KAFKA AND THE FAMILY BUSINESS. MORE FROM HIS LETTER TO MY FATHER.
As long as our business was a street-level store, it should have been interesting for me, especially in my childhood. It was so lively when it was lit up at night. I could see and hear a great deal, was able to help here and there, to excel, but most of all, to admire your great business talents – the way you sold things, treated people, joked with them, were indefatigable, made instant decisions in doubtful situations, etc.
It was a spectacle worth watching when you wrapped up goods or opened a carton. All in all, it wasn’t a bad teaching experience for a child. But because you scared me in everything, and I identified the business with you, I was no longer comfortable in the store. Matters that seemed normal to me at first tormented and embarrassed me, especially your treatment of the personnel. I don’t know whether it was like that in most businesses (in the Assicurazioni Generali, for example, the treatment of the staff was quite similar in my time; when I resigned, I gave the director an explanation which wasn’t quite truthful, but not altogether a lie. I told him that I could not stand the scolding, which by the way was not directed against me personally; I was too painfully sensitive to begin with), but other businesses did not concern me in my childhood.
I heard and saw you shouting in the store in a way that was unparalleled in the whole world (at least that’s what I thought at the time). And I witnessed not only your rants, but also your tyranny in other matters. For example if there were goods you did not want to have confused with others, you shoved them off the counter in one sweep, and your employee had to pick them up from the floor. The only excuse for your behaviour was the impulsiveness of your anger. Also, there was the phrase you constantly used about an employee who suffered from pleurisy: “That sick dog -- let him bite the dust!” You called your employees “paid enemies”, as they were indeed, but before they turned out like that, you were the “paying enemy”. In your store I also learned that you could be unjust. I would not have noticed it in my own case because I had amassed too much guilt, and always justified you. I corrected my youthful opinion a little but not radically, thinking there were people in your store, who were not part of our family, who worked there and had to live in constant fear of you. Of course that was an exaggeration because I assumed that you instilled the same fear in those people as you did in me. If that had been the case, their lives would have been unbearable indeed. But they were adults in perfect control of their emotions. They shrugged off your rants without effort, and in the end that kind of behaviour harmed you more than them. As for me, it made the store unbearable because it reminded me too much of our relationship. You were so superior a businessman…that the work of your employees could not satisfy you, and in a similar way, you were always dissatisfied with me.
(Source: Letter to my Father, text on www.kafka.org; my translation)
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