Rui – Louis Prager – was named for my mom, Lois Prager. Because she died in 1992, she didn’t meet her last grandchild. She would have been delighted by him; they would have loved each other.
Look at how their eyes match. Intelligence and sensitivity show in the set of their mouths, and the enveloping looks in their eyes. They are quietly taking you in. Maybe I was on the lookout, but I felt Rui’s affinity with his grandmother quite often. The way he held himself a little bit back in a crowd to observe, squinted his eyes and smiled inwardly before he spoke, hesitated to discern the group mood, and then laughed and jumped into whatever business or hi-jinks were happening around him.
I want to look back into those eyes. I want to see them laugh, think, delight, feel the way this afternoon light looks and breathe it in slowly with me. Now with my life so overwhelmed by Rui’s kidnapping, I don’t know where he can turn nor where I can find comfort, because the truth is that no comfort is available. This weekend in what passes f0r a spare moment in my life these days, I was thumbing through a thick anthology of developmental psychology articles called The Role of The Father In Child Development, thinking every second of him, how I would think while I was taking care of him, who I have been to him. I felt the years I experienced through him flooding back. My memory lit up.
The book is a trove of myth-dispelling studies and readable summaries of relevant research about fathers. It proves again and again that the unidimensional and stereotypical roles ascribed to fathers that have come down to us from earlier times are on the cusp of reaching their well-deserved end. If this significant wisdom can filter out and be understood in public, a really enormous amount of heartache ought to be relieved.
No one should be surprised unless he lives in the dark. The role of the father, it turns out, is the role of a parent. Of course the details take you through some interesting twists. Still it boils down to something that is both obvious and has to be experienced: fathers and mothers influence their kids in similar rather than dissimilar ways. The study shows you that mothering and fathering can really only be described the same ways, in the immeasurably immense value that fathers and mothers each bring to the kids they love. “Children who have secure, supportive, reciprocal, sensitive relationships with their parents are many times more likely to become well-adjusted psychologically;” they are infinitely more socially and emotionally healthy than kids whose relationships with both parents are not. It’s predictable, and as lived experience it’s intensely real. This isn’t a new pool, but it’s worth swimming in.
The more I read and think, the sadder and more agitated I get. I’m ready to do for him, but all I can do is wring my hands and grind on his absence. The love I have for Rui, the worry and anxiety that I have over what is happening to him, knowing as we speak, sit and wait while seconds are ticking away forever, Rui’s life is spiraling downward, losing all the shining things that he can gain from having a loving relationship with his Daddy. He is stuck in a situation not in any way of his own making, surrounded by people who really do not have more than a glimmering understanding of their cruelty and the blunt damage they are doing to him, and to whom the privilege of ignorance gives some sort of twisted pride. Somewhere as well, the assistants to Rui’s abduction are busy helping themselves to a big, self-absorbed plate of forgetting, pretending to themselves that they are not culpable of this wrong to him and me, fooling their own thoughts as if they could escape from knowing the cruelty they have done to us. Every single day is a day when his life can’t be touched, when I can’t give him a new way to look at something in the world, challenge and expand his possibilities, sing and talk to him, stimulate his mental agility with words, see what beautiful is, reward his curiosity, and love the world under him. We can’t play, talk, or fill the void of each others’ absence. I can’t bring him back to trust because he’s been deceived. Time is passing, and this year will never run back. We’ve both been robbed, and will never recover.
Sometimes I remember the nights when we slept side by side in brilliant dream-like color, like the way memory travels on familiar smells. It’s quiet. A desk lamp is still on. I”m reading. He’s exhaling. I remember how it used to feel to have my parents soothe me to sleep when I was small. I remember how uncomfortable the bed felt, how jittery and bitter life felt on nights when conflict at home was too much, and I trembled, and no one came to soothe me. Rui’s night eyes peer into an even emptier shadow now. There are ghosts behind the door. Greed and possession are his parent now, his kidnapper.
My Rui, where are you in this absence of hours together? Wherever you are, you can’t hear me, can’t feel me, can hardly remember. Rui, the kernel is still there, hiding under pillow, in mind’s eye or in dream. I’m still in the chair there, Rui, shadowed by the lamp. Remember how we laugh. Remember how we don’t laugh. Remember how we face forward. Remember how we closed our eyes.
Listen hard Rui. Listen to find the still place where I am –
Backward, turn backward, oh time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep
Rock me to sleep, mother, rock me to sleep.
Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years.
I am so weary of toil and of tears
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,
Take them and give me my childhood again
I have grown weary of dust and decay
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away
Weary of sowing for others to reap
Rock me to sleep, father, rock me to sleep
Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O father, my heart calls for you
Many a summer the grass has grown green
Blossomed and faded, our faces between
Yet with strong yearning and passionate pain,
I long tonight for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep,
Mother and father, rock me to sleep
— Elizabeth Akers Allen