Fathers should not pine for love, that only leads to madness–as Shakespeare demonstrated–instead they should settle for honor.
Now I long for love as much as the next guy, but it really doesn’t matter how nice you are, or considerate. A father represents more than he knows. He is the personification of limits and the power to enforce them.
He is larger and stronger initially, and generally more competent and wealthy later. This makes him at once both indispensable and intolerable. And it creates a cauldron of resentment that only gets hotter and more agitated the more his dependents are indebted to him.
Dad, if you’re like most men you don’t engage in emotional blackmail, a tactic employed by mothers in many traditional cultures. It wouldn’t work for you anyway. You’d just look ridiculous. And sulking, or begging for love will just lower people’s regard for you.
When children are small, it’s different. But those are the mommy-centric years. A decent father provides the conditions for a happy childhood, but his work is largely in the background and unacknowledged. At the most a child will feel a sense of security that he or she takes for granted. And when you do intervene it is mostly for fun or discipline. It isn’t generally the stuff of daily life.
Now, it isn’t always the case, I admit. Some guys are just able to solicit esteem as well as affection. But in my experience, that’s unusual. I can’t manage it. So, I’ve found a way to live with this.
One reason fathers of the old school were distant is because they understood this. The consolations of sympathy and affection are for women, often people to whom we feel indebted without fear. Not so the father; he only becomes a sympathetic figure in old age. Until then he cannot live down his native strength.
In this blog I have endeavored to make the case for the paterfamilias based on his centrality in a traditional household. In a productive household he is indispensable. He leads the household with competence and the administration of justice. And when a household is relied upon for the livelihood and well-being of every member, he truly is indispensable.But this doesn’t mean he is loved. The awkward truth is it may even be the cause for resentment.
I believe in one way or another this is the source of some of the vitriol directed at men these days.
Grown men, especially fathers, do not owe their position in society to privilege so much as they are more powerful than others for reasons arising from natural causes. Because of my size, and strength, as well as the things I can do, I get a lot of respect.
Want to know what I never get? Sympathy.
A good father should not expect sympathy, he is not a sympathetic figure. Because he can enforce his commands, those subject to them can only sympathize with each other. Once this was understood, the exercise of authority and the strength required to enforce it were considered good things. Today authority is considered a necessary evil. And you are never grateful for that.
You probably know what I’m talking about, even though you wish it were not so. But of you doubt it, just think about your own history with people in authority. You probably thought they were as obstacles to your happiness. Secretly you may have even wished they were dead. And now you’re one of those people.
Human beings are conflicted, they can know one thing by means of reason: “If dad were gone, where would we be?” and feel the opposite, particularly in our weaker moments, “I wish the old man was dead.” Freud knew this, so did the playwrights.
What does this mean for the paterfamilias?
It means he must exercise self-mastery. He can’t base his judgments or his actions on a longing to be loved. This is one of the most loving things he can do. And he must not, I repeat, must not feel sorry for himself. He must find the strength to do the right thing even in the face of resentment–even when people may secretly wish him away.
If it helps, just remember you’re not the first father to experience this. Everyday God the Father is gracious in the face of hatred and resentment.