ecently on Facebook I was invited to list five books that changed my life. I mentally listed my five and immediately felt like a bad Christian because the Bible was not my number one. What topped my list was Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, the sequel to Ender’s Game.
The story of Ender is a powerful one. He is a young boy bred to save humanity from a potential future alien invasion. His youth was filled with bullying and bravado. He was manipulated to commit xenocide (an eradication of an entire species) of an alien race. Where the story of Ender changes from a movie like Independence Day is that Ender takes the time to learn, understand, and love his enemy.
Rewind a few thousand non-fictional years and we find me, a 4-year-old boy sitting at the kitchen table with my father, learning the 12 multiplication tables. That’s the earliest memory I have of my father and as quaint as it may be, there is one thing that I left out: a highball tumbler in my father’s right hand, filled with likely more Canadian Club whisky than water, his constant companion for years to come.
The next years of my childhood were filled with an increasingly distant father who spent more and more time drinking in the garage and less and less time at the kitchen table. Emotional, verbal, and at times physical abuse all took place in my home. When outside was filled with the monsters of life, I had no safe place to retreat to because of the monster at home. Long after I had become a semi-stable adult and moved on with my life, I am ashamed to admit, my father remained this monster at home.
Then I read Ender’s Game and subsequently Speaker for the Dead. In the introduction of Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card reflects on the time in his life where he was attending a lot of funerals, “… to understand who a person really was, what his or her life really meant, the speaker for the dead would have to explain their self-story—what they meant to do, what they actually did, what they regretted, what they rejoiced in. That’s the story we never know, the story that we never can know—and yet, at the time of death, it’s the only story truly worth telling.”
In Speaker for the Dead, Ender is asked to speak on behalf of a man named Marcos Ribeira. Marcos was a monster of a man who regularly abused his wife and children and bullied all those around him. A good majority of the community likely did not grieve but were rather relieved by his death. In Ender’s speaking for Marcos [spoiler alert], he reveals that Marcos was sterile and unable to have children. Marcos was aware that none of his children were his own and woke up every morning to direct evidence that his wife was continually unfaithful to him. Due to his position within the community and the politics that surrounded them at the time, he had little choice but to live with it.
The speaking never excused Marcos’s actions but instead started to explain them a little bit more. Ender had made Marcos a little less monster and a little more man.
After I read Speaker for the Dead, I started to reflect on the story of my father. Before I was born, my father was a member of St. John’s Ambulance and essentially “the guy” to go to for anything medical related in northern Manitoba. In addition to regular first aid, he performed emergency surgeries and dentistry. He was respected within the community and loved every minute of it. However, when hospitals started to be built the need for an emergency first aid station and St. John’s Ambulance ceased. My father was out of a job.
He could have returned to Winnipeg and furthered his medical education to continue his dream, but with a wife and a young child, he opted instead to take a job with Manitoba Hydro to provide for his family. He hated that job, but in his mind it was necessary to take care of his family. He sacrificed his dream, and to make things a little more palatable he started to drink. After near 20 years of being up north and doing what he hated, he managed to secure a job closer to his childhood home. Shortly thereafter, his mother died. He loved her deeply and felt like he wasted the last 20 years of his life away from her. Instead of letting grief overwhelm him, he found a way to dull the pain a little bit more and the drinking became increasingly frequent. Eventually his addiction took complete control.
After reading the story of Ender, I decided my father was not the monster that I had labeled him to be for all those years. He, like Marcos and the Hive Queen, had been trying to do the right thing the only way he knew how. It does not excuse the poor choices my father made, but Ender Wiggin helped to explain them to me. Ender Wiggin helped me to see my father as a little less monster and a little more man. ♦