Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

MASTER OF THE HOUSE

[A Father’s Day Meditation]

     Here’s to all men who love and support families, including children who have come to you perhaps from far away; and to those who do daddy-things for kids not theirs but who know that little guys and gals can always use another trusted male figure to care about them and to consider them special.

     Mr. Ancel never had a son of his own and took special interest in me as someone to whom I could throw my smokin’ fast-ball for hours on end. My father was a good provider, but had no time for such things, and Ancel became a dad of sorts in those precious times of “catch.”

     I’ll avoid smarmy sentiments at risk of offending that select race of what is called, “manly men.” It’s taken eons to cultivate an image of uncaring and unfeeling brooders who leave all nurture to the female of the sex. But all manner of forces have pressured us to reduce our iron and flinty surfaces and to crawl into inner spaces and mine our feelings.

     For millennia boys grew up frightened of their fathers, and in turn would damn well ensure that their own kids would be frightened of them.

     To Robert Frost, his father as a hero of sorts, but hardly perfect–a man who died young and was glorified to his children by their mother. He had graduated with honors from Harvard and named his son after Robert E. Lee–and a man who met the doctor at home’s door with a pistol to warn that if anything happened to his wife during delivery, the doctor would “not leave the house alive.”

     You’ll guess, correctly, that young Robert had a punitive father, doling out punishments unpredictably but otherwise with little time for his children. His dad’s form of play was to tease and push the kids, sometimes hurting them severely. Not surprising also that the poet became somewhat the same kind of father.

     But e e cummings adored his father, with long elegies to the latter, a clergyman and sometime teacher at Harvard but good at a lot of things, practical endeavors that he shared with and taught his son.

     Of this came the son of great poetics who was detained in France near the end of WWI for refusing to say he hated Germans–due to a friend of that nationality, and his father secured their release by writing to President Wilson.

     In the musical, Les Miserables, the song, “Master of the House” is total brain candy and at this mention will be planted in your brain till tomorrow. The subject ran an inn and tavern from whence he fleeced customers by all sorts of hidden and extra charges, you know, like today. Today there is more than one master of the house whether we are speaking of the modern home or the larger environment of which men must be custodians, as well as women.

     So how goes it with the “master of the house” in 2018? Shamefully, at times it’s best not to have a man or father in that role, and we all know why, if we but watch the news.

     We have a problem being not only fathers, but men, for our self-image is changing and not by our own rules. Garrison Keillor in “The Book of Guys,” said manhood was once a chance for achievement but is now a problem to be overcome. Those who may have painted the Sistine Chapel or composed Don Giovanni are now just trying to be “Mr. O.K. All-Rite”–who can bake a cherry pie, converse easily about intimate things, cry, be vulnerable, passionate in a skillful way, and yet one who totes them barges and lifts them bales.

     Ironically, the “mother” of Father’s Day was inspired by what a preacher didn’t say in a Mother’s Day church service: while extolling mothers, not once were fathers mentioned. Sonora Louise Smart, then Mrs. Dodd, and whose mother had died ten years earlier, marveled thereafter at her father’s labor and devotion raising her and her six younger brothers. She lobbied for fathers to be honored on June 5, her dad’s birthday, but it became instead the third Sunday in the month.

     The marketplace has its own unique reasons for promoting this, and Mother’s Day, long beyond your and my days on this mortal coil. But knows, someday they may be combined into a Parents Day.

     This is no perfect world. Humans of whichever sex are both exemplars and in-excusables. Many people feel that one parent or both did terrible things to them, and parental oppression makes for both sinners and saints, not to mention good theater.

     Robert Frost saw the world as he did, due perhaps to his father, and wrote insightful masterpieces like the ingenious “Fire And Ice,” about destruction from both heat and cold.

     But cummings’ father stands out in his son’s poetry:

     “…though hate were why men breathe–

     because my father lived his soul

     love is the whole and more than all”

     May children be welcomed into such homes, and know the joy of such masters of the house–men who are masters of themselves as well.

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