Father Is a Role, Not a Person

Food for Thought

I woke up to a bag full of Japanese goodies and a Father’s Day card in which she ranked me #2 in the universe. I’m proud of raising a child who doesn’t let the sentimentality of Father’s Day distort her objective evaluation of fathers. We went to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to have Polish brunch with the father of her best friend.

A father is a socially predefined role that someone steps into in the life of a child. It’s commonly a man but doesn’t necessarily have to be. It is to prepare the child for the social reality outside of her home which is governed by intricate rules and logic. A father is a representative of the world outside. Just as with politicians, the authority comes from the socially constructed position, not from the person who occupies it.

A father saying, “Listen because I’m your father!” would be an abuse of power. When a father commands, he must have an authority external to him. He must be able to articulate the social reason why it makes sense for the child to do it, like, “Do it because your brother did this for you before.” Without teaching the child the social framework that determines the appropriate behavior, he would only be teaching her how to tolerate tyrants. Once she masters the framework, it’s up to her to use it in her own way as an adult. What matters is not learning what the right answers are, but how to use the framework to arrive at her own answers. A father only demonstrates how to use it.

Once she understands that a father is a role, not a person, she would also understand that the person who occupies that role is just another human being with all sorts of flaws. The role of a father ends when she is an independent adult, just like the American presidency ends after eight years. A father then becomes an ordinary citizen. If she wants her father to respect her as an independent adult, she would also have to respect him as an independent adult. She has to begin relating to the person, not to the role he had been playing for her. It’s an honor and privilege to serve the role of a father, but ultimately it’s only a ladder she throws away once she climbed up on it.