Our missing father

Tuesday, 25. October 2011

Where is home to the soul? Did it start with some cosy world in which mother nurtured us? For most people, happily, the answer is yes. Though for some there is no emotional place called home, not even in the mother archetype.

But something almost all of us share is that we never got enough of the right kind of fathering. He was scary, unemotional, afraid to get involved, perhaps. He came and went. He upset mother and disturbed the peace. He gambled or boozed away the family income. He would rather be off doing something else. He left altogether in many cases…

All clichés and all importantly true in some people’s lives.  Think of your own life and the fathering that would have made you stronger, wiser, better able to cope, your ideal father, the one your soul will always crave.

Then think of the deal you actually got and ask how it damaged or lessened you.

Then think about what you did to overcompensate, in males perhaps something to do with toughness and aggression, ambition and competition, all sour substitutes for natural manhood. In females, well, if I had a tenner for every woman I’ve met who’s looking for daddy I’d own a yacht and a sub tropical nature reserve.

Why? Does it matter why? Sociologists put up reasons why some subcultures make fathers more untenable or give them more license to stray. But I reckon this is a feature of all cultures, everywhere, at all times. And something very profound we share in common.

And then we all try to be the good father that we didn’t get. And it still doesn’t work, not according to our kids, who will one day have the same complaints that we have.

You kind of have to be your own father in this world.

3 Responses to “Our missing father”

  1. Vincent Says:

    The world is what it is. We have to do our best with it. From an evolutionary point of view, fathers in the communities of our primate ancestors had no particular role in the upbringing of the young, I think. So the mystery is why fathers are so important in the human world.

    Leonard Shlain attempts to solve this and many other mysteries in his book, “Sex, Time, and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution”. He argues that homo sapiens is a peculiar sidetrack of evolution. We are who we are because of various problems and the need to find practical solutions. (1) Childbirth dangerous to women. They need control over their sexuality. (2) Human menstruation drains the woman of iron. For childbirth she needs it in large quantities. (3) Red meat contains iron. The woman will favour a hunter who brings her meat. (4) She teaches the man that sex is the cause of childbirth. The father recognises that the child resembles him. (5) The father takes steps to ensure that the mother stays faithful to him so as to give birth to his children older. (6) the woman takes steps to keep the man around so that he can continue to bring her meat throughout her pregnancy and thereafter.

    And much more. I have tried to condense the essence of his entire book into a few points. I don’t necessarily agree with or approve his arguments, but his book has the merit of pointing out questions that need to be answered, even if his answers are scarcely more than wild surmises.

    I will ask you in return, Steve, why it should be that a boy or girl actually needs a father. I never had one, only a succession of two stepfathers who, in the manner you sketch out, did not do the full duty of being fathers. My wife never knew her father and her mother refuses to divulge any details about him.

    Life is a challenge. It certainly would be possible to take the victim’s view and say we were damaged or lessened by the deal we actually got. But I cannot see how it is a useful view. We have to get on with it.

    I don’t accept what you say about overcompensating, either for the boy or the girl. I won’t deny that it may happen because myriad are the ways that we learn how to be and thrive in this world. This is the very odd human predicament, so different from other animals. In summary, it is not easy live as a human. The astonishing thing is, we all find some way or other to make the best of it. We are not to be blamed for the various props and stratagems we adopt.

  2. RealSteveHolmes Says:

    My initial answer is that because we have imagination and we dream we are able to conceive of life other than the one we have now and have the further ability to idealise from our observations and pains what a perfect situation might be (whether accurate or not).

    Hence there is a perfect climate. A perfect mother. Perfectly available nourishment. Prefect freedom from fear. Perfect mutual respect between persons. Perfect nurturing in early life leading to perfect preparation for adulthood.

    Any imagination able to penetrate the last on that list would default to a picture of a perfect father, the one who protects, teaches, shares skills, warns, encourages and blesses us. As opposed to the one who ignores, teases, scares, brutalises, cheats and defrauds us of our birthright…

    It’s a vital part of all literature until last century when the demon father entered politics and almost laid waste the entire world.

  3. Cora Says:

    Our missing father…a good topic, Steve.
    I don’t know what I was missing because my father disappeared out of my life when I was five years old.
    So… have I been looking for a daddy-ish man when I choose my partners in life? Again I’m not sure. I liked to be looked after, but then, that goes for men as well. Someone who cares about you and looks after you when needed.

    Still, it would have been nice, if my father had been present in my life. A mature, wise, good-natured, witty, solid and stable man. Who loved me, without any condition. Simply because I was his little girl. For me, I think, this concept of a father figure stands for trust and safety.

    The last sentence hits a nail, Steve, ‘you have to be your own father in this world’. Not always that easy, though.

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