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Our Fathers Who Art on Earth

January 24th, 2014 Evelyn Cole


Essay by Evelyn Cole


A baby born into a family with a father, uncle, or grandfather feels the security the man provides. Generally, love comes from the mother while power and safety come from the father. The child soon comes to know how to adapt to that power. Some children trade freedom for security; some attempt escape and are punished.

Extrapolate: religious figures in every culture represent the father. The child in everyone feels the power, respect, and fear in his body and prays to his chosen father. Jesus Christ is our Prince of Peace, not King. The God of our Western Bibles is our projection of the eternal father onto the mysteries of Universe that are as yet unsolved by scientific explorations.

Political leaders are most often men. Dictators throughout history have maintained power by providing security and a sense of belonging to a homeland, a derivative of “home”. Patriotism is allegiance  to  the  father. George Bernard Shaw wrote, “You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.”

Fathers give us our last name, our identity with a clan. Why else would genealogy searches be so popular. The father/king, president, tribal chief, or dictator adds his power to our national identity. We declare allegiance to that collective  identity. Thus we will never have a quiet world unless we acknowledge the futility of attacking or defending identities, which is the basis for current ideological wars.

Consider our own American history. The peer group of Puritans revolted from the church of England and its king around 1625 and sailed to the new world. They reigned as supreme fathers in New England for a few centuries. It has taken several generations to get their old laws off the books.

In the 18th Century George Washington became the father of our country. He, among many others of the so-called enlightened generation, rejected King George of England. I suspect that Barak Obama isn’t enough of a father figure to succeed. The racism is unconscious among thoughtful whites, conscious among members of the current tea party. His current and most likely brief popularity for the death of Bin Laden gives him father power.

My forty-five year old nephew, a strong father in his own right, asked me to knock on my brother’s—his father’s bedroom door to wake him. The child in him still harbors an irrational fear of disturbing his father. Imagine a Saudi Prince or Kaddafi’s son behaving like a rebellious teen ager. Consider this tale from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes:

“Frederick William was deeply disappointed by his son, the future Frederick the Great, who in his youth seemed more interested in French culture, music, and literature than in the military virtues. The father’s disaffection turned to actual hatred, and his treatment became so harsh that the young prince decided to run away, with the aid of two accomplices, Lieutenants Katte and Keith. The plan was discovered; Keith escaped, but the prince and Katte were captured and court-martialed. Katte was sentenced to life imprisonment, Frederick to solitary confinement.  Frederick William, deciding that Katte’s sentence was too lenient, had him beheaded in the presence of Prince Frederick. This drastic measure had the desired effect; Frederick asked the king’s pardon and began to apply himself to acquiring the Prussian military philosophy.”

Most famous philosophers are reasonable  men questioning and examining the meaning of existence and the truths of nature, acting the role of ultimate father in control of the big pictures. Our Western philosophical fathers, Plato and Aristotle, for instance, told us how to think about our existence in nature. They taught us to analyze, to take subjects of interest apart, to observe, measure, and define relationships of the parts to the whole. They gave us our “scientific  method”.

Eastern philosophical fathers took a different route. They studied the flow of energy. Instead of taking subjects in nature apart, they studied how its components flowed and interacted. Their influence reigns in Asia as much as the Greeks’ influence permeates the West. A Korean doctor schooled in both Eastern and Western medicine called the “scientific method” the “modern method”. His concept of philosophical history precedes that of Plato and Aristotle.

Therefore, I suggest that what we believe in any given moment has a history that we often ignore, one that goes back to our brave father-ancestors who fought for our existence, sometimes, failing as in the cases of the Roman Empire and the Mayan civilization.

The fighting in the Middle East for democracy reminds me of disorganized teen-agers rejecting the controls of the father. How a father responds to the eternal struggle of the son for autonomy depends on the philosophical and emotional history of the father.

And that depends on evolving social discourse. A friend told me that he marched in protest for women’s equality when he was a young man in the nineteen sixties. His father was disgusted and asked him if was “a queer”, the nomenclature of the time for homosexuals. A current father might decry marching in protest for women’s equality as a waste of time rather than evidence of homosexuality. “The kid should be studying or making money.”

Recently the regents of the University of California Polytechnic Institute objected to students campaigning against the all too common sexual assault of women on campus by wearing T-shirts advocating consensual sex. It took them a few weeks before they became sensible and allowed the student campaign. The best fathers look closely at their off springs’ need to push against them and, like the regents, re-evaluate their own need to stay in control.

Tribal fathers in the Middle East believe they must punish their children for the good of their society. The Kings and Queens of England gave up that idea when their children in America revolted and when Mahatma Gandhi said, in effect, “I am not your son.” Now the fathers in the Middle East are facing the fact that they may not be able to control their children any more.

It’s a tightrope we all walk in every village, town, city, country, and Pacific Island. If we recognize how important it is to maintain balance on that tightrope we may be able to cooperate with those who push against us, to negotiate from shared respect among generations. After all, the grandfather has to relinquish his power to the son. If he refuses to let go, the family suffers. Using the metaphor of the family for the state, it follows that a climate of shared respect in negotiations, as well as the desire to continue living, is a major deterrent to nuclear war.



Written by Evelyn Cole

Evelyn Cole

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