|Cold and distant, perhaps, but not a patriarch|
Friend Xerxes grudgingly allows that fathers are wrongly devalued in our current culture. Nevertheless, he is concerned about the greater danger of going back to “A cold, distant, Victorian father-knows-best who dispenses periodic packages of moral instruction.”
I wonder if that model of fathering ever existed, or whether it is purely an invention of modern feminism.
My suspicion is initially raised by the “Victorian” reference. Nobody now living is likely to have any experience of a Victorian father. I am in my late sixties; even my grandparents came of age in the Roaring 20’s, in open revolt against anything “Victorian.”
“Victorian” becomes just long enough ago to offer a conveniently blank slate, onto which we can project our prejudices.
But notice the name of that era. One woman, and her social opinions, set the tone then for the English-speaking world, and to a large extent for the world as a whole, for over 60 years. Victorian sentimentality, Victorian romanticism, Victorian aestheticism, could be argued to be distinctly feminine values. Strict rules of etiquette were promoted; again, most often a feminine concern. No room for a “patriarchy” there. The British Empire was literally a matriarchy.
Perhaps there was a patriarchy before 1837? Perhaps; or perhaps male and female roles were balanced for overall equality over the course of the millennia, and the long possession of the throne by a woman upset that balance.
Xerxes’s second example of oppressive patriarchy seems to be a TV show from the 1950s, which he mentions several times iin his original piece: “Father Knows Best.” The title might superficially suggest that, but it was somewhat ironic. The father in that show, played by Robert Young, was, in the words of Wikipedia, a “Caspar Milquetoast” character. Although sensible, even wise, he was generally not listened to by his children; certainly no disciplinarian. The wife and mother, again in the words of Wikipedia, was the “voice of reason.”
So did this stern, powerful, “cold distant Victorian father-knows-best” ever exist as a social norm? Can you think of an example from literature—that is, in which such a character is cited with approval? I cannot. You might argue for the Biblical patriarchs, but that is not just very far back in time. While they exert great power over their family, it is questionable whether the Bible considers this power a good thing, or condemns it. Every Biblical patriarch, in their treatment of their own family, is portrayed as deeply flawed.
I wonder too where Xerxes gets the idea that the father’s essential role in the family as spiritual guide and mentor, one which was indeed filled by the father in “Father Knows Best,” implies being “cold” or “distant.”
The obvious model of a spiritual guide and mentor for any Christian is Jesus Christ. Can one describe him in the Gospels as cold or distant? That seems the opposite of the entire point of the incarnation. Would you, for that matter, describe John the Baptist in such terms? St. Paul? St. Peter? Catholic saints in general? Not the descriptors I would use.
What about other religions. Krishna? Rumi? Shams-e Tabrizi? Socrates? The Baal Shem Tov?
What about literary figures? Obi-Wan Kenobi? Yoda? Gandalf? Cold and distant?
Where is that “cold, distant” image coming from—other than, perhaps, feminist anti-male prejudice?