The child is father to the man, or so they say, but what kind of man the child becomes depends on the kind of father he happens to have. In these days of ‘fathers for justice’ and paternity leave, does anyone stop to ask what justice for fathers might mean, or what fathers ought to do on their paid break from work? What is the role, the duty, of the father after his biological deed has been done? What should he be to his child, for childhood’s duration?
There were times when the answers to these questions were understood, responsibilities acknowledged. There are obvious differences according to time and place, but a common core of fatherliness emerges. Fathers were to be exemplars of virtue to their children, especially to their sons. They were to demonstrate, either through their actions or through their knowledge, the appropriate models of courage and physical prowess. A delicateness of touch and a gentleness of demeanour were to be married to a robustness of spirit when the moment commanded it, and sons were to understand that the former without the latter would not a man make. In many periods, the father was the moral teacher, ensuring the next generation of citizens understood what citizenship meant, and why it was worth fighting for. Some people have misunderstood this as all tiger shooting and rugby, but as we might expect, it was richer than that. The boy was to respect his father and treat his mother with the courtesy that his future wife might expect. Here, the father would lead by example, as also in the cases of piety, temperance, and fortitude. The son would learn from the father that in the family lay life’s treasure, and its sanctity would provide the motivation for its defence.
A way of life, in a free state, is perhaps reducible to this unit. To challenge a state so constructed is to challenge the core element of the family. A call to arms, therefore, would not be an appeal to an intrinsic masculine attraction to blood and guts, pomp and circumstance, and glory. On the contrary, the image of the thing to be defended – the gentleness of family life – will serve to ensure that the boy-becoming-man attends the roll call.
Justice for fathers in our world might then begin with the education of fathers in matters manly. While courage, strength and indefatigability have been watered down in our world, we have almost failed to notice that fidelity, courtesy, patience, civility, temperance and loyalty have virtually disappeared. If fathers do not know, or cannot pass on these things, then justice for certain children may well be to leave certain fathers out in the cold. But where these things can be salvaged, and where the correct spirit can be divined, then the least we can strive for is to allow fathers the freedom and the time to do their duty to their children. And if inspiration is required, a father may find it in the eyes of his new child. For surely in this, what is needed is implicitly understood.
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