Summary and Analysis
Chapter 4 opens with Nicholas second-guessing his ambivalence toward the trip, especially when everyone — his wife, his brother, his agent — favors his taking it. Nicholas contemplates his struggles with needing to keep busy. During the past three years, Micah has had his own struggles, particularly with his faith. Nicholas begins to view the trip as a means to rediscover who he was and how he developed the way he did.
Thinking again about his parents and comparing his parents' struggles and challenges to the ones he himself has now faced as a parent, Nicholas realizes that his parents must have faced immense daily pressures, both as parents and as spouses.
In 1972, the Sparks children began to recognize warning signs for their father's mood: DEFCON 1 was merely whistling. DEFCON 2 added mumbling to the whistling. The progression continued up to DEFCON 5, where his tongue was protruding from his mouth — the kids knew it was best to run and hide because the belt had replaced the flyswatter as the favored disciplinary tool.
Metaphorically, Nicholas places himself in one of three boxes — father, husband, writer — and these result in his being extremely busy fulfilling one of those three roles, but leaves him no time for other things. These roles keep him busy with activities and responsibilities, but he doesn't place himself in the role of brother, and this serves as another bit of foreshadowing about the impending bad news.
His parents' difficulties were part of the reason that the siblings grew so close. Dana becomes the princess that the brothers are sworn to protect.
In another bit of foreshadowing, Nicholas Sparks writes about their need to protect their sister, especially because she nearly died, and "in our imagination, we would never let it happen again."
The use of the word imagination is significant because it refers to the games that the siblings are currently playing with their new toys. But it also refers to the adult Nicholas looking back, accepting the reality of his sister's death — which has not yet been revealed to readers.
The image of three children huddled and praying for peace in their family is a somber one because sometimes it seems they have their prayers answered and sometimes not. The siblings end up turning to each other in times of strife — which is exactly what their mother wants her children to do. But despite their fighting, which she undoubtedly wants to shield and protect her children from, she provides them with a means to survive in the world.
Minimal information is shared about the trip around the world, and when it is discussed, it is in the context of using the trip to recapture something that was lost and missing in the relationship of Nicholas and Micah. The trip becomes a means to an end, at least for Nicholas.
Their mother defended her children but also ruled with an iron fist. And their father was not always so strict — he allowed them to watch horror movies, played his guitar for them, and would occasionally sing for them. During this time, their parents' marriage begins to suffer under the weight of parenting. While their father was finishing his dissertation, he was physically and emotionally absent; therefore, their parents began to fight.
One important memory Nicholas shares, however, is that his father always tucked them in at night, no matter what time he got home. Their parents' marriage difficulties led to the "only miracle" of their young lives: their father bringing home presents for them — these weren't toys for Christmas, their birthday, or someone else's birthday. Their miracle was the gift of two swords and a crown — toys that the children used and cherished. As their parents continued to fight, the siblings continued to seek comfort from each other.
Do you have any musical ability (singing and/or instruments)? Do your children?
None whatsoever. Music, in fact, is one of the great mysteries to me. I honestly have no idea how people can create music. It strikes me as something amazing because my mind simply doesn't work that way. A couple of my children, on the other hand, do have a bit of musical ability. Both my daughters sing and play the piano. It's wonderful to listen to them practice.
You wrote about the decision you and your brother made to take care of your sister. Have you found that you both actually have a chivalric notion to take care of all of the women in your life?
I suppose a case can be made for this. We're both married, after all, and both of us love our wives. Both of us want happy marriages, and part of that is showing that you care for your spouses. At the same time, our wives also take care of us, so it's not as if it's a one way street. With my sister though, things were different. Because we had little growing up, because we moved so frequently when we were young, our mother continually stressed the importance of family to us. She reminded us constantly that friends will come and go, but siblings will always be family. By the time our sister needed our help, both Micah and I felt as if we had no other choice because it was the right thing to do. Because she was family. Because we loved her.