During a little adventure in Hot Springs, SD, my fatherly influence was again confirmed.
Posts Tagged ‘fatherhood’
Lazarus, after watching the episode about the Green Goblin:
“A boy turns into his dad. He turns into a different person, he gets bigger, and he becomes a bad guy.”
Every once in a while I have to report on a feel-good story. This one comes from the Black Hills in South Dakota, where a boy got a truck off of his father, who was pinned underneath. The father told the boy to throw it into “racing gear,” which earlier he had told his son was the meaning of the “R.” The father lived, and the boy is being honored as a local celebrity. The full story here.
Richard Holmes, in his fine book about the years following the British Enlightenment, Age of Wonder, describes a series of correspondence between the renowned astronomer William Herschel and his son, John (pp.387-390). Even beneath his father’s enormous shadow, John had done pretty well for himself, becoming a Fellow at Cambridge University and achieving some advances in calculus that appeared to be supplanting Newtonian theory of fluxions.
He wrote to his famous father in 1813, explaining that, out of a sense of obligation to acquire an independent livelihood, he would pursue either research in pure mathematics at Cambridge, or become a lawyer in London. William Herschel took this news poorly, writing back that it would be “crooked, tortuous and precarious” to forsake the “superior” studies afforded John over his life. Clearly these sciences were not nearly adventurous or practical enough in the mind of William.
Surprisingly enough, William recommended in the place of mathematics or law a career in the Anglican priesthood. This must have sounded ludicrous to John, as neither he nor his father had much interest in Christianity. But according to William, “A clergyman… has time for the attainment of the more elegant branches of literature, for poetry, for music, for drawing, for natural history, for short and pleasant excursions of travelling, for being acquainted with the spirit of the law of his country, for history, for political economy, for mathematics, for astronomy, for metaphysics, and for being an author upon any one subject in which… [he is] qualified to excell.”
A bewildered John responded that he hardly believed any Anglican doctrine, but an inveterate William kept pushing. Without concern for his son’s religious integrity, he again wrote, saying, “The most conscientious clergyman may preach a sermon full of sound morality, and no one will enquire into theological studies.” Unsurprisingly, John was horrified at this. Was his father discouraging him from self-reliance in an occupation and encouraging him to live hypocritically? What manner of manhood was this?
Only after the threat of a total breach of relationship did William desist. John did practice law in London after all, followed by a full Fellowship back in Cambridge. But William would have the final victory, as John came back to the astronomical life in 1816, minding his father’s telescope.
It hardly seems believable that a father would talk his son out of a life of industry and integrity, which were in other circles (and to this day are) marks of manhood. For the new nobility of 19th century Great Britain, however, industry and integrity were hardly virtues. They were the explorers, the speculators, the scientists and professors. Such men were above mere labor or repose, religion or morality. They were reaching for the stars – and no self-respecting father of this caliber would have it otherwise for his son.
It was interesting to see my son’s reaction to a pheasant I had shot. There it was: a fully-feathered, colorful bird, wrapped in an orange Hy-Vee plastic bag. My son, who has seen animals only in the context of dog parks and zoos, literally took several steps back. He wasn’t recoiling in horror so much as discomfort with something totally alien. After I made a joke and started laughing, he reluctantly took a feather offered to him.
Admittedly, I’m not sure how to teach my son about hunting. I believe it is a perfectly acceptable form of entertainment. I also believe that hunting, if not taught properly, can promote a cult of violence. How, in a world where hunting isn’t necessary for survival, does a father teach his son to enjoy the sport without justifying it through bloodlust?
Vince Vaughn, one of America’s most outstanding bachelors, announced this month that is tying the knot with Canadian real estate agent Kyla Webber. It seems that Vaughn’s movie, Couples Retreat, may have been therapeutic. What happened to the lovable party animal from Swingers? What will become of the Frat Pack?
Interestingly, he told Oprah.com that he decided to get married not in order to find greater fulfillment, but to have kids. He is actually sprinting towards responsibility. He isn’t letting out many details about his relationship, but seems excited mostly excited about the new possibilities of a responsible life.
On the other side, he has expressed ambivalence about whether the relationship is going to change him. Good luck on that.
The anthropological observation of importance here is that many men in America today are experiencing a mid-life crisis. In contradistinction from a generation ago, however, these men are making moves towards resposibility, not irresponsibility. Men today get married and have a child, where the boomer escapees were running from their wives and kids. The midlife crisis today is not a new adolescence. It is the late departure from it.
The political right – as in Kay S. Hymowitz’s recent article – continues the drumbeat for earlier marriages. Certainly a wife and child and mortgage will force men to grow up. Maybe. But in a world where marriages are dissolvable as aspirin tablets, will this really do this trick? Besides, men like Vaughn are going into marriage these days with the caveat that they don’t have to change their immature ways. The a-woman-will-whip-me-into-shape days are over. Which is why bearing children has become the real test of maturity. Offspring are so, well, concrete.
In the end, maybe the only weapon the cause of maturity can wield is the promise of a better life. Being a man is better than being a boy. Attending a city council meeting is better than watching Southpark. Wooing a woman is far superior to beating off to Maxim magazine. Raising a child is more satisfying than being one. If Vince Vaughn can come to that realization, why not others?