Father’s Day may be a manufactured holiday but it’s still a good opportunity to reflect on the importance of the fathers in our lives and in society. Their not always good, sometimes they’re even quite bad, but we all have one and your relationship with your father is one of the pillars of your personality. Swide chooses some the best and some of the worst fathers form society and culture.
“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” – Sigmund Freud
The third Sunday in June is Father’s Day, this modern version of the celebration came about in the early 20th century in America and spread throughout the world, however in Italy, according to Roman Catholic tradition, they celebrate it on St. Joseph’s Day, 19th of March.
Probably the most underrated father in history, Joseph the carpenter is exactly what a father should be. Never mind that he accepted unquestionably, that his bride had had a baby, but was still a virgin, or that the father of said baby was none other than God himself, or that her baby was the saviour of men, Joseph took it all in his stride. Often overlooked in favour of his more glamorous wife, Joseph raised his adopted child as if it were his own, with constant love and support, he was also wise, passing on his trade to his son, which would have come in useful if the whole ‘Messiah’ thing hadn’t worked out – something to fall back on.
Fearsome warlord of the Mongol Empire that once spread from Korea, through modern day China, Russia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Famed through history for his ruthlessness in slaughtering local populations while conquering new lands, he has recently enjoyed a cultural revival as the ‘father of modern Mongolia’, a skilled statesman and a tolerant and innovative leader. Although married at sixteen to the woman who would be his only empress and lifelong companion, as the Khan of the Mongol Empire he enjoyed a harem that included anything between 2000-3000 women. In 2003 a genetic study revealed a Y-chromosomal lineage present in the male population of 8% of a large part of Asia (about 0.5% of the world’s population). The paper hypothesised that the pattern of variation within the lineage originated about 1000 years ago, exactly the time of Gengis’ rule. The study concluded that as many as 16 million men in the modern region of the former Mongol Empire can claim direct lineage to Gengis Khan, making him not only the world’s most prolific lover but literally, ‘the father of Mongolia’.
Darth Vader, Star Wars
The plot of Star Wars has more in common with Greek tragedy than Science Fiction and Darth Vader is the dark father figure central to the hero’s transformation from Oedipal adolescent to fully-realised, complete adult. We all remember the immortal words ‘No Luke, I am you father’, uttered by Vader after chopping off his son’s hand in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Vader is the embodiment of darkness and twisted corruption. Young Skywalker’s struggle with his father is really a struggle with himself, one that leads him to define his personality and role in life. The winning of that struggle leads to redemption for Luke and more importantly for his father. Sophocles couldn’t have written it better himself.
Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather
In the novel of The Godfather, Vito Corleone was born in the town of Corleone, Sicily, in 1891 but has to flee the Italian island when his father and brother are killed by local Mafia boss Don Ciccio and his mother sacrifices her life so he can make god his escape. Starting with nothing in New York’s Lower East Side Corleone lives on his wits and begins to prosper through petty crime, eventually taking over the neighbourhood. By the 1930’s he has consolidated his criminal activities and the Corleone family have become one of the biggest crime families in the country. We all know the rest. Don Vito Corleone represents the dichotomy of the Mafia family; ruthless treatment of enemies and subjects, undying loyalty to family – an other-worldy code of gangland ethics embodied in the patriarchal figurehead. The father is the head of the Italian family and the Corleaone family, like so many Italian families, is also a business. Each member of the family conforms to the role within the structure of that family/business, whether they want to or not.
Known as ‘The Greatest’, three-time heavy weight champion of the world Ali went on the record to say that if his eldest son wanted to follow him into the ring he would ‘knock him out’. Parkinson’s Disease which has exacerbated the head trauma he received throughout his career in the ring has left the great man with the toughest of challenges in his autumn years, but it hasn’t stopped him from continuing his humanitarian work. "For all kids and people around the world – if you want to be The Greatest – stand up for each other. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and always be true to yourself. When you reach the mountain top, try not to look down on any one. Treat all people with kindness and respect. No matter how famous we get, no matter how wealthy we become, it is only the heart that makes us great or small. Remember the responsibilities that come with fame. There will be little boys and girls looking up to you. Lead them well."
He didn’t stand in the way of his daughter Laila, the youngest of his nine children when she chose to take up the gloves as her sport of choice. Ali remains an inspiration, not only for his children, but for the whole world.
You would think that having a father figure who was world famous as the father of psychoanalysis and who insisted on tracing all personality traits back to sexual issues may have proven heavy burden for anyone growing up. The Austrian fathered six children Mathilde, Jean Martin, Oliver, Ernst, Sophie and Anna and because of his research into the complexity and his belief in the importance of the sexually-fraught parent-child relationship, he kept his children at a suitably Victorian distance. Instead of kissing his children he would ‘nip’ them on the cheeks with his thumb and forefinger. Through the turmoil of the Jewish persecution of the Nazi years and the subsequent emigration to England, Canada and the United States many of his children became very accomplished in their own rights, including Anna Freud who continued the work of her father and may be considered the founder of modern child psychology. His Grandson Lucian Freud, who died last year, is considered Britain’s greatest modern-area painter, who himself is rumour to have fathered up to 40 children.
Revered in India as ‘Father of the Nation’, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869. Married at 14 to a thirteen-year-old bride, as was the custom in rural India, the couple had four sons. Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas and Devdas. As a parent Gandhi was distant and strict, seemingly expecting the same high standards of principle from his children as he did of himself. His determination to deny his children any societal advantages did not, it seem, have the desired effect. Gandhi once said that the greatest regret of his life was that he failed to convince two people. One was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, whose demand for a separate Islamic state of Pakistan destroyed all hope of a united independent India, the other was his eldest son. Harilal rebelled against his father’s stern austerity and sexual abstinence and became an alcoholic gambler who traded in the boycotted British goods his father was so principally against. He even converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah only months after his father’s assassination. Of his father he said; Mahatma was “the greatest father you can have but the one father I wish I did not have".
Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mocking Bird
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece is set in the deep south of America during time of racial segregation and persecution. Told through the eyes of a child Scout Finch it is her father who is the protagonist for good in this tale. Atticus Finch, a widower, is appointed by the court to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who has been accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell. Although many of Maycomb's citizens disapprove, Atticus (played in the film by Gregory Peck), agrees to defend Tom to the best of his ability. It is a distillation of the most potent and explosive social compounds into one gripping courtroom drama. Throughout the book it is Atticus’ quiet dignity to do what is right in the face of a deluge of opposition that is the shining white knight of justice in a society so addled by fear and hatred. He is the ultimate father-hero figure who simply takes up the case for those less fortunate without fanfare and does his best. He symbolises stability, unfaltering love and courage and most of all leads by example. The esteem that his children hold him in is evident in every sentence on every page. The ultimate gentleman.
Guido Orefice, La Vita e Bella
Love this film or hate it, there’s no denying that Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning performance in ‘Life is Beautiful’, is full of pathos and tenacity. The film is about a father and son who suffer the horrors of a concentration camp. Guido Orefice is determined to protect his son’s innocence and turns the whole experience into a ‘game’, where the son believes the whole camp has been set up to keep him fooled. Implausible and over-the-top sentimental as it is, the film pulls at your heartstrings and the even the most cynical will be reaching for the tissues.
The President of the United States may have just endured one of the more difficult tenures in the Oval Office for some time, but he is still a class act. Fatherhood remains a recurrent theme throughout his life, his own being absent for much of it. All men live in the shadow of their father and the more distant the father, the longer the shadow cast, in his autobiography ‘Dreams from My Father’, Obama describes his confrontation with that shadow as well as recounting his experience with race and inheritance in the United States. What is the desire to lead a nation only the desire to be father to a people?
His children are the driving force behind his actions and his inspiration. “When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me – how do I make my way in the world, and how do I become successful and how do I get the things that I want. But now, my life revolves around my two little girls. And what I think about is what kind of world I’m leaving them. That is our ultimate responsibility as fathers and parents.”
By Hugo Mc Cafferty