How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

by Jerald Walker

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Advice to a Family Man Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on July 26, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567

While taking an Amtrak from New York to Boston with his family, Walker accidentally dropped the pencil he was using to edit students’ papers; the pencil relocated itself underneath the buttocks of the thin, blonde female passenger beside him.

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Walker considered discreetly grabbing the pencil and then imagined the blonde woman waking up while his hand was underneath her buttocks. He imagined the screams that would follow as she accused him of groping her and passengers rushed to her aid. He would, of course, insist that he was no groper but a family man traveling with his wife and sons. He hoped that his wife would rise to his defense and assure the other passengers that Walker is not a pervert—instead, she would likely admit that he is a “goofball and a klutz.” His seventeen-year-old son would agree, telling the passengers about the time last year when his father accidentally wandered into the women’s restroom at the airport because he was too busy reading a text to notice the lack of urinals. And he would then explain that only last month, his father had wandered into the women’s restroom at the college where he works and had run into a female colleague there.

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In elementary school, Walker was once zigzagging down the halls pretending to be a human checker moving along the tiles when a group of teenage girls had grabbed him and forced him into the girls’ restroom. Once inside, they weren’t quite sure what to do with him, and Walker had begun crying as he awaited his fate. The tears elicited great compassion from the girls, who then hugged him and told him that everything was going to be okay. One of the girls escorted him to the door and kissed him on the cheek. Walker had later spent significant time loitering near women’s restrooms during his pubescent years but never again found himself the target of such attention.

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Latest answer posted August 20, 2021, 6:25 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Back on the train, Walker checked to see if the woman was still asleep and then decided to reclaim his pencil. Just as his fingers were inches from her buttocks, she woke up, her eyes large. Stammering, he pointed to the pencil; she picked it up and smiled as she handed it back to him. Pretending to edit his student’s paper again, Walker imagined disembarking the train and walking to his waiting family, where he would take his place at their side.

Analysis 

Walker’s concluding essay is a testament to the constancy of his most important relationships—the love he shares with his wife and sons. Instead of portraying a fairy tale caricature of a perfect family, Walker acknowledges the humanity of those relationships. His “goofiness” sometimes creates awkward situations. His wife, ever loyal, is also forthright about her husband’s flaws. Walker struggles, as many fathers do, with a teenage son who makes “a habit of contradicting [him].” Yet the essay concludes as a journey is ending, and Walker seeks the faces of his family as he prepares to reach their next destination. His family calls for him, needing his presence, and Walker is at their side before they are even aware of it. Walker is indeed a “family man,” embracing his own flaws as he clings to the love and support of his wife and sons as they guide each other through the unpredictable journey of life.

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