial nature of their narratives. Without exception, excellent, recognized writers, who have won national and international awards. There is even a Nobel among them.

To name just a few: a personal matter, by Kenzaburo Oe, a novel from 1964, but only translated in Brazil in 2003; It wasn't you I expected, by Fabien Toulmé, comics, 2014 (2019 Brazilian edition); between the world i, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, personal statement, 2015; goodbye trilogy, by João Carrascoza, novel, 2017; my stray boy, by Luiz Fernando Vianna, from 2017; girl father, by Marcos Mion, from 2018; The dead girl's father, by Tiago Ferro, novel, 2018.

What most identifies them – and surprises – however, is not just the quality of their texts, but the very special quality of their paternity. With a few exceptions, they are parents of autistic children, children with Down syndrome, or simply black, this stigma so strong that it sticks to the skin almost like a disease. Why do these parents write? What they say?

A book from the last century, dating from 1964, but which arrived in Brazil only in 2003, tells the story of Bird, a young professor whose life was devastated by the birth of his son with a rare syndrome. A malformation of the skull gave the impression that the baby had two heads. And the father had to decide between a risky surgery and the possibility of doing nothing, letting death take care of taking him in a few days.

The romance a personal matter, by Kenzaburo Oe (2003), Nobel laureate in 1994 is disturbing, to say the least. The words with which she describes her son – “the personification of all unhappiness”, “double-headed monster”, “worm”, “dog”, drowned” “repulsive being” (let's leave it at that) – demonstrate, to exhaustion, the destructive intention of writing, a verbal violence frankly assumed by the author.

The impiety of the descriptions, the baby's death, so often planned, and all the other demons that Kenzaburo exorcises in the book shocked the translator of the Brazilian edition who, he admitted, would not have made it past the first few pages if he had not been responding to an order from the publisher. By all appearances, he smoothed something over.

Bird, the father character of the film, drowned himself in alcohol and sex, faced street fights, adopted all kinds of reprehensible behavior, howling his despair like an exposed wound, an “open pain”, like that of Guimarães’ character Pink.

The wound does not close, but the end of the book suggests, albeit slightly, some possibility of redemption: “[…] he atoned for his son's face in the woman's arms. He wanted to see his own face reflected in the boy's face. In fact, she could see it in the mirror of the child's black and crystalline eyes, but the image was so tiny that it did not allow her to see the new features of her face. As soon as he got home he planned to look in the mirror. And then consult the dictionary that the repatriated Deltcheff had given him, with the word hope written on the inside cover. I intended to make the first consultation in this dictionary of a small country on the Balkan peninsula. would look for the word patience” (pp. 221-222).

Let's move on to real life: the writer Kenzaburo is a pacifist, who fights against nuclear weapons. He wrote about Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima. He was 29 years old when his son was born, with numerous pathologies. Kenzaburo named him Hicari, which means "light". While deciding – or not – for the surgery suggested by the doctors, he took refuge in Hiroshima. As if to affirm, and recognize, what he would say later, many times, in countless interviews: the most powerful forces that mobilize his writing are his son, Hicari, and Hiroshima. From then on, he dedicated his life to fighting for these causes.

Kenzaburo cared for his son with care. Hicari barely reacted to stimuli, and he didn't speak. For the father, the act of writing was a way of giving him a voice. She made him listen to bird concerts. Once, on a walk in the mountains, a little voice surprised him: “This is a cuína”. Hicari was six years old.

It was just the beginning. In a short time he was able to recognize more than seventy bird calls. Then came the piano. Hicari became a well-known and respected composer in Japan.

It's time we opened another book: the eternal son, novel by Cristovão Tezza, published in 2007, winner of numerous national and international awards. The book tells the story of Felipe, born with Down syndrome, and his father, involved with the invention of his paternity.

The beginning repeats, like a mantra, the beginning of other books, of other parents: the anxious but happy wait for the child's arrival, the afflictions of childbirth, until, in a second, the whole world collapses, and you are in Hiroshima.

While waiting for Felipe's birth, the father mentally reviews his life, and knows that “he would also be being born now, and he liked this more or less edifying image” (p. 10).

Although I still didn't know who would come, I was optimistic, because, “a child is an idea of ​​a child and the idea he had was a very good one. A good start” (p. 19).

Very slowly, the narrative takes on a darker tone, starting with the description of childbirth: “Birth is a natural brutality, the obscene expulsion of the child, the physical dismantling of the mother to the last limit of resistance, the weight and fragility of living flesh, blood – a whole world of signs was created to hide the thing itself, crude as a dark cave” (p. 24).

But the demons entered. Finally he is informed of the baby's condition by the doctors, with scientific precision, on what he considers the most brutal morning of his life. From then on, the narrative becomes a clash between him and the child, an unprecedented effort to transform that baby into a son, so that he can finally become a father.

The prospect of early death haunted those days almost like a promise. Only much later will he realize that it will be necessary to survive the child, so that he, who knows, might not be left alone. He will have to do his part, give up cigarettes, maybe alcohol.

What is most impressive – and beautiful – in the book is the fact that, although the narrator remains a privileged observer of that special childhood, he mixes his life with his and, without concessions, while he observes the boy, he observes himself in full.

He knows he is made of the same precarious humanity as his boy, he knows that the two are part of this same strange human fauna and, therefore, each one for himself, will have to develop his own strangeness.

Felipe has a sister, who meets all “standards of normality”. But her presence just brushes the book, lightly, delicately. What is at issue here is just him and his son, and their intermingled lives. That's why the father is committed to making him an accomplice in his masculine world, which only belongs to the two of them. The soccer. And “today there is a game. […] The game begins once more. Neither of them has the slightest idea how this will end, and that's just as well” (p. 222). And so another book closes.

Through the intertwining of these two lives, a sensitive and strong love story is built, which does not dare to say its name, a love so often veiled in the form of a powerful rationality, but where anger, pain, disconsolation.

A question arises: where are the mothers of these children? What they say? Do they write? Or, why not write?

Lonely star in the midst of so many male voices, the singing of Olivia, singer, songwriter and mother of João, who was born with a syndrome as severe as Hicari's, can be heard. In O que é que ele tem (2015) she tells this story.

Olivia Byington was only twenty-two when João was born. She had a solar pregnancy, as she claims. Hiking, natural juices, the promise of an ecological birth. It wasn't like that. After the initial scare – and initial rejection – she began her long apprenticeship in love for difference, which still lasts.

Learning to love a child who is nothing like you. After all, every birth immediately establishes a relationship of resemblance. On the chin, on the color of the eyes, on the hair. And, if premature death surrounds, almost like a hope, the existence of that special being, it is necessary to prepare, first, for another type of death. Mourning the son of dreams, the one who didn't come: beautiful, perfect, healthy.

Olivia looks serenely at the path she has traveled with João and is proud of it. Although physically unprepared, in her words, João is ready for life, has incredible qualities and is even capable of being happy in his own way.

Other parents succeed one another. In between the world and me Ta-Neshisi Coates (2015) journalist, award-winning writer and black (mainly black), writes a long letter that begins: “Son,”.

What he does, what he says, is trying to explain to his son what it means to inhabit a black body, a body that bears this “birthmark of damnation”. And all its consequences. “This is what I wanted you to know: In America, it is tradition to destroy the black body; it is an inheritance” (p. 107).

At the same time that Coates tries to decipher this painful legacy for his son, as a father he recognizes himself trapped in generational chains that embarrass him. It was necessary to learn: “[…] I wish I had been softer with you. Your mother had to teach me how to love him - how to kiss him and tell him I love him every night. Even now it does not seem to be so much a natural act as a ritual one. And that's why I'm hurt. That's because I'm stuck with old methods I learned in a hardened house” (p. 126-127).

So are they. Men who learn, every day, the hard job of becoming a father. Struggling, so many of them, to get rid of old methods, learned in an equally hardened house. To learn a little more, write. And they share with their offspring, as Kafka rightly said, the understanding of common helplessness. In order to, who knows, debunk the myth and finally transform the father into a figure of love as perhaps, always – secretly – they were.

* Mariza Werneck is a professor of anthropology at PUC-SP. Author of The book of nights: memory, writing, melancholy (Education).


Daniela Teperman, Thais Garrafa and Vera Iaconelli (eds.). Link. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2020, 118 pages.


BYINGTON, Olivia. What does he have. São Paulo: Objective, 2015.

CARONE, Modest. A Remarkable Letter (Afterword). In: KAFKA, Franz. Letter to the father. Translation by Modesto Carone. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2017.

CARRASCOZA, John. Goodbye Trilogy. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2017.

COATES, Ta-Nehisi. Between the world I. Translation by Paulo Geiger. São Paulo: Objective, 2015.

DINIZ, Vladimir. poetry on saturdays. Belo Horizonte: Edições Oficina, 1971.

EPALANGA, Kalaf. Paternity. Four Five One Magazine, no. 27, year 3, Oct. 2019.

GUIMARÃES, Ruth. dictionary of greek mythology. São Paulo: Cultrix/MEC, 1972.

FERRO, Tiago. The dead girl's father. São Paulo: However, 2018.

HILLMAN, James. Laio, infanticide and literality. In: HILLMAN, James; KERENYI, Karl. Oedipus and variations. Translation by Gustavo Barcellos and Edgar. Petropolis: Voices, 1995.

KAFKA, Franz. Letter to the father. Translation by Modesto Carone. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2017.

MION, Marcos. Girl dad: to read alongside your daughter and build a lifelong relationship. São Paulo: Academy, 2018.

OE, Kenzaburo. a personal matter. Translation by Shintaro Hayashi. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2003.

ROSA, Joao Guimaraes. The third bank of the river. In: complete fiction, v. II. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Aguilar, 1994.

TEZZA, Christopher. the eternal son. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2007.

TOULME, Fabien. It wasn't you I expected. Translation by Fernando Scheibe. Belo Horizonte: Nemo, 2017.

VIANNA, Luiz Fernando. My stray boy. Rio de Janeiro: Intrinsic, 2017.


See this link for all articles


  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • Return to the path of hopelate afternoon 21/06/2024 By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES & MARILANE TEIXEIRA: Five initiatives that can allow the Brazilian left and center-left to resume dialogue with the majority hope of Brazilians
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones
  • Why are we on strike?statue 50g 20/06/2024 By SERGIO STOCO: We have reached a situation of shortage of federal educational institutions
  • Theological manual of neoliberal neo-PentecostalismJesus saves 22/06/2024 By LEONARDO SACRAMENTO: Theology has become coaching or encouraging disputes between workers in the world of work
  • Opportunism, childhood disease of leftismchair 5 18/06/2024 By HERLON MIGUEL: Considerations on the strike at the Federal University of Bahia