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WILLY [pulling Ben away from her impatiently]: Where is Dad? Didn’t you follow him? How did you get started?
BEN: Well, I don’t know how much you remember.
WILLY: Well, I was just a baby, of course, only three or four years old—
BEN: Three years and eleven months.
WILLY: What a memory, Ben!
BEN: I have many enterprises, William, and I have never kept books.
WILLY: I remember I was sitting under the wagon in—was it Nebraska?
BEN: It was South Dakota, and I gave you a bunch of wildflowers.
WILLY: I remember you walking away down some open road.
BEN [laughing]: I was going to find Father in Alaska.
WILLY: Where is he?
BEN: At that age I had a very faulty view of geography, William. I discovered after a few days that I was heading due south, so instead of Alaska, I ended up in Africa. (Act 1)
Willy's abandonment by his father and brother at a young age leaves him with many unanswered questions and concerns. This secret fear corrodes his character, making him kind of a desperate person. Ironically, this desperation eventually leads to both Biff abandoning him and Willy abandoning his family through suicide.
WILLY: No, Ben! Please tell about Dad. I want my boys to hear. I want them to know the kind of stock they spring from. All I remember is a man with a big beard, and I was in Mamma’s lap, sitting around a fire, and some kind of high music. (Act 1)
Willy's desperation for memories is suggestive of his feelings of abandonment. He is again trying to cling to the past to avoid the present. The "high music" mentioned here is the flute which his father played. Miller threads flute music throughout the play to highlight the way that his father's abandonment haunts Willy.
WILLY [longingly]: Can’t you stay a few days? You’re just what I need, Ben, because I—I have a fine position here, but I—well, Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel—kind of temporary about myself.
BEN: I’ll be late for my train.
[They are at opposite ends of the stage].
WILLY: Ben, my boys—can’t we talk? They’d go into the jaws of hell for me, see, but I— (Act 1)
Willy's desire for affirmation and guidance indicates his neediness and the lack of grounding in his life. The fact that he's been abandoned by both his father and his older brother (a father figure) makes it hard for Willy to be a good father in his own right.