Chapter 1

What’s going on with Chris’s father?

©iStock.com/dmbaker

©iStock.com/dmbaker

Ben Strider has been through many fiery trials, some of which Chris will experience himself in the next books. Although Ben is a backslidden runner (what Moden Industries calls a “regressor”) in Chapter 1, he knows quite a bit about how Moden’s people work. That’s why several alarms ring for him during this opening conversation. Ben sees the coincidences—the anonymous donor, the bank, the stranger at a party sticking his nose into Chris’s business—in their true perspective, recognizing them as signs that Moden Industries is moving into Chris’s life, despite Ben’s best attempts to make himself and his children unimportant to them. And when he hears that Chris will be obligated to stay on the east coast for eight years, he immediately recognizes the scheme for what it is: Moden Industries’ attempt to separate Chris from himself; Ben has always suspected that Moden Industries still considers him a threat, although he doesn’t know why.

Ben Strider is a collection of contradictions. He firmly believes in Doug; he’s convinced that Doug is basically loving and that his way is best. Even after he quit running, he taught his children to follow the principles embodied in Doug’s Laws because he knows that obeying these principles brings happiness. Despite this, he succumbed to discouragement under Stan’s measures, coming to see Doug as somewhat capricious. Thus, he became afraid to entrust the lives of his children to Doug’s care, feeling that he could—or at least, would—do a better job of protecting them himself. If cornered, even Ben would admit that these competing ideas don’t really make sense, which is one of the lesser reasons why he refuses to discuss running. He understands, at least on some subconscious level, that he’s allowed his fear and anger to overcome his reason.

Ben recognized the outstanding talents of his youngest son when Chris was quite young, and he knew those talents wouldn’t go unnoticed by Moden Industries. One of Ben’s objectives over the years has been to keep Chris off Moden’s radar. He’s been trying, all this time, to protect him from Stan until such a time as Chris might be eligible for Doug’s protection by running the race himself, an eventuality Ben has been both hoping for and fearing. Now, with this confirmation that Moden isn’t going to leave his loved ones alone, no matter what he does, Ben experiences a sense of not only failure, but of fury, which is so out of character for him as to be shocking to someone who knows him well, like Chris.

Why is Ben so reluctant to talk about running and his wife?

Chris is right when he tells Susana his father didn’t grieve well (Chapter 14), and in his understanding that, for Ben, running and his wife are tied together (Chapter 10). These partially explain Ben’s close-mouthed approach to both subjects. But his feelings, which he doesn’t entirely understand himself, go deeper than this. At this point, Ben’s feelings about Doug are very confused. He blames Doug for not preventing his wife’s death, even though he knows Stan is the one who masterminded the tragedy. Still, he knows with certainty that Doug is the only real defense against Stan.

The result of these conflicting viewpoints is a general feeling of bitterness, uncertainty, and insecurity. Yet he realizes, on some level, that the problem isn’t with Doug, but with his own inability to see the situation clearly or objectively. That’s really why he’s so reluctant to talk about it. Besides the personal pain the subjects stir up for him, he’s afraid that, in talking about Doug, running, the race, or his wife, he will influence his children against Doug, who he knows to be their only hope of eternal life. At the same time, he’s afraid of influencing them for Doug because he believes that, as long as they don’t run the race, Stan will leave them alone. It’s the realization that this last assumption is blatantly wrong (when he sees clear evidence of Stan’s interest in Chris through the scholarship) that rocks his precariously balanced internal world enough to fuel his own journey back to reconciling with Doug. (Ironically, the very thing Camille tries to prevent by separating the dangerous father-son team, she ultimately has a hand in bringing about by triggering Ben’s return to Doug’s side, which is what allows him to complete the Kids’ Klub plans she’s so worried about.)

Considering Ben’s internal struggle, it’s interesting, if not remarkable, that he has been able to be the rock to his family and even community that he is. He’s managed this for two reasons. First, he was a committed and zealous runner for 17 years before giving it up. During that time, he learned a number of things that stayed with him, even after he stopped running. He also learned to genuinely dislike many of the things he once sought, including the sort of transient happiness found in fame and fortune that his brother Bob is still seeking. Secondly, unlike many people who choose destructive methods of dealing with pain (drugs, alcohol, etc.), Ben chose a more constructive (on some levels) approach. His primary method of dealing with his unresolved pain was to distract himself by staying busy. Since he was an outgoing, caring person to begin with, the things he found to do were largely things to help other people.

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