Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork
Ready for a textbook example of parental cluelessness? Meet Arturo Sandoval.
Not a Candidate for Parent of the Year
Imagine this: a kid is (rightfully) annoyed with his dad. The kid has a really hard time expressing himself, especially when it requires showing emotion, but he feels so strongly about what he has to say that he almost yells. Instead of realizing that he's got a serious situation on his hands, the dad tells the kid, "You are raising your voice. I haven't seen you do that in a very long time. That's interesting. Anyway…" (15.54).
It's safe to say that even though Marcelo's dad Arturo loves him, he views him as a bit of a (social) science project. It's all about what Arturo wants: he wants to make money; he sells his soul to a cutthroat law firm. He wants a little hanky-panky after the office Christmas party; he calls the mailroom girl into his office instead of going home to his wife. And perhaps most damaging of all, he wants Marcelo to join the "real world," so he takes him away from the job he loves (a job that will actually train him for what he wants to do after graduation) and forces him to do work in which he has no interest.
As Marcelo says, "All my life he's fought against anything that separates me from the normal" (7.1).
A Whole Lotta Conflict Goin' On
If Marcelo represents the human heart being true to itself, Arturo represents, as William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, "the human heart in conflict with itself" (source). Speaking of hearts, Marcelo's been having heart-to-heart talks with just about everybody lately—except the person who needs it most. As Marcelo himself puts it, "I am thinking about how hard it is for me to communicate with my father. He is the one person I would most like to 'chat' with. We could sit in our backyard and talk small talk or large talk. It wouldn't matter" (10.42). If Marcelo felt like Arturo was listening to him and sincerely trying to understand him, he'd be able talk to Arturo about the real stuff, like human suffering and doing the right thing. Maybe he'd even be able to help Arturo make better choices in his own life.
What Have We Learned Here, Charlie Brown?
Arturo stands as a warning to all parents who don't take the time to communicate effectively with their children because they're so caught up in their own wants and needs. It's not until Marcelo blows the lid off the Vidromek case and gives Arturo Jasmine's letter that Arturo is forced to see Marcelo as a real human being, someone with more integrity and intelligence than just about anyone else.
Arturo's apology comes too late, in the form of a letter, and it doesn't include the sentence, "I realize you really want to go to Paterson, so you may." Instead, he says, "It was only yesterday, when I read Jasmine's note the way you would read it, that I recognized the extent of my lack of judgment" (31.4). We'd like to think he recognized his poor judgment way before that, but he was backed into a corner when Marcelo discovered Jasmine's letter.
But hey, at least Marcelo was able to open his father's eyes to the fact that injustice has consequences, so it's safe to say that Arturo changes as much as it's possible for him to change. Hopefully he'll pay more attention to Marcelo from now on, if for no other reason than that he sees the consequences of not paying attention.