One of my most treasured memories from an abroad history unit I took a few years ago, was when the group was in Franz Kafka’s birthplace Prague, and my gorgeous friend Mitch asked me ‘why does everyone have such a hard-on for Kafka anyway?’ (he’s since claimed that he doesn’t remember saying that, but he definitely did, its tattooed in my memory).
Anyway because Fathers Day is coming up I thought I’d discuss Kafka’s unsent letter to his father. It’s often published alongside his short stories, and it was written in 1919 as a response to his father, Hermann, who had asked him ‘..why I claim to be afraid of you’.
Regardless of whether you’re familiar with Kafka’s novels, this letter is deeply poignant, and transcends historical barriers. It details the roots of his fraught relationship with his father, their inherent differences, and evaluates whether things could have been different, and to what extent Hermann was to blame for the lingering sense of isolation Kafka felt throughout his life.
Kafka wrote that his purpose in exploring their relationship in such detail was in hope that some ‘peace of mind‘ could be reached which would ‘make living and dying easier‘. Yet whether he ever intended to send this letter is unknown.
I love this letter because it’s just so personal and raw; and its length is testament to how much of an underlying influence his father held over him even into adulthood – ‘this overpowering sense I often have of being a nobody…stems largely from your influence’.
In a way its beautiful because it reads as though it could’ve been written today. Its an example of how human nature to a certain point stays the same. You could’ve lived at any point in history and you’d still have regrets, and your parents would’ve still made mistakes and fucked you up in their own personal way.