Kafka Birthday: A Letter From Franz Kafka To His Father

Kafka's Heartbreaking Letter To His Father
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) czech writer c.1910. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) czech writer c.1910. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Today would have been Franz Kafka's 130th birthday. The following is an excerpt of a letter that Kafka wrote to his father, Hermann Kafka, in 1919. He was hoping that it might be a peace offering, as the father/son relationship had disintegrated and fallen apart over the years. Kafka gave it to his mother to deliver, but she never did, returning it to Kafka instead. He died of tuberculosis five years later.

Dearest Father,

You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you. As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more detail than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking. And if I now try to give you an answer in writing, it will still be very incomplete, because, even in writing, this fear and its consequences hamper me in relation to you and because the magnitude of the subject goes far beyond the scope of my memory and power of reasoning...

You struck nearer home with your aversion to my writing and to everything that, unknown to you, was connected with it. Here I had, in fact, got some distance away from you by my own efforts, even if it was slightly reminiscent of the worm that, when a foot treads on its tail end, breaks loose with its front part and drags itself aside. To a certain extent I was in safety; there was a chance to breathe freely. The aversion you naturally and immediately took to my writing was, for once, welcome to me. My vanity, my ambition did suffer under your proverbial way of hailing the arrival of my books: “Put it on my beside table!”, but I was really quite glad of it, not out of rebellious malice, not only out of delight at a new confirmation of my view of our relationship, but quite spontaneously, because to me that formula sounded something like: “Now you are free!” Of course it was a delusion; I was not, or, to put it most optimistically, was not yet, free. My writing was all about you; all I did there, after all, was to bemoan what I could not bemoan upon your breast. It was an intentionally long, drawn-out leave-taking from you...


Excerpted from Letter to his Father by Franz Kafka. Copyright © 2013 by Franz Kafka. Excerpted by permission of Schocken Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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