Friday 21 October 2016

The wisdom of our fathers

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

Mark Twain
Mark Twain

When he was a boy of 14 years, Mark Twain, the great adventurer and wily intellectual, regarded his father to be so ignorant that he could hardly stand to have him around, but when he reached the age of 21 pronounced himself to be astonished at how much his father had learned in only seven years. Fathers everywhere will allow themselves a wry smile at that one.

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Father's Day, as is today, can be easily dismissed as yet another card-selling Hallmark moment, a consumerist designation to play on complex familial relationships, in all of their blissful and indeed many troubled manifestations: to dismiss Father's Day in such terms would not be unreasonable but would be curmudgeonly and unfair in the relative scheme of unfairnesses.

A little known fact is that today is the 50th anniversary of Father's Day, and in this the year of commemoration, landmarks and all such events that must be duly acknowledged, it is as good a milestone as any to acknowledge the father, and by the passage of time to honour all of our fathers who art still amongst us and to remember those who are not.

In light of current relatively inconsequential discussions, it may, perhaps, come as a surprise to some that the person behind the eventual establishment of Father's Day in 1966 was, in fact, a woman - a daughter of a widower no less, who reportedly sat in a church in the US in 1909 listening to a sermon about the newly created holiday of Mother's Day and was said to be "stunned" to hear no mention of fathers.

It is fair to assume that throughout the country today, Father's Day will be primarily acknowledged, or that such acknowledgement will at least be prompted or reminded by daughters, the precious nature to fathers of that relationship all the more rewarding for being the familial bond least outwardly remarked upon among this consumerist generation, but which is the most essential to the leavened essence of society in general.

So let us get this one out of the way: yes, men can be feminists, and, what's more, feminists should want them to be. There is, in fact, authoritative research, which shows that the gender of a person's children influences the attitudes and actions of the parent. The main finding of this research is that support for policies designed to address gender equity is greater among parents with daughters, and that this result emerges particularly strongly among fathers.

It is said that much of life, fatherhood included, is the story of knowledge acquired too late, and there are many fathers of all ages who will allow themselves a wry smile at that one too. Fathers are, perhaps, most aware of this with their sons. Fathers do not cease to guide their sons, or daughters, at the threshold of 21 as referred to by Mark Twain, but continue to guide into old age and, more particularly, in the manner of how to age well. It was Shakespeare who said it was a wise father that knows his own child. Today of all days we might be allowed to turn that wisdom on its head. It is a wise man who knows his father, for a father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he always meant to be.

Sunday Independent

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