Father’s nurturing of Gabriel reveals that he is not completely heartless, but there are limits to how much people in the community can feel.
Jonas’s father is a Nurturer. In Jonas’s community, babies are not born in the usual way, and are not assigned to families in the usual way. Although it is not entirely clear, there is definitely population control, and clearly some kind of genetic manipulation going on because almost everyone in the community looks alike. We know that by and large they have the same skin tone, eye color, and hair color. We know this because exceptions are noted (Jonas has light colored eyes, and Fiona has red hair).
All Newchildren are kept in at the Nurturing Center until they turn One, which happens at a designated time regardless of when they are born. Then they are assigned to a Family Unit if they pass a series of tests based on things like growth targets and sleeping through the night. If they do not pass the tests, they are released (which means killed).
There were only two occasions of release which were not punishment. Release of the elderly, which was a time of celebration for a life well and fully lived; and release of a newchild, which always brought a sense of what-could-we-have-done. (Ch. 1)
Apparently, Jonas’s father decided in Gabriel’s case to do more. Babies are not even given a name until the special ceremony. Family units are made up of one man and one woman matched for appropriateness (and have no other attachment to each other)who apply for a child and are given one based on their compatibility. Again, it is all very scientific. Each family gets a boy and a girl, usually a couple of years apart.
For Jonas’s father to ask to bring home Gabriel is actually very unusual. To peek at his name and start calling him Gabriel is also unusual. The babies are usually called by their numbers. This shows that Jonas’s father actually has some humanity to him, and some compassion. Compassion is not something you see a lot of in Jonas’s community. After all, there is no attachment, anywhere. There really is not any affection either.
Jonas’s father takes him home each night, so that he does not have to be with the night Nurturers, who do not seem as friendly or good at their jobs. It gives Gabriel a home environment. Then he applies to get Gabe a reprieve from release and an extra year of nurturing. These are big steps, of course. They do not show, though, that Jonas’s father actually has feelings. Remember, no one in the community has real feelings.
Consider how Jonas’s parents react when, after learning about the concept of love during his training, Jonas asks his parents if they love him. First they are amused. Then they begin to chide him about using inappropriate language, telling him he used a very obsolete and meaningless word.
"And of course our community can't function smoothly if people don't use precise language. You could ask, 'Do you enjoy me?' The answer is 'Yes,'" his mother said.
"Or," his father suggested, "'Do you take pride in my accomplishments?' And the answer is wholeheartedly 'Yes.'" (Ch. 16)
Jonas’s father and mother, and the rest of the community, are incapable of really understanding the concept of love. This is why Jonas’s father does not really think twice when he learns that Gabriel is going to be released, even after fighting so hard to keep him alive for two years. Gabriel has been in his house, practically his third child, and Gabriel is given a death sentence, and he has almost no reaction.
Even though Jonas realizes as he continues his training that no one in his community feels actual feelings, he is still shocked when he sees his father kill a newborn baby. He did not realize what release actually was. Everyone acts like you actually go somewhere else, as if Elsewhere is a real place! It is hard for him to accept that his father can kill without any reaction. It is then that he sees his community for what it really is.
[We] obviously had to make the decision. Even I voted for Gabriel’s release when we had the meeting this afternoon.
Jonas put down his fork and stared at his father. “Release?” he asked.
Father nodded, “We certainly gave it our best try, didn’t we?” (Ch. 21)
The fact that father gave up so easily shows that he really does have a limited capacity for understanding what is happening to Gabriel. Jonas knows, because he has seen the memories. He has seen death. He has seen war and suffering, and experienced all of the emotions that go with it. Jonas’s father has been numbed for too long. He has taken Stirrings pills since he was Jonas’s age. He does not feel much of anything.
Intellectually, Jonas’s father knows that the babies’ hearts stop when he injects them. He understands that they are dead. He just has not made the connection that this is wrong, because to his society it is not wrong. To us it is wrong, because we are projecting our morals onto him, and our feelings. When Jonas experienced the memories, he experienced those things too. He is projecting the new morality that he has, our morality, onto his father when he sees his father kill the infant.
Jonas is attached to Gabriel. His father is not. When Jonas’s father brought Gabriel home, it was more of a professional courtesy, and some lingering affection that remains in him. This is what makes it possible for him to be a Nurturer. Most members of his society do not have even that. He does not have enough, however, to understand that it is wrong to kill babies, or to feel sad about killing Gabriel other than a momentary sense of loss. He is incapable of feeling a real emotion.
Jonas’s society has carefully prevented the concept of attachment. This is why the family units exist and are so temporary. They disband as soon as the children are old enough to leave the home. Birthmothers give birth to genetically engineered children they never see, and then the infants are raised nameless by Nurturers for a year with no attachments to anyone. That first year is crucial for human development. A baby needs to bond with its mother and father then. These infants are denied that experience. It is part of what keeps the community’s citizens emotionless, attachmentless automatons. They are more robot than human, more dead than alive.