Eagle Q&A: New short story collection explores father-son bonds

A Brooklyn resident tackles the big questions about the unique relationships between fathers and sons in a collection of short stories.

In “Terms of Engagement: Stories of the Father and Son,” his debut short story collection, Paul Alan Ruben portrays father and son as intimate enemies, each yearning to be understood, acknowledged and validated by the other. Raw and gripping, these nine stories take place in collision territory — where father and son engage one another in uncertain terms, both desperately trying to repair the emotional damage that has led to their alienation.

At its core, “Terms of Engagement” asks: Who am I as a father? Who am I as a son? Who am I as a human being?

As an audiobook producer/director, Ruben has won numerous industry awards, including two Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word. He’s been published by Pif Magazine, Pennsylvania English/35 and Connotation Press and contributed to various nonfiction print and online publications, including Dadcentric.com, The Good Men Project, Fatherly and AudioFile Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn.

Ruben recently spoke to the Eagle about his inspiration for the book and his own relationship with his father.

Author Paul Alan Ruben
Photo by John Marshall Cheary

Eagle:  What inspired you to write this book?

Paul Alan Ruben: My relationship with my father and my own son were the two major sources of inspiration. Also, my desire to use fiction as a way to combine imagined characters and scenarios and real-life emotional themes as means by which to investigate the relationship between father and son.

Eagle: What was your relationship like with your own father?  Did it affect the way you approached the book? 


Ruben: I was intimidated by my father’s intelligence and frightened by his raging temper as a child, and yet, I wanted to be like him. Growing up I sought praise and acknowledgement from my father. I do not recall receiving either. I do remember being the object of my father’s humor, at times the punch line for a joke. He was quite witty. I did not ever feel taken seriously by him. Ultimately, I did not feel loved, nor did I love my father. I felt mostly angry at him and ashamed and insecure about who I was. These childhood feelings had a direct impact on how all my stories were structured: fathers and sons as intimate enemies, each unable to connect, to express their desire to be respected, understood, and loved by the other.


Eagle: What advice can you offer to fathers and sons about the relationships that they have with each other?  

Ruben: I’m not a mental health professional. I think my task as a writer is to represent reality as best I can. That said, yes, I have some advice based on my experience as a son:  Listen to one another without ‘yeah, but.’ Respect and acknowledge each other’s point of view, even if you don’t agree (you can disagree respectfully). Most importantly, stay emotionally connected with one another. Tomorrow is another day, another day to work through whatever may be troubling the relationship.


Eagle: Is there anything that you wish someone had told you about these relationships when you were growing up?

Ruben: Yes. I wish someone had told me, especially when my feelings were hurt, when I believed I wasn’t worth much, that my feelings were feelings only. They were not the truth.

“Terms of Engagement: Stories of the Father and Son” hit shelves on Tuesday.

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