Recognize Your Father
Adric’s father was a superior officer in charge of a Nazi concentration camp. Adric’s mother lived in the city with his sisters, but Adric’s dad had brought him out to the camp to make him a man.
Adric was not like his father, but he longed to be loved by his father.
Adric was shy and quiet and loved to read. His father was strong and forceful, did not care much about books, but happened to have a huge library in his house by the camp.
Adric’s father would drag Adric to the camp facility and make him order the weak, helpless jews around.
Adric did his best to please his father. He tried his hardest to shout with anger. But it was never good enough for his father. Adric longed with all of his heart to be loved by his father, but he couldn’t even get a kind word from him.
In the evenings Adric would go into his father’s library and find a book. He would curl up in a pile of pillows, in a corner beside the couch, under the stairs. He would try to lose himself in the story.
He scoured the books for a story he remembered from his childhood. It was a vague memory. He scarcely remembered where they were, or what his father even looked like while he read to his son. But it was the story that Adric still remembered vividly.
The story that Adric remembered and scoured the books in the library for was about a little shepherd boy. This shepherd took good care of his flock. But the interesting thing about this shepherd was that he loved the small and blemished sheep even more than the strong and perfect ones. Often the shepherd boy risked his own life and chased off wolves and bobcats bigger than himself, just to save the little limping lamb that always lagged behind.
Adric always pictured the shepherd as his father. And he pictured himself as the littlest sheep. He longed that some day, his father would love him, and save him from danger, even though he was the weakest of little boys. He knew he would make a terrible prison guard, but he wished his dad would love him anyways.
One evening, after a difficult day, Adric was curled in his corner with bloodshot eyes and a moist handkerchief. He was reading an old, dusty book of greek mythology when he heard footsteps coming up from the basement. The thin Jewish man, Elias walked quietly up the stairs.
Elias was the Jewish man that helped out around the house. He was respected by Adric’s father enough to be allowed to live in the basement and clean and tend to the more trivial matters of the house instead of working in the concentration camp.
Often in the evenings Elias came in search of Adric. Adric liked Elias. Elias was patient, and soft-spoken. He knew a lot about books and stories.
“What are you reading?” Elias asked Adric, trying not to be heard by Adric’s father.
“Greek mythology.” Adric didn’t look up. Adric knew his father didn’t like him to talk very much to Elias so he was always brief. But Adric longed to look Elias in the face and tell him everything he was feeling, reading, and longing for. But it was that longing to be loved by his father, that kept him from being friends with the Jewish man, Elias.
“I read most of that one last week.” He smiled at Adric.
“What?! how do you always beat me to these books?! And how do you read so fast!” Adric forgot to keep his voice low.
Elias looked around as if scared Adric’s father would hear them.
“It’s ok,” Adric said. “He’s in his study. He’s always in his study,” Adric said hurtfully. “I don’t even think he knows where I am.”
“Oh, be kind to him, dear Adric. Kindness is what real men are made of. Kindness in the time of anger is what requires true inner strength.”
Adric pretended to put his head back into the book, but he loved what Elias just told him.
Elias did not see the intrigued smile that had enchanted Adric when he had heard those words. (kindness in the time of anger is what requires true inner strength). Elias sighed and said, “Well, my dear boy, Adric, you have a wonderful night. The next book i challenge you to read has a red leather cover, and is on the middle shelf against the wall. See if you can beat me. I read it in three nights.” Elias looked down at Adric lovingly as if he wanted to comfort the boy and tell him he was proud of him even if his father wasn’t.
But Adric did what he knew would make his father proud and he stayed solemn and tough, without looking up. So Elias sighed again and slowly, weakly climbed back down the stairs. Adric’s heart was inspired. Whenever he got a challenge from Elias, it was impossible for him to resist. There was something extremely competitive about his spirit, that he felt in common with Elias, but Elias liked giving him a chance to beat him.
The next day in the camp was horrible. His father had commanded Adric to make a man put the body of the man’s own daughter in the trash heap that they burned every night, even though the man begged to bury her in a proper grave.
On their walk back to the house Adric’s father scolded Adric harshly for talking to Elias the night before. His father had overheard them as he had gone through the kitchen. He threatened, “Boy, if i catch you talking to that poisonous Jew one more time, I’ll teach you how worthless they really are, by making you kill one of them.” Adric’s father rapped him across the face with the side of a heavy hand gun. “I’ll make you into a real man yet.” a few steps in the cold grass later his father added, “And i don’t want you to read those worthless story books anymore. Tonight and from now on you need to read and learn the book of rules and procedures for this camp. If you are ever going to be a leader, you will need to know how to run a camp like this. You’re lucky your mother loves you (though you get your weakness from her) otherwise i never would have taken you on when i married her.”
Most boys would get angry at their father for that, in fact maybe vicious revenge is what he wanted his son to feel. But Adric wanted the love of his father so much, that he resolved to obey. . . at least partly. He didn’t talk to Elias, but he still decided to search out the book with the red leather cover.
As soon as Adric got home he snuck into the library. He went to the middle row by the wall and searched quickly with his teary eyes. He found the red leather book and tucked himself into the corner of a room with lots of windows in the highest part of the house. He hoped that the red leather book contained the story of the good shepherd. He also wished that somehow he could talk to Elias without getting in trouble for it. He wiped his eyes as he read. Though this book was good, it was not about the shepherd.
Adric tried frantically to ignore what his father had said about taking him when he married his mother. he covered over it by reading the red leather story. He couldn’t bear the thought that he didn’t have a father.
Adric awoke isolated room at the top of the house. He had sobbed himself to sleep. It was the heavy footsteps of his father coming up the stairs. He was yelling at his son, “Adric! Adric! Are you reading another one of those idiotic books! I see the gap on the shelf where it used to set! I will teach you to not waste your time on worthless things like stories! Where are you, boy!?”
Adric shook with fear. He fumbled with the book and it tumbled onto the floor with a thud. He slithered behind the bed and peered at the doorway from under the bed. The footsteps got closer. But before they reached the door, the quiet footsteps of Elias appeared in the doorway. The heavy boots of his father appeared, facing those of Elias. Adric heard Elias plead with Adric’s father, “Please sir, it was me. I took the book several days ago from the shelf. Go kind on the boy. The weak ones are the ones to rescue.”
Adric’s eyes grew large. Those words were almost directly what he remembered from the shepherd story. The weak ones are the ones to rescue.
Adric’s father growled and the anger burned inside of him. It finally exploded from his mouth as he shouted at Elias. “Elias! I am trying to raise up that boy to not be completely worthless, but he sees you reading all the time. I can’t have him thinking that you are what a man is to become. You are a very good servant, but i would never want my boy to be like you.” A moment passed while Elias apologized profusely. Then Adric’s father declared, “Elias, you have been a good servant in my house but i can no longer tolerate your weak values and humble posture to be influencing that boy. Tomorrow you will work in the camp like all the others."
Adric had to bite his lips to keep from yelling his protest. The footsteps disappeared and Adric was left in the quiet room as the dark descended.
The next day Adric went to the camp with his father. He saw all the regular, pale, deathly faces, but now Elias’s was among them. Elias was always trying to encourage the others in some way. He was winking at the kids and making faces to make them smile.
When Adric’s father assigned Adric to patrol the perimeter with another man, it was difficult to walk quickly enough to round the camp in the allotted five minutes. They passed many of the Jewish men and women toting wheel barrels full of Rocks.
At one point Adric noticed a man wheeling a wheel barrel quickly beside him. He looked over, saw that it was Elias. Adric smiled. Elias winked at him started to walk faster- faster than Adric, even while he carried the wheel barrel. He glanced quickly back at Adric as if mock-challenging him to try to beat him. Adric’s competitive spirit got the best of him and before he realized it, his walk had broken into almost a jog, trying to keep up with the playful-but unreal challenge of Elias.
Elias hadn’t really meant for Adric to take up the challenge, but he should have known that Adric’s competitive spirit would get the best of him, because he was the same way.
The man Adric was supposed to be patrolling with yelled at him and realized what was going on. He had seen the last remnants of a smile exchanged and rushed to grab Adric.
He dragged Adric to his father and explaned what had happened. He pointed to Elias walking briskly with his head down across with his wheel barrel and told Adric’s dad what had happened.
Adric’s dad boiled with anger. He growled at Adric, “You didn’t obey what i said. I told you not to interact with him. Now i will have to punish you like i told you. He grabbed Adric’s hand and slapped the gun down into it. It knocked into Adric’s knuckles and almost tumbled to the ground before he got a hold on it.
Adric’s father found Elias and dragged him by his bony shoulder away from his wheel barrel and forced him to stand against a wall of one of the wooden buildings. He brought Adric to face him, ten feet away. and he said loud enough for both of them to hear, “If you are ever to become a real man, you must learn to kill the weak, and become all the stronger yourself. Now,” Adric’s father pointed at Elias holding his hands, standing in front of the wall. “This will teach you to be a real man. Shoot him.”
Adric’s father’s eyes bore into Adric’s face. Adric slowly lifted the gun. He felt it heavy, cold and so much harder than his trembling hands. Anger grew inside of him. he looked down the barrel of the gun. He felt like he was about to burst. He could hold the injustice inside of him no more. His true power was about to come out.
But power is different than strength. A man can be powerful, when holding a gun, but a man is strong when he stands firm and controls his actions as a tidal waves of emotion threaten to wash his soul away.
Adric had power at this moment, but as he looked down the barrel of the gun at the face that had told him that kindness in the time of anger requires real inner strength, he also chose to be strong.
Adric lifted his hand above the building and fired the gun into the sky beyond as he let out a small roar. He yelled into the air, “The weak ones are the ones to rescue!” Everybody stopped what they were doing and looked at him.
Adric, with fierce resolve in his eyes, looked up at his father and calmly handed him the gun. He said to his father, “If shooting a man is what makes a man strong, then you will have only a weak boy forever.” Adric left the compound and walked back to the house.
His father didn’t ask him to come back down to help with the camp for the next few weeks.
But it was only three weeks until the Allies reached the compound and freed the jews. They imprisoned the guards, including Adric, until a weak man among the Jews protested. It was Elias. He led one of the British troops up to the wagon to which the prison guards were chained.
He walked up to Adric with pride in his eyes. He said, to his British escort. Let this boy free. He is my son. The Brit looked at him, surprised. Elias explained, “His mother and i were married until i had to go into hiding. She was German and the man that Adric thought was his father married her and took on the family when Adric was yet young. The reason i was a servant in the house was because Adric’s mother said that she knew i was a good man and could be a good servant and so, not knowing that i was Adric’s real father, that man” he pointed at the man Adric had thought was his dad, “let me care for his house.”
The British troop unlocked the dumbfounded Adric. Elias put his hands on Adric’s shoulders. Elias said, “I’m sorry i couldn’t tell you, my son, or they might have put you in the camp with the rest of us.”
Adric finally believed it. It made sense. He fell into Elias’ arms and cried with joy.
Elias held him with the little bit of physical strength he had left and whispered to him, “I’m so proud of you, my son. You were so strong. I didn’t know if you remembered the story i used to tell you about the Shepherd. I used to tell you that story when you were so little. And you remembered it. You truly, deeply remembered it.”
Adric composed himself enough to step back and look at his real father. He now saw the physical features they shared. It all made sense now, that everything he had longed for in a father, was true about his dad. Elias had instilled in him all of the good virtues that make up the heart of his boy so that Adric would always know true north. He would truly know what it meant to be human. He would always know in the core of his being what truly made a boy a man.
“I can’t believe all this time I didn’t know you were my father.” Adric gasped.
“Don’t you know me, dear Adric. You knew who your father was, you sought him tirelessly in that man.” He gestured to the horrified man in the chains again, “and yet you never realized that you saw him every day. From now on you do see me, and you will know me. I am your shepherd, my boy. I rescued you when you were weak. And you are a shepherd too. You are a man, for you rescued me when i was weak.”