Family Relationships in ‘Crossing’

‘Crossing’ is a thought-provoking short story written by Mark Slouka. The work narrates the story of a hiking journey, during which the main characters have to face the violent nature, test their relationships, and find answers to significant questions. The story focuses on the theme of father-son dear relationships, as well as the man’s dilemma and grief that his married life is collapsed but he still wishes to improve the relationship with his son. This paper will analyze the short story and its symbolic meaning, as well as the main topics raised by the writer.

In his work, Slouka depicts the story of a man who has parted with his wife and is experiencing difficulties in communication with his son. Considering the way that the father cares for his son, he seems to be trying to remedy the relationship between them. For example, he woke up at dawn to watch the boy while he had to go out to pee. One can argue that any normal parent would do the same. However, the point is not in the deed itself, it is in the way it happened. When the father went out, he began admiring the nature. While he was happy to see that beauty, some memories came to his mind. It means that the father truly valued each moment that he was spending with the boy. It is clear that, in a regular situation, a parent whose child wants to go out and pee so early in the morning would probably notice no glory of nature at all because his or her eyes would be half-open. Another example of the fact that the father cares about his boy is when the latter entered the room, he threw the boy over the shoulder and made sure that he would not hit the head anywhere. This event seems so touching: the father basically makes much of his boy. However, such treatment is natural, taking into account that he probably does not have a chance to see him often. Thus, from time to time he tries to make the boy remember as many moments as possible, and carrying him is the bright example of it. When the father and the son were driving in the car, the father looked at him and asked whether he was all right or had to pee. It is another example of great care because it is clear that the boy is mature enough to ask the father to stop if he needs anything.

However, the father did not wait until such a request even though he seemed to be tired and wanted to reach their destination as soon as possible. In a regular situation, a parent would keep driving hoping that a child would not ask to stop often. Moreover, when the father looked at the boy, the author provides the readers with the description of boy’s clothes. It means that he gazed at his boy trying to convey his warm feelings with that gaze. When they were driving high, the father was worried that the boy would notice that the ground was far away. To occupy his attention, he began talking to him. The author mentions that they were discussing their next meal and the behavior in case they meet a lion. It was a nice and wise trick to save the child from experiencing fear. Thus, the father made use of each opportunity to show his care.

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The failed marriage could affect the child and, considering this, father tried to act carefully. However, the reader can notice that the boy is unfamiliar with his father to some extent. Perhaps the father regretted that he did not manage to redeem his son when the marriage came to an end. In this story, the river is a symbol of the distance between them. Even the utterances related to the river are amphibological: “It would take a little while, but he’d be able to see him the whole time. He’d wave when he got to the other side” (Slouka). It is possible to interpret these sentences in several ways. The river between them represents the idea that at this time, they are not close to each other. Many events occurred while they were apart, and those events resembled the river. Probably this little boy missed his father. He did not understand why the father did not come often to visit him. As any child during the divorce process, this boy might think that father did not leave his mother, but him. That is why this boy was not very talkative all that time: he felt fear because of various reasons. Firstly, he could be afraid that he would get used to such luxury as spending time with the father, and then the father would leave him once more. Secondly, this child could have dreamt of the words he would say to his father, but when it became possible, he failed to remember them. Finally, this child could just blame his father a little. It is natural for children even if they begin to understand the causes of a parent’s actions. Clearly, the father understood all these factors, which were like a fast current that separated them. To reach each other, they had to deal with all the concerns that were accumulating during several years.

The father felt guilty because he was aware that he could be closer to the boy during the divorce process. This guilt was reflected in his actions. For example, one of the mornings passed like an instant, but the father was even glad about it: “Better not to overdo it the first time. There would be other trips. He wanted to leave things undone” (Slouka). A parent would not care about the time passing too quickly, but in this situation father acted very carefully. He felt guilty and he wanted to become closer with the boy step by step. Slouka provides another instance of the father’s guilt, and this time verbally. It happened when they got into trouble and the father was extremely worried because he saw no way to avoid the worst outcome. He tried to persuade himself that they would manage to reach another shore. However, he realized that the situation was difficult and he was at fault of everything: “My God, all his other fuckups were just preparations for this” (Slouka). At this point, the guilt overwhelmed him. It is not easy to imagine what he experienced at that moment. He was already aware that he had missed years of his boy’s life, and then he realized that he could be the reason of his death.

The father wants to share his experience with his son because he realizes that fathers play a key role in their sons’ upbringing. Here the river is also symbolic. It is possible to consider that the river represents a man’s life. In the river, the current is extremely fast; in a man’s life – many events are very stressful and he has to experience much pressure almost every day. A man’s life as well as the river is full of rocks: it is possible to rely on some of them, while others can be slippery and make a man fall. When the father slipped in the river for the first time, he did not wish his boy to see it. In reality, if to compare this river with the father’s life, he just did not want his child to notice how he made a mistake, which was a failed marriage. When the father teaches the boy how to behave when he passes the river, he might mean to teach him how to act in his life. When the father asked the boy to be careful and told him to repeat his actions in case of falling, he might mean to explain to the boy how he should deal with difficult situations, which, sooner or later, would appear in each man’s life. The father also guided him, “You had to pick your path and go. You had to plan ahead, never take a step you couldn’t move from” (Slouka). What he meant was that the boy should choose a particular path in his life. Then he should take actions to achieve the desirable. In addition, the boy should only make choices which are not dead-end. Thus, this trip was a kind of a tutorial from father to son. The father planned to divide his life experience into some portions and share it with the boy each time they would go hiking.

The father decided to cross that river in a hurry because he thought that if they confronted a difficulty together, it would deepen their mutual understanding. However, this mistake led to a very problematic situation. The reader can compare the river with the difficulty he had to face. There is a problem: the father needs to reconcile with the boy. To do it safely, for the boy not to doubt his father, he must act slowly. The difficulty is that acting slowly is not common for the human nature. People tend to want everything and they want it urgently, while waiting is always difficult. When it comes to problems, people prefer rushing through them without realizing what is happening not to get too scared. In some cases, such behavior makes sense. However, when it concerns such issue as a ruined father-son relationship, hurrying is never an option: “Was this how it went? One stupid move? One stupid fucking move and your son on your back?” (Slouka). The author shows what can happen if a parent who somehow hurt the child would not wait till their relationship settle in a proper timing: this decision can make both the parent and the child sink to the bottom.

To conclude, the story unfolds a man vs. nature theme on the background of the father’s story of his own tribulations over his collapsed relationships with his wife and attempts to establish a tight bond with his little son. The open ending gives room for the reader’s imagination as to what will happen next. The father and son have a complicated relationship, so it is possible to compare this relationship with the river, as its future is unpredictable. The father makes each step very carefully, because he is aware that his son’s feelings are vulnerable. However, it does not guarantee that a single wrong move will not destroy this dear relationship forever, and that is what Slouka is trying to convey in this short story.

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