But he dropped his eyes, suspecting a flaw in his argument. ‘I just don’t want him beating on me all the time,’ he said at last. ‘I ain’t no dog.’ She sighed, and turned slightly away, looking out of the window. ‘Your Daddy beats you,’ she said, ‘because he loves you.’ (21)
One cannot read this book and overlook the concept of the father. In this story, paternal influence, more specifically, fatherly love is crucial to the process of self-discovery. The absence of that particular kind of love damages every single character. Yes, the father; protection, guidance, love. And when said influence is scarce or non-existent, it is sometimes replaced with a different source; a different paternal institution, a different Father. The Lord.
But this paternal connection does not work for everyone. It’s a source of conflict for the fatherless and loveless. Central character John is the best example. John cannot love the Lord because his father loves the Lord, yet the father does not love his son, John. It doesn’t make sense to John. Because of his confusion he refuses to be part of anything his father is devoted to…What’s the reason? Why can’t a father love his son?
John’s father, Gabriel, cannot accept what John represents. John is the embodiment of Gabriel’s sin. A younger Gabriel, impregnated a young woman, and out of fear and shame sent her away. She died young, as did her son—his son. To make up for his sin and to seek redemption, he decides to raise John as his own. You see, Gabriel believes he has been forgiven, that God knows his life, but Gabriel cannot forget. His hate of his former sins, emerges as hate for his sons.
And he felt his father behind him. And he felt the March wind rise, striking through his damp clothes, against his salty body. He turned to face his father—he found himself smiling, but his father did not smile (291)
When John finally accepts the Lord, he accepts his father. He accepts their dynamic, his fate and ultimately himself. And this is very interesting because it is exactly what his father did–accepted the Lord, but somehow continued to live in denial.