Readers have drawn my attention to a theme that reappears in my fiction, that of the boy-child. I was honestly unaware of that leitmotif until recently.
The boy-child lurks in all my books. In Friendly Causalities, the first story is about a father remembering his son who was killed in combat. In The Trion Syndrome, the protagonist, Dave, finds salvation through his son. The character of Johnny in No-Accounts embodies the idea of boy-child. And throughout Last of the Annamese, small boys reappear as a reminder to the protagonist, Chuck, that he lost a son in the Vietnam war.
Why does the figure of the boy not yet a man recur in my writing? Why was I not aware of it? I don’t know. But I can speculate.
Little boys both move and amuse me. They so often exhibit masculine characteristics of roughness and bravado without the physical size and strength of a mature man. I am drawn to children of both sexes and so often feel the impulse to care for and protect them. I am especially protective of boys whose instinctive aggressiveness increases the likelihood that they’ll get hurt.
And I admire men who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. I see their traits in small boys, and in these boys I see the future.
While I don’t love my daughters any less than I love my son, I love him differently. I take immense pride in the fine man he has become. He is a devoted father who nurtures and protects his children. He, too, has a son that shows all the signs of becoming a fine man.
I sense in myself an instinctive fear that one of my children could die. I grew up and matured during the years of the selective service and conscription. I knew so many families whose sons were drafted and later killed in action. When my son was at the age where he could have entered the military service, I lived in quiet fear that he’d become a soldier and I’d lose him. Instead, he chose life as an academic. My instinctive fear, irrationally, remains with me and shows up over and over in my writing.
And finally, I see myself in small boys. Like all human beings, I yearn for immortality. In these men-who-are-not-yet-men, I see myself born again.
I, myself, am a boy-child grown old.