“Progeny” was published in If in November 1954. I read it in We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume 2. It can be found there on pages 93–107, or wherever you like to look for Dick’s stories.
Ed Doyle is rushing to the Los Angeles Central Hospital by robot taxi after hearing news that his wife—Janet—is about to deliver their child. He is from the colony on Proxima but brought his wife to Earth to deliver in a better environment. At the hospital, Ed learns that the child has already been born. A robotic doctor, Doctor Bish, provides the details. Bish reminds him that the boy (predetermined) will be called Peter. They are allowed to look at the infant from afar while Bish reveals that the body is in good health from every angle. Ed wants to hold the baby, an idea that horrifies Janet. On the way out Janet confronts Ed about his embarrassing request and accuses him of trying to ruin the life of the child. Janet assures him that the child will be well off since he is from the best eugenic stock. Ed wants to know how long Peter will need to stay with the robots. Janet explains that Peter will be raised by the robots for nine years. He will only be allowed to return to humans when he is less plastic. Robots have proven to be the best as raising children. They are not afflicted with emotions, can prevent passing on neurosis or other “warped development.” Ed comes to terms with not seeing his son for nine years.
Nine years later, Ed Doyle meets Doctor Bish. Bish tries to banter, but Ed insists on seeing his son. BIsh informs him that he has been moved for specialized training to the biological research station. Bish attempts to convince Ed that it is best not to see his son because he is a critical point in his training and has the potential to become a great biologist. Ed insists on his legal rights to talk to his son over Bish’s protests. Ed takes Peter out for a drive. Throughout their conversation Peter is cold and aloof despite Ed’s attempts to bond with him. They discuss Proxima and their first meeting nine years when he was born. When they get outside of the city, Ed sends the driver back. Ed starts to smoke a pipe, telling Peter how he moved to Proxima when he was nineteen and not runs a maintenance business. When a squirrel goes by, Ed is delighted. Seeing these animals is one of the reasons he likes returning to Terra, although such delights are in decline. Peter, however, never saw a squirrel. Ed is bothered that Peter seems so content with a life that was planned for him by others. He remembers his own youth, wandering around. Ed suggests that Peter go with him to Sirius, the newest frontier. Peter tells Ed that it is time to go back. He smiles awkwardly at Ed’s further suggest that they go to Sirius together.
Later, Peter and Doctor Bish are going through the paperwork on the visit. Bish asks him about the visit. Peter tells him that Ed was very emotional and had a pungent odor very similar to the smell of the animals in the lab. The two of them exchange a smile of mutual understanding.
“Progeny” can be easily read as a warning to all parents who find it comforting that the state—through public schools—takes care of their children at their most formative years. Schools do not necessarily make children independent in general, only independent of their families. By the time they are in first grades, children spend most of their waking time with teachers and classmates (all determined by lot or competitive examinations) rather than their families and communities. The dynamic between Peter and Ed is only an exaggeration of the dynamic between public school children and their parents. Even Peter disgust at his father, placing him at the same level as lab animals, has parallels with the Americanization program of public schools in the United States, which worked to suppress immigrant, ethnic cultures in favor of an American identity. I am not sure if Dick has public schools in mind when he wrote “Progeny,” but he almost definitely was expressing concerns about the growing isolation between the generations.
I would be one of the last to say that maturation away from your parents moral and ethical system is a bad, but we need to question what replaces it. In the case of “Progeny,” what replaced the father-child relationship is an artificial bureaucratic logic. Peter has surrendered his ability to choose his own future. Instead, he is placed in a certain profession. Now, you might say, is this not what Ed was trying to do at the end. Unhappy with the career choice the robots chose for his son, he tries to get Peter to follow him on his wandering throughout the Terran colonies. Maybe. This is a tension that needs to be worked out in a way that preserves the Promethean spirit of youth and the humanism that seems to make a functioning society livable.
It seems to me that Ed may be the owner of the more youthful, bold, creative, and imaginative spirit than his son. Here the costs of giving a bureaucracy the right to raise our children is most striking. Ed lives and works in the colonies. Peter will live all of his life in a research lab on Earth. We see the expected dynamic—the conservative father trying to hold back the wanderlust of the youth—inverted. Ed’s eyes seem to light up when he thinks about the untouched frontier. “Do you think maybe you’d be interested? Like to hop out to Sirius and take a look? It’s a good place. Four clean planets. Never touched. Lots of room. Miles and miles of room. Cliffs and mountains. Oceans. Nobody around. Just a few colonists, families, some construction. Wide, level plains.” (105) In contrast, Terra has become place of dreadful decadence and banality. Perhaps the robots who raise Terran children will promote some scientific innovation, but creativity and dreaming seems to have died off. In these moral terms, Peter is much more a reflection of the old than is Ed.
This talk by John Taylor Gatto gets close to Dick’s perspective in “Progeny.”