Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The novelist Joyce Carol Oates has noted that Andre Dubus’s characters perform criminal actions but may be redeemed in the eyes of the reader by “the author’s extraordinary sympathy with them.” Such a figure is Luke Ripley, whose daughter expects him to call the police after she has struck and killed a man while driving after having been drinking.

In the concluding passage of “A Father’s Story,” Luke justifies his ethical decision in another one of his dialogues with God, a startling tour de force reminiscent of the biblical Job, to whom he has earlier tacitly compared himself. Just as when he had mentioned the two women with whom he was involved after Gloria in his morning prayer, he reminds God almost blasphemously, “You never had a daughter.” God does not concede Luke’s point without a retort of His own: He asks if that means that Luke loves his daughter more than him, “a love in weakness.” Luke, however, has the last word, reminding God it is similar to his love of humankind.

Luke’s witty, nearly testy, defense of his conduct draws God into the conspiracy as another father like himself. Nevertheless, it cannot hide the fact that Luke is again playing fast and loose with church doctrines. In indulging in what the church has condemned as situational ethics, he is reserving once more the right to decide for himself what is right and what is wrong. To readers who hold romantic beliefs in the sacredness of the individual, Luke will seem a sympathetic character. Still, nagging doubts may remain about his decision.