The central range of the Colombian Andes is beautiful, as is so much of that all too frequently tortured country. Snow clad peaks overlook a paradise of perpetual spring which in turn overlooks a land of perpetual summer. The weather changes seasons several times a day, sometimes dawning as a silvered wonderland, clouds blanketing verdant mountains, then a bit of rain quickly replaced by robin’s blue skies and in the evening, the sunsets that so delighted poet laurate Pablo Neruda. Unfortunately, although nature does its best to provide an idyllic setting, as is the case in the United States and so much of the world, in Colombia we humans muck it up.
Inside a metaphorically reflective crystal mote, trapped within an imagined mirrored globe, a sentience engages in seemingly infinite introspection. It is a bitterly sad period culminating during two days at the end of February; two days that have usually been very special. They involve his three sons. It is his eldest son’s last day at thirty-four and first day at thirty-five. For many years they have lived continents apart but until recently managed to bridge that gap. The father plays with the new number noting that thirty-five is five times seven and three joined with five and that the son is the first of three, all prime numbers. He finds a strange delight in the magic he perceives in prime numbers. The number two is special in that regard as the only even prime. He recalls when his son was about eight and started to change, to become his own person, he recalls how proud he felt, how he believed he’d done well as a father. Then he reflects on the present, a very different sort of reflection.
Like so many others in a bitterly polarized world, he and his firstborn are profoundly estranged. On thirty four other occasions the father has written short missives shared with his son, celebrating the past and looking forward to the future. This year the son has declined to receive them. He has shut the father out, “ordering” him to refrain from any contact. The son has judged the father’s political perspectives unacceptable. They do not mirror his own. The father does not despise nor deprecate those the son hates but rather seeks to understand and persuade them, and that is anathema in his son’s brave new world. Not having succeeded through public ridicule to censor the father, the son has expelled him from his life. His father was not “woke” enough, even though their stated goals may have coincided. A strange new variant of “liberalism”.
That is the world of today. But though his thoughts may not be shared this year, the father writes them anyway. He reflects on what his son has attained, who he has become, gives him credit for his successes, such as they are, but blames himself for the faults. In trying to make him strong he instead made him self-centered; in seeking to make him proud he planted the now-sown-seeds of hubris. In seeking to make him love the concepts of honor and public service, he only made him politically ambitious and intolerant. The father wonders if his son is a reflection of himself. He thinks not, then wonders what it is his son perceives to the exclusion of so much. The father recalls that he too was all too frequently sure of his own beliefs and that only when they had changed almost every decade did he succeed in opening his mind to the possibility of myriad verities. Yet the father had always been open to others’ opinions, has long been aware that logic based on false premises only leads to false conclusions and that if actual results belie logic, then the premises are at fault. But that logic, in and of itself, divorced from premises and conclusions, always seems pure and beautiful and infallible. As infallible as Catholic Popes.
Father and son will not compromise their perspectives and while the father, being more experienced and mature can tolerate, or at least ignore the son’s, the son cannot accept that the father beliefs cannot be forced to conform to his. A conundrum. Perhaps to both, perhaps not. Perhaps they will go their separate ways, the memories of each conforming to their decisions until it is too late. That would be sad, very sad, but not uncommon, especially not today.
Tolerance and free expression are not in vogue. This is the age of hypocrisy, of overt manipulation, of censorship, concepts always ascendant but never as universal or blatant as they are today, except perhaps during the decade that started in the mid nineteen-thirties. No, that’s wrong of course. Human history and human misery encompass far more than the last century. The problem is that history is a fiction woven by all too clever artisans so who knows anything but what one has lived, and even that seems all too flexible, memory being fallible and that fallibility artfully manipulated.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, from afar and in silence the father wishes the son a happy birthday and a happy future. He has no idea what the son hopes and perhaps he now never will. Then he smiles, somewhat bitterly, in the realization of how self-serving his observations are.
But they are what they are.
As are his son’s.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.