One can arguably say that a good father should have qualities such as being affectionate, a role model, and empathetic in order to successfully raise a son. Khaled Hosseini suggests in the novel The Kite Runner that although Baba occasionally displayed some of these qualities, the overall lack of an empathetic father figure can result in challenges throughout one’s life. This is shown through Amir, the main character, who feels neglected by his father, Baba, which follows Amir throughout his life.
Initially, Amir is desperate for Baba’s approval due to Baba’s lack of empathy and willingness to accept Amir. “Most days I worshiped Baba with an intensity approaching the religious.” (Page 32) Amir’s desperation to win over Baba’s approval drives most of his actions throughout his childhood. But even from the start, “If [Baba] hadn’t seen the doctor pull [Amir] out of [his] wife with [his] own eyes, [Baba would] never believe [Amir is Baba’s] son.” (Page 23) Baba expected Amir to become like himself - athletic, brave, and able to stand up for himself and what is right. But when Amir shows cowardice and takes a literary interest, Baba feels no emotion bond with his son, which makes him distant to Amir. Amir feels that Baba is withdrawn from him which makes Amir want Baba’s approval. Amir attempts to achieve it by any means necessary. This is shown in the scene where Amir and Hassan are skipping stones and when Hassan manages to skip his stone 8 times whereas Amir could only do 5. Amir is jealous of Hassan for his ability to get Baba’s approval, partly due to the fact that Hassan possesses the qualities Baba wants Amir to and partly because Hassan is Baba’s son. Amir sees the relationship between Hassan and Baba and harbors a secret resentment towards Hassan and sometimes takes this lack of relationship with Baba out on Hassan. Baba said, “A boy who can’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up for anything.” (Page 22) meaning he is afraid of what Amir will turn out like due to him being a coward. But because of Baba’s lack of empathy and emotional connection to him, Amir becomes exactly what Baba was trying to prevent. If Baba had been able to connect with Amir and lead by example, maybe Amir would have inherited more of Baba’s qualities. Due to Amir’s desperation, this ultimately leads to Amir allowing Hassan to be raped. Amir thinks that once he presents the kite to Baba, he would finally get his approval. The opposite happens though because Amir goes against what Baba was trying to teach him and is a coward by not defending Hassan. Amir’s desperation for the emotional connection with Baba is arguably the cause of his cowardice.
However, Baba’s lack of emotional connection influences Amir’s choices. “The least [Amir] could have done was to have the decency to have turned out a little more like [Baba]. But [Amir] hadn’t turned out like him. Not at all.” (Page 19) Amir became a coward because of the disinterest Baba shows him and this leads to things such as Amir not defending Hassan when he is about to be raped. “In the end, [Amir] ran.” (Page 77) because he is so desperate for Baba to connect with him. Baba does not connect with Amir, nor does he put in much effort to do so, and therefore prevents himself from being the fatherly figure Amir needs to show him right and wrong. Baba and Amir’s relationship is represented in the scene when Hassan, Ali, and Amir hear gunshots outside. Baba is not there, physically or emotionally, leaving Amir to fend for himself. Amir must find empathy for another source, in this case Ali. Throughout the story, Amir find substitute father figures to learn from such as Ali, Rahim Khan, or even General Taheri. Amir attempts to form the emotional connections, denied him by Baba, to others around him even when he isn’t aware of it himself. “[Amir] told him [he’d] written a story. Baba nodded and gave a thin smile that conveyed little more than feigned interest…then nothing…as always it was Rahim Khan who saved [Amir].” (Page 31) Rahim Khan gives the encouragement Amir needs to peruse his writing career. Baba does not provide this encouragement because he doesn’t value the literary quality that Amir possesses and cannot relate with Amir’s interest and therefore withdraws himself from Amir further. Rahim Khan fills in for Baba emotionally here to relate with Amir and takes an interest in his work, eventually giving him a journal for his birthday to continue his work. Baba would never encourage Amir’s writing career because he does not accept Amir for who he is because he cannot relate to him. Baba says, “The only sin is theft.” (Page 17) This is ironic because Baba robs Amir of the father figure he desires and the emotional support and empathy that comes with this role.
Consequently, Amir continues to carry Baba’s emotional detachment into later life and influences his fathering abilities. Once Amir rescues Sorab, he merges Baba and Hassan’s fathering techniques. One hand, Amir takes an interest in Sorab and forms an emotional connection with Sorab in the way Baba never did with him. He reads to Sorab and plays cards with him, just as Hassan used to do. Amir also knows where to look for Sorab when he disappears because he’s bonded with Sorab and can guess where he might be. If Amir had done the same in his childhood, it wouldn’t be likely that Baba would find him right away because, due the lack of connection between Amir and himself, Baba would not be able to guess where Amir might go. It would be more likely that Rahim Khan, Ali, or even Hassan would find him because they can empathize with Amir. But Amir, although he strives not to, also adopts some of Baba’s fathering techniques like being emotionally detached when he tells Sorab he might have to go back to the orphanage. Due to the abuses he suffered there, Sorab is fearful of going back and what the orphanage represents so he pleads with Amir not to send him back. Amir neglects to empathize with Sorab and puts him to bed because, “That’s how children deal with terror. They fall asleep.” (Page 342). Here, Amir emotionally disconnects with Sorab to justify to himself breaking his promise to Sorab not to send him back to an orphanage, which leads to Sorab attempting suicide. Afterwards, Amir attempts to regain the progress he’d made with Sorab prior to the suicide attempt but it proves difficult because Sorab has closed himself off to everyone, including Amir. But Amir doesn’t give up, with the help of Hassan’s previous fathering methods, and continues to attempt and rebuild the relationship. He does this by emotionally connecting and taking interest in Sorab rather than trying to mold him into what Amir believes Sorab should be, just as Baba did with him. Amir tries to do the opposite of what Baba did with him so that he can be a good father to Sorab. The end scene shows him running a kite for Sorab, just as Hassan would have done, which coaxes a positive reaction from Sorab and brings hope for him to connect with and trust Amir once again.
Therefore, Amir learns from Baba’s mistakes to ensure he doesn’t so the same with Sorab. Amir takes away from Baba’s fathering abilities that he can be a better father and give Sorab what he’d been denied – empathy and emotional support. He learns from his childhood what not to do so that he is able to help Sorab heal from his traumatic experiences from the orphanage and Assef. It can be argued that if Amir had turned out just like Baba, Sorab would never be able to heal from what happened because he needs emotional connections in order to do so. Baba would not be able to connect with the hardships Sorab experienced and would probably go about the wrong way of dealing with it. Amir takes away from Baba’s parenting that an emotional connection is required for a proper upbringing and is a key component to helping Sorab heal. Baba ended up teaching Amir how to be a better father and that a son’s happiness can depend on that of a father-son relationship.
In conclusion, we can take away from the novel The Kite Runner, written by Khaled Hosseini, that empathy and emotional connections are essential to a healthy father-son relationship. Evident in Amir’s relationship with Baba, it is more important to take interest in and accept your son rather than trying to conform them to how you think they should be. “You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons. But if you treat them like sons they will turn out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes.” (Walter M. Schirra)