Good Night, Son

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2004

By Felix Zhang, Illustrated by Courtney Lam

The soft patter of rainfall filled the attic of the tiny house in Boston. Peter Carrol sat alone in the attic, surrounded by old photos and clothing. All of the memorabilia belonged to his son; a son who was no longer alive, a son who was his pride and joy; a son who was cruelly taken away. The man shed bitter tears as he looked at the different photos. He could not believe that his boy was dead. He and his son had never truly been as close as he wanted to be, he blamed himself for that. Peter Carrol’s childhood was no cakewalk. Raised in New York, he had to fight for any success. Peter was determined to succeed in life, and so he had never given up. With each opportunity he squeezed out a double return. He would never forget how hard it was to become the man he was today.

good night son kid and his father

“You have never said good night to me. Never in my life”

Peter decided a long time ago that his son would not be raised as a spoiled child. No, his son would grow up and learn how to work for success. And so, ever since little Ryan Carrol was born, Peter gave him no breaks. Anything Ryan did, it had to be perfect, otherwise Peter would force upon Ryan countless chores and homework problems. Eventually, Ryan was able to become more and more of a man. Ryan learned values the hard way, just as Peter had. Ryan learned the power and the importance of money, the gentlemanly manners, all aspects of academic life, and music. Music gave Ryan a secret sanctuary in which he could be free. His father had never played an instrument, and so music was where Ryan could be free of criticism, hard looks, and constant pressure. It was that sense of freedom that propelled Ryan to become a piano prodigy.

Every musical concert, Peter would sit in the back of the room, smiling in pure pride as his son dazzled the audience. However, when Ryan approached him, beaming, waiting to be congratulated, Peter would turn stony-faced, and simply nod and say “good.” Eventually Ryan gave up on his father, and after concerts, he would talk with other musicians, and not even give a glance toward his father. Peter had pushed too far. Ryan no longer looked upon Peter as a father, but as a fierce enemy. One night, Peter and Ryan got into a huge argument, and Ryan broke down. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he and his father argued about Ryan’s upbringing. At the end, Ryan stormed up the stairs, but halfway, he turned back and looked at his father, and coldly said, “You call yourself a father. You have never said good night to me. Never in my life.”

It was those words that struck the most pain in Peter’s heart. He slowly realized the truth in the words. Even when Ryan was a small boy, he had never said good night to him. He sat alone in the kitchen, thinking about his son. One could not argue against the fact that Peter’s raising technique had seriously helped Ryan. Ryan was now a high school senior, valedictorian, student-council president, A-plus student, a dedicated scientist and had received acceptance letters from every single Ivy League school. Peter decided that the reward Ryan would harvest was much more important than the suffering he was going through now. Thus, Peter decided to continue his harsh upbringing of Ryan; however, he vowed that he would start saying good night to his son.

The summer slipped by, and each night, Peter would realize that he had forgotten to say good night. This lasted all four years of Ryan’s stay in Harvard, and then the next three years Ryan spent in medical school. Within those seven years, Ryan had maintained a sparse relationship with his father. After Ryan graduated from medical school, he came back to visit his father. He thought that after seven years, his father would have changed. He was wrong. As he walked through the door, he expected a surprise party, with all his friends congratulating him, and shaking his hand. Instead, he walked in and found his father sitting alone at the counter reading the newspaper. Disappointed, and angered, Ryan simply walked to his old room and shut the door. What he did not know, was that hours before Ryan’s arrival, Peter had called everyone he knew and told them of Ryan’s graduation from medical school.

That night, the father and son discussed Ryan’s plans for the future. Peter wanted Ryan to go on and become a big CEO of a pharmaceutical company. Ryan, on the other hand, wanted to help people himself. After an hour of discussion, Ryan stood and said, “Dad, I’ve already made up my mind. I was approached by a team of doctors from India when I was in med school. I’m going to India to help the people there. I’m leaving next week.” Peter was shocked. How could Ryan do this?

good night son fathe and son reconcile

Years flowed from Peter’s eyes, as he apologized for every harsh moment in their relationship

How could he waste his education and his effort in India? But before Peter could refute, Ryan said good night and walked away. Peter merely grunted to Ryan’s farewell. Ryan chuckled and said, “There you are, Dad, same as always.” Peter didn’t understand at first, but an hour later he realized what had happened. Once again, he had forgotten to say good night.

Ryan arrived in India the following Sunday, and was amazed at the clash of cultures that faced him. It was obvious the West had influence here, but the Indian culture was just as strong. He found his way to the hospital that he was to join. There, he saw the team of doctors he had met at med school. He worked alongside these doctors for three years. Together they faced the problems and sicknesses that arose in India. Thousands of Indians came to their hospital in search of Western medicine. They received nationwide fame, and they received awards from the Indian government, and love from most of the Indian people. However, there were still those in India who thought their country was controlled by the West, and they wanted all westerners out of their country.

One day, at the hospital, Ryan received a message that summoned him to one of the neighborhoods of his past patient. Fearing that his patient was in desperate need of assistance, Ryan left without informing anyone, and hurried to the neighborhood. When he knocked on the door to the house, he wondered what possibly could be wrong. Suddenly, the door opened, and a man stood there with a gun. He pulled Ryan in, and beat him senseless. Terrified and confused, Ryan struggled to get up, but there seemed to be three assailants. The whirlwind of images flew through his head. He saw three men armed with bats and clubs, poised at attacking. He heard one scream, “Never shall the whites enter our country.” He felt a sudden pain in his waist, and his ears heard a loud crack. Within seconds, he was passed out on the floor. A few hours later, he awoke in the street gutter, trash and dirty waste piled up on top of him. He felt woozy, and felt sticky blood on the back of his head. No one was to be seen, he was alone and about to die. It was with that thought that he passed out again.

When Ryan awoke again, he found himself on a military transport plane. A doctor saw him, and came to him. Ryan found out that he had been shot in the waist, and suffered severe beatings to the head and chest regions. He had been found by a group of Indian boys who recognized him. They quickly called the hospital, which took him in and stabilized him for transport to a U.S. facility, for he needed serious treatment immediately at an American hospital. He nodded, and gave a feeble response before he once again passed out.

When Ryan awoke again, he found himself in a hospital room. His father was sitting next to him. Ryan was amazed at the look of serious concern and fear on his father’s face. Ryan did not know that he was slowly dying, but his father knew. Peter held Ryan’s hand tightly. Tears flowed from Peter’s eyes, as he apologized for every harsh moment in their relationship. Soon, Ryan’s eyes were filled with tears, and within minutes, Peter and Ryan were hugging for the first time in fifteen years. The two were finally father and son. Three hours later, Ryan could tell that he was close to death. He looked up, and studied his father’s eyes. He realized he never took the time to really study his father’s eyes, now it was too late. He took his father’s hand and whispered, “Thank you, Daddy, for all you have done. But I’m very tired . . . and . . . good night . . . Daddy.” With tears rolling down his cheeks, Peter looked down, and for the first time he said, “Good night, son.”

good night son felix zhang

Felix Zhang, 13
Berwyn, Pennsylvania

good night son courtney lam

Courtney Lam, 12
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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