I have been thinking quite a bit about fatherhood lately.
Some of this is pondering the mystery of my father who died this year. I say mystery because for me my dad always held himself back a bit and didn’t reveal himself largely to me.
I also have been pondering James Joyce’s Ulysses. This book partly works with the idea of fatherhood. Stephen is looking for a father, since his own father has failed him in some manner. The first part of the book is the remnants of Stephen’s failed life of the mind. Then we meet Bloom. Bloom is the leading character who shows a calm, accepting, very domesticated and low class beauty in his thoughts and actions. Although he is as flawed as any human, he does end up a bit of the father figure to Stephen in the book. The book is about many other things, but I do think that both Bloom and Stephen hold forth the idea that we become our own father or that we find that father that we seek in ourselves more than anywhere else. It is not lost on me that Joyce’s character and I share a name.
When I think of my own father, I realize how different I am from him. Even though recently old friends of my Mom remarked how much I look like him. I wonder if my last moment of intimacy with him was when he broke down weeping in my arms years ago over my divorce. I do mark that scene as the end of my adolescence or the beginning of the end or something. I have long thought we internalize our parents.
As a parent, I saw my children internalize who they experienced me to be. Later as they approached maturity I was often bemused that I could no longer get into the conversation they were having with their internalized father. Since I have understood my life as one that stands a bit a part from my family of origin. That is, that my values are different. My father and mother spent a lot of their lives as believers and ministers of the Christian church. Even though I do church music, my relationship with the church is completely different from theirs.
Plus I have found greater value in the world of music, poetry, the arts and literature. It confuses me that this is so. Not sure exactly how I got here. I do think the idealism transmitted to me from my parents from the Christ of the New Testament has a great deal to do with my own values. Also I received the mantle of outsider from both sides of my family
(my father’s father I think of as a self made intellectual in an anti-intellectual environment of the Church of God, my mother’s father was a castigated illegitimate child …. his mother was not married to the man who fathered him, her husband kept him at arm’s length). And I am comfortable with this stance. Actually I am more than comfortable with it. I value the outsider point of view. Once again Kiberd has a quote:
“… Bloom himself is valued by Joyce to the extent that he can recognize the ‘stranger’ within himself. He is more Christlike than any of his fellow citizens, being constantly willing to put himself in the other fellow’s position. Joyce was following Paul of Tarsus in the attempt to imagine a world without foreigners, a world made possible once men and women accept the foreigner within the self and the necessarily fictive nature of all nationalisms.” p. 310 in Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd
This passage identifies one of the things I embrace in being an outsider, accepting the “foreigner within the self.” And most of all “constantly willing” to put myself in the other fellow’s position.
These are basic human wisdoms.