Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How Writers 'Father' You

There is a story of an orphan who never knew his father. The latter had abandoned the family before he was born.
Then his mother died of cancer when he was 6.

When he reached young adulthood, the fatherless son searched and searched for years looking for any trace of his absentee father.

Finally, years later after diligent effort, a detective he had hired located the man who was now living in Portland, Oregon, married to another woman with 3 offspring who he was ignoring, too.

The fatherless son flew United, "the Friendly Skies," to Portland, anxious to meet his unknown father, but when he got to downtown, near the docks, he felt ambivalent and sat down on a quay, wondering whether he really wanted to meet.

Huge container ships and tankers moved through the rough dark waters of the Columbia River. In a way, he felt like Ismael.

Following directions that the investigator had given him, the orphan took a taxi to the posh address at shortly after sunrise, and walked up and down a wide winding sidewalk out in front of the ultra-mansion, until its owner, his father, came out the front door, and hailed the waiting taxi, got in and drove away.

The man's build was all wrong, stocky and compact; and he had walked with a lunge, as if about to attack some invisible enemy. His face was sharp with a large nose. Not at all like my skinny frame but prominent cheeks; must have gotten my body from my mother's side.

Suddenly, it hit him deeply that this stranger was of no interest to him, that he didn't know this rich man from Adam. At that he laughed, since by profession he, himself, was an evolutionary biologist and knew there had never been only one original father of the human race.

I may have gotten my genetic heritage from this stranger, but my real fathers (and my mothers besides my dying one) were the writers I read growing up, the thinkers that guided me when I had no father and had lost my mother.*


Well, of course, unlike this orphan, I did have a very dear father, one who used to take me fishing, hunting, and traveling, and guided me as to what was right and helped me later with major decisions. A man who stood by me, a real friend. And a warm idealistic mother who gave me and my sister a deep sense of equality and justice and diligence.

But in another sense, some of the authors I have read over the years have ‘fathered’ and 'mothered' me, too. Maybe even more deeply than my father and mother who gave me birth and guided me when I was young.

Our modern technology achieves what our human philosophy and literature set its goals on to do in the past. For instance, think of how many scientists got their start because of love of and inspiration from science fiction and speculative literature.

And think of famous humanitarians and social justice advocates who were first inspired by idealistic heroes in stories as kids.

For good or for ill, for joy and zest or sadness and Albert Einstein insisted, imagination is the creator of our future, not mere facts. Those are only the building blocks. Our creativity and goals are the schematics.

Where would we be without Verne, Wells, Kant, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Voltaire, Jefferson, Paine, Shakespeare, Eliot, Huxley, Orwell, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Basho, Blake, Whitman, Owen, Twain, Melville, Conrad, Kafka, Bradbury, Gandhi, Hegel, Marx, Hume, James, Locke, Darwin, Sagan, Gould, King, Farmer, etc.?

Where would I be without Thoreau, Bonhoeffer, Hawthorne, C. Bronte, F. O'Connor, Lewis, Nouwen, Merton, Tillich, Wiesel, Camus, Poe, Vonnegut, Thich Nhat Hanh,
even Millay, Kerouac, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Dennett, and Simmons?

What authors have 'fathered' and 'mothered' you in your life?

*Idea for story from educator Jim Burke

To be continued--


And while you are contemplating on and reflecting about your 'fathers' of the mind, consider reaching out to so many millions of orphans who need help and guidance and hope.

Contact World Vision or Oxfam, or another outreach organization that meets the needs of the young.
Don't listen to the negative siren song of skeptics who claim that all ethics are relative and subjective.

"Right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice." Oxfam

Sponsor a child with World Vision:

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox


Hystery said...

I had a much-loved and admired professor and mentor who once told me that my intellectual great-grandfather was Umberto Eco. She explained that as she taught me semiotics, her own dear professor taught her, and Eco had taught him. I always liked this idea.

In truth, however, many of my "fathers" were mothers. Many of the great names of feminist theory, history, and thea/ology from the past several hundred years alongside the authors of the children's books that may have had an even more profound effect on how I see the world, were women. But whether male or female, I owe so much to these people. Listening to their voices taught me to find my own.

Daniel Wilcox said...

I agree about the need to make it fathers and mothers. The original idea of "fathering" came from the educator Jim Burke, but when I leaped into new territory with my new story, I ought to have give equal emphasis, not only that he lost his mother to cancer, but that he was mothered as well as fathered by authors.

How did I miss such an obvious truth?

I guess I'm still too much seeing things from the male point of view. Also, though, my own gone father is much on my mind. Since dealing with Augustinian-Calvinism for so many years, and even having to oppose it at my dad's funeral:-(, I've come to the conclusion there is no after life.

I like the ancestry idea of your professor. A new form of the biblical begots;-)

It reminds me of my handout I used to give to students on civil disobedience which showed the descent of the idea of civil disobedience from social activist to social activist for over 150 years.

Not only did "listening to their voices" teach "me to find my own," sometimes the disparate opposing views of the various thinkers created a rowdy zoo in my mind;-)