Great Dads of History

Shout out to all the dads out there!  Happy Father’s Day!

Great dads are everywhere.  You might be one yourself.  But they are often invisible.  No one notices the person who does the job right.  If you are a great dad, you children may grow into well-adjusted adults.  They won’t become notorious for anything.  They won’t write a bitter poem about you like Sylvia Plath wrote about her dad.  They will probably not make history, unless your family is unlucky enough to get thrust into the historical spotlight (which is not an experience to seek out: see the ten Boom family, below).  They will just go quietly about contributing to society by being great citizens, moms and dads themselves.

This is why we so seldom hear about the great dads.

Here are three dads who, through accidents of history, had their great dadliness recorded.  One was the father to a daughter who wrote about him.  Another was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And the third wrote novels with his son.

Charles Ingalls: Rifle, Ax, and Fiddle

Charles Ingalls playing “mad dog” with his children.
Taken from the illustrated version of Little House in the Big Woods.

Charles Ingalls, father of Laura Ingalls Wilder, was a friendly, adventurous, adaptable man with incredible amounts of energy and what might be described as “itchy feet.”  He had the perfect personality to survive and thrive as a pioneer.  He moved his family many times throughout Laura and her sisters’ childhood, shepherding his family through disaster after disaster on the American frontier.  (For example: floods, fires, tornadoes, blizzards, locusts, and malaria.)

Charles was able to build his family a cabin in single summer using just his ax. He shot game to provide food for them.  And wherever they went, he took his fiddle.  He was a gifted musician who used music, along with his indomitably cheerful personality, to keep his family’s spirits up.

Casper ten Boom: the Grand Old Man of Haarlem

Casper ten Boom lived his entire life in a narrow, cramped house in Haarlem, Netherlands.  The front room housed the family business, a watch repair shop.  Casper, was the “absentminded professor” type.  He was gentle and affectionate, beloved by the neighborhood children, eccentric and forgetful, a gifted watch repairer but a terrible businessman.  It was typical of him to work for weeks on a rare watch and then forget to send its owner a bill.  He was delighted that the shop across the street was stealing his business, because “then they will make more money!”

He had long white whiskers and little spectacles. Picture him looking like the old banker played by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

When the Nazis took over Holland, Casper was still living in the Haarlem watch shop with two of his adult daughters, Betsie and Corrie.  Because the ten Boom family had so many connections in the city; were known as generous and helpful people; and had a great affection for the Jews (“God’s chosen people”), their house gradually became a hub for the resistance.  Its crazy floor plan made it the perfect place to build a bunker as an emergency hiding place for the handful of people that were always staying with them.

The ten Boom family were eventually betrayed and arrested.  A Nazi guard, seeing Casper’s age, tried to send him home on a promise of good behavior.  Casper responded, “If you send me home today, tomorrow I will open my door to the first person in need who knocks.”  He was arrested and died of a fever in prison. 

Casper’s daughter Corrie survived the concentration camps (Betsie did not) and later wrote a memoir about her family’s experiences, called The Hiding Place.  It’s an incredible story, but the most delightful parts of it to read are the early parts, where we watch Casper interact with his family and community.  He was truly a great dad.  Yet, if it hadn’t been for the Nazi takeover, few people today would know his name.

Dick Francis: Integrity in Life and Fiction

Dick Francis, a former jockey, wrote many terrific thrillers set in the world of horse racing.  Troubled father/son relationships often feature in his novels.  Francis was asked whether he had a troubled relationship with his own father, and he responded that to the contrary, the relationship was great.  “Perhaps that’s why I’m so interested in troubled father/son relationships.” 

Francis’s main characters tend to be single men in their early 30s.  Some have more baggage than others, but what they all have in common is a strong sense of integrity.  They can’t tolerate allowing anything like cheating to happen, even when it puts them in harm’s way, and they can’t bring themselves to back down, even sometimes when facing torture.

In his later years, Francis wrote several novels with his son Felix.  The novel Crossfire (2010), from which this picture is taken, includes the dedication “to the memory of Dick Francis, the greatest father and friend a man could ever have.”

Now, I’ll Bet You Know a Great Dad!

Leave a comment praising an unsung great dad that you know.

“The Same” is a Lousy Definition of “Equal” … Especially Between the Sexes

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

The following heartbreaking article

A Nordic paradox: higher gender equality, more partner violence

presents statistics that women are much more likely to be abused by their husbands or boyfriends in countries such as Sweden where there is more gender “equality,” with “equality” being defined as more women in the workforce full-time.

The article speculates on causes. One is that men are dissatisfied with their partners’ earnings. (Ouch.)

These findings might seem counter-intuitive to many. How could abuse rates be so high – possibly as high as almost 50% – in a feminist paradise like Sweden? In a country with such strong social pressure on both men and women to behave in an androgynous manner?

I think the problem is with our definition of “equality.” Actually, the Nordic countries are not places of high gender equality. They are instead places where women are strongly pressured to behave as much like men as humanly possible.

Women don’t make good men. There. I said it.

We are not equipped for it. We tend to choose careers that make less money. We don’t have the upper-body strength to be good soldiers or firemen or sailors. We are more likely to get sick. We have hormones and a stronger tendency toward negative emotion, which cause predictable cycles in our productivity. We might, with little warning, have a baby, which takes us out of the work force for months at a time, causing our bosses to feel (rightly) that they can’t rely as well on a woman employee. Even when we do come back to work, we are likely to need more time off because of the needs of our children. Some of us leave “the workforce” for years.

All of this baffling behavior flows out of one very important fact that highly efficient, industrialized, egalitarian societies find most annoying: women are able to become mothers. All the traits mentioned above, which look like flaws in a factory or law firm, turn out to be effects cascading from design features that equip us for something very unique. We can make new people.

However, our society does not value motherhood nearly as much as it values the ability to be a good, man-style worker (whether “good worker” means a bold innovator or a reliable cog in the machine). So these characteristic womanly traits continue to be seen as flaws that need to be minimized if we are to achieve equality.

Or, as Andrew Klavan put it in a recent podcast, “A society that denigrates motherhood will be a society that does not respect women. And feminism has made this possible.”

Here is my story about this.

I was verbally attacked in my college cafeteria by a cute, grey-haired man who looked like an aging hippie. (It’s a type that I usually find endearing … at least, until they open their mouths.)

He was very friendly at first. He asked my major, and I said English. Then he spoke a few encouraging words along the lines of “You go, girl!” “Someday,” he said, “You’ll be in Tibet reporting for NPR.”

OK, great.

Then he sat down behind me, turned around, and added, “Too bad, that probably won’t happen. You’ll probably marry some dumb guy and get stuck at home. You’ll never end up doing anything with your life after the kids ruin you.”

I wish I had asked him if he really thought I had “ruined” my mother … or if he had “ruined” his.

Instead, I said, “Why are you insulting me?”

He got excited and said with a little smile, “Have I made you angry? I hope I’ve made you angry.”

The answer, of course, was Yes, a little … but not as much as you hoped, and not in the way that you hoped.

Not as much as he hoped because I’d heard this line of reasoning before. It was America in the 1990s and I wasn’t living under a rock.

Not in the way that he’d hoped because instead of becoming angry with the patriarchy, his speech only caused me to become annoyed with him for being such an idiot. He thought he was striking a blow for feminism, but instead he was just disrespecting me and every woman out there. In order to encourage me to “do something with my life,” he had to run down one truly amazing, uniquely feminine role that I would be really good at.

So I think that we have to give up our idea that men and women aren’t “equal” unless and until they do everything exactly the same. The concept of “equal” loses all of its positive value when it means asking people to deny, devalue, or skip over a huge part of their nature. (And, by the way, it’s not the subject of this article but there are also ways in which we ask men to deny their nature in the service of “equality” — read, sameness.)

I think it would be much more “equal” if we let both men and women do what they are naturally good at.

Female Lord of the Rings Characters Ranked by Relatability

The Bechdel test, a rough-and-ready way to critique a book or film from a feminist perspective, states that a story ought to have 1) at least two female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man.

One of my favorite series, The Lord of the Rings, flunks this test. (Though, I should point out that ‘Til We Have Faces does not!) And it doesn’t just flunk it a little bit. Bilbo is a bachelor. So is Frodo. So is Gandalf (more of a monk or an angel, really.) Mothers tend to be dead: Frodo’s. Eomer and Eowyn’s. Boromir and Faramir’s.

But, although they are not seen talking to each other (except the garrulous Ioreth to her kinswoman), the Lord of the Rings cycle has a number of intriguing female characters of all different classes and personalities (and even species), and each plays an important, though hidden, role. I thought it would be fun to rank them below in order of relatability. I have only included female characters that we actually get to see in action. (Smeagol’s grandmother, for instance, is not included, and neither are the Entwives.)

  1. (Most relatable) Rosie Cotton. Rosie, daughter of Farmer Cotton, is Sam Gamgee’s love interest not only in the movie but also in the book. She is a simple, sweet young peasant girl. When Sam returns from Mordor, she first chides him for having taken so long, and then says, “If you’ve been looking after Mr. Frodo all this while, what d’you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?” Pretty frustrating for Sam, but he likes her anyway. She just has no idea what he’s been through … and, really, how could she? Sam later marries Rosie and they go on to become a founding family in the next generation of the Shire. Rosie represents the Shire itself in all the wholesomeness and normality of its farm family life. She represents everything that Frodo and Sam went to Mordor in order to save. She is an ordinary good-hearted woman who makes a wonderful wife for Sam, the ordinary hero. That is why she wins the prize for Most Relatable.
  2. Goldberry, wife of Tom Bombadil, the “river daughter.” Goldberry is a sort of nymph, “slender as the willow-wand, clearer than the water.” She is a little less relatable than Rosie because of her great beauty, apparent immortality, and because she is a representation not of the farm but of the forest. However, her role is very similar to Rosie’s. Tom Bombadil’s house in the forest is a supernatural refuge for travelers who would otherwise be overcome by the wild otherness of the Old Forest. Goldberry plays a critical role in making this home. She maintains it, she serves food, she beautifies the home with her singing, her weaving, her wisdom, and her very presence there. Tom wanders all throughout the Old Forest, but in the end he always comes back to his home (and invites the hobbits there) because, as he says, “Goldberry is waiting.”
  3. Eowyn. Eowyn is the brave and beautiful niece of King Theoden of Rohan. (The Rohirrim are basically Vikings on horseback.) She feels trapped by the need to stay in the house and care for her elderly uncle. When the elderly uncle revives and goes off to fight against Mordor, Eowyn really really wants to go along. What she most fears, she says, is “a cage.” She disguises herself as a man, sneaks away with the army of Rohan, and ends up killing a demonlike creature on the battlefield, nearly losing her life in the process. Eowyn is generally the first female character people remember from The Lord of the Rings. Her restlessness is something that we’ve all felt, but her Nordic style of beauty, her superior horsewomanship and swordswomanship, and, especially, her extreme bravery are not qualities that most of us possess.
  4. Arwen. Arwen, daughter of Elrond, is Aragorn’s childhood crush. Her role in the series is mostly symbolic. She represents the Elven colony that Elrond maintains in Rivendell, and hence, the whole glorious world of the Elves that is now fading away. She is an aristocrat, a queen, an ideal of beauty, grace and virtue that is completely unattainable (for everyone, of course, except Aragorn, who is himself an ideal of virtue).
  5. Galadriel. Galadriel, I have been told, plays the role in The Lord of the Rings that Mary plays in the Catholic faith. Everything I just said about Arwen is also true of Galadriel, except that in Galadriel’s case, she is not an ideal that we are meant even to try to attain to. Instead, we are (not to mince words) simply meant to worship. Gimli the dwarf discovers this when he enters Lothlorien (heaven on earth) expecting to find a hostile witch. On meeting Galadriel, he has a true spiritual experience and is immediately converted. After this, he carries a lock of her hair with him and is ready to fight anyone who criticizes her. Galadriel, in other words, is a sort of female God figure, a spiritual mother who dispenses wisdom to the travelers and who gives Frodo a light that saves him in the lair of Shelob (who, being a spider, did not make this list). Galadriel would have been the Least Relatable person on this list, but we have one more …
  6. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. Ha! You didn’t think anyone could be less relatable than Galadriel? You have forgotten Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, the odious relative of Bilbo and Frodo. Lobelia had always hoped somehow to legally get her hands on the comfortable ancestral hall of Bag End. She nearly inherited it when Bilbo disappeared for a year in The Hobbit. She was very annoyed when Bilbo then willed Bag End to Frodo, and made quite a nuisance of herself to Frodo by saying nasty things as only a bitter, feisty, disappointed older relative can. Before Frodo goes off on his adventure, he sells Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses, and Lobelia cannot conceal her triumph. She does redeem herself, however, by getting herself thrown in the local jail for defying a constable after Saruman takes over the Shire. When she gets out, she is met with a standing ovation and bursts into tears: “She had never been popular before.” … OK, I admit it, much of Lobelia’s bad behavior is actually very relatable if we are honest with ourselves. But she beats Galadriel because, even more than Galadriel, Lobelia is not a character that anyone would aspire to be.

Now, Please Enjoy This Delightful Navajo Legend

“[This episode] is often part of the Navajo emergence stories. It usually takes place in the fourth world, the one immediately below the present world. Domestic strife, adultery, and quarreling between the sexes characterize the relationship between men and women throughout the emergence journey. It is finally decided that men and women must separate and get along without one another. The men cross the river, leaving the women on one side while they go to live on the other.

“At first all goes well. The women live by agriculture, the men by hunting. Eventually the women experience crop failure and begin to starve, while the men realize they are all growing older and that their existence is threatened because they cannot reproduce themselves. … In time, each sex realizes that its existence is interdependent with the other and they are happily reunited.

“Hopi and other tribes have similar stories.”

Source: Dictionary of Native American Mythology, ed. Sam D. Gill & Irene F. Sullivan, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp 265 – 266

I love men. I am married to one. I have also given birth to a few of them. But nevertheless, this story makes me laugh because I can relate. Can you relate? Sometimes dealing with the opposite sex is just difficult.

In this video, Alistair Roberts talks about why women and men need each other and also about why when we get together in same-sex groups, our group cultures are very different.