I wonder if things would have turned out differently for the Olympians if Zeus would have ever climbed down from Mt. Olympus and just played catch with Ares. Or Hephaestus. Or any of his dozens of children for that matter. I wonder that if he took a more modern role in raising his children, there wouldn’t still be a strong religion based around them. I mean, look at how well New Testament God is doing! Old Testament God was all wrath and smiting, but then he had a kid, got involved, and now look at him. He’s all smiles and rainbows and has billions of followers on Twitter. But, for some reason, when we think of fathers, we think of them more like Zeus. He was the quintessential father figure. Seemingly all-powerful, all-knowing, aloof, but could play some awesome games when the time called for it (and he wasn’t too shabby with the ladies, either).
That was the father of my childhood. He stood above me, an unattainable height of eminence and power I’d never hope to reach. His footsteps when we misbehaved would inspire fear, his sternest gaze would reduce mere mortals to quivering piles of boneless flesh, and his laughter would boom through the house, when he saw fit to laugh. He was a God. He may not have always been there when we were sick, or needed a kind word, but the smallest gift or kind gesture from him was treated like the Tarnhelm, or the winged sandals of Hermes. And this was not just my father, but so many of my childhood friends felt much the same about their own fathers. They formed this pantheon in my hometown, dealing out delight and dole as their whims saw fit. We may not have understood them, these Gods, but we feared and loved them.
And yet, where are the Olympians now? What remains of Mt. Olympus? And our fathers? I suppose like so many mythologies, they either adapt to fit the times or their followers run out of belief. My father, the mighty one, has changed. To this day I am shocked at how short he is, this titan of my childhood, merely a slightly below average sized man! Even when I’m hanging out with him, he’s bigger than my eyes tell me he is, then I hug him and I can peer down at his head! Unfathomable! Both his size and the cuddle. When I was young I could have easily counted the number of times he said that he loved me or called me son. Now, he’s a positively cuddly plush Zeus doll, booming out affection every time we talk, not judgment.
All this leaves me to ponder how I am raising my own children. There are times when I sit at the dinner table and my son does something that would have resulted in thunderbolts had I done it. Immediate immolation at supper. I feel the lightning building inside of me, clouds form behind my head and I prepare to strike! This puny mortal will suffer because he dared to wipe his snot on my leg! AND IS HE LAUGHING AT ME?! THE ALMIGHTY FATHER??!! Oh, that shit eating grin on his face has bought him an untimely demise; his older sister sees it and shields her eyes from the oncoming blast… And yet my hand does not fall. The boy lives and the clouds subside, with mere rumbles in the distance.
I do not want my son to fear me. I want him to obey and love me, I want him to listen and understand me, I do not want him to fear me. I want none of them to fear me. I don’t want to be Zeus at the dinner table, or anywhere else. So I calmly, though only slightly clenched teeth, tell him why that was wrong and not to do that again. I lay it out for him and what his consequences will be when he does it again, and I follow through when the little punk does it again ten minutes later. But he understands why he is being punished, and I am not the deity to be feared.
Here’s something I’ve learned from my three children and my childhood. Kids suck. They just do. They’re ungrateful little bags of fluid and never-ending questions who would sell out you and each other for a mini cupcake. Yet they can be unbelievably loving, considerate, funny little creatures that I am completely responsible for, in every sense of the term. Everything they do, say, and think I have some hand in. So, do I want them to interact with the world through a lens of fear and obedience or love and understanding?
Don’t get me wrong, some days the lightning flies of its own accord. Some days, you just need to smite something to feel better, and when you have three busy children running amok, someone will get the thunder. And oh brother, does it feel good to be Zeus for a moment. To pick up that thunderbolt and let fly. But when that moment comes, be sure to tell them why they have been set upon by the almighty. Don’t just walk away from a proper smiting, let them know why they have been subjugated and beset by wrath so it doesn’t happen again.
I may sometimes wish to wield that Old Testament godlike power over my children everyday, to be instantly obeyed and to brook no-nonsense when my eyebrows arch menacingly, but every day my children laugh with me, ask me questions, cuddle with me and we exchange ‘I love you’s.’ I may have to ask twice (or five times) to get things done and I may get some attitude thrown my way, but they know my limits, and their own, far better than I did. And I know that they will carry those lessons on with them; they will be my apostles, my acolytes spreading the Gospel of their father (not Father) and I will just have to settle for being a demigod, like that carpenter fellow. Now that’s not too shabby and I hear he does a killer party trick with wine.
One thought on “The Dwindling Mythos of the Father-figure.”
I love the underlying message that we chose who we become. We do not have to make the same mistakes as were made the generation before. We decide who we want to be every day.