Michael decides to seek his father’s advice, not because they are close but because of the distance between them. During Michael’s childhood, his father rarely expressed emotions, despite Michael’s now-dissipated childhood belief in “a wealth of undiscovered treasure behind that uncommunicative manner.” When Michael and his siblings wanted to speak to their father, they had to schedule appointments with him, like his students.
Like his relationship with Hanna, Michael’s relationship with his father is an example of generational or parent-child conflict. Similar to Hanna, Michael’s father is emotionally distant, though Michael initially hopes otherwise for both of them.
Michael presents his problem as an abstract and in examples, but his father deduces that it has to do with the trial. His father thinks about the problem, then discusses the right of the individual to freedom and dignity. As an example, his father points to Michael’s boyish anger that his mother made all his decisions, saying, “Philosophy has forgotten about children…the way I forget about you.” When his father tells him that he must put another’s human dignity before one’s notion of her happiness, Michael is relieved. His father advises him that he must try to convince the person to reveal her secret for her own good, rather than talk behind her back.
That Michael considers revealing Hanna’s illiteracy at all suggests that he feels somewhat responsible for her. However, his relief at his father’s initial advice not to reveal Hanna’s secret shows that he is unwilling to truly pursue this responsibility. In advising Michael, his father both demonstrates his memory of his son’s childhood and acknowledges the distance between them. Speaking in the present tense, his confession that he “forgets” Michael sometimes seems to be an apology for the state of their relationship.
Michael doesn’t know how he could face Hanna, however, and though he knows the question is immaterial, asks his father what he should do if he can’t talk to her. His father realizes that he can’t help his son, and tells him that as a father he finds his inability to help his son “almost unbearable.” Michael has nothing to say to this, as he isn’t sure if this is true. His father tells him he can visit any time, but Michael doesn’t believe him.
Michael is somewhat skeptical about his father’s unexpected emotional display. Despite his father’s acknowledgment of their distant relationship, and his offer that Michael can visit any time, Michael does not believe him, suggesting that their relationship cannot ever be wholly repaired.