Patriarchy: What Have We Lost?

   The following essay by Thomas More, prefaced by the first line to the Lord's Prayer, provides clear, helpful consideration of the difference between patriarchy and paternalism as well as a balanced view of the need for "father" in our culture.

   Thomas More is a writer and lecturer living in New England with his wife and two children. Moore was a monk in a Catholic religious order for twelve years and has degrees in theology, musicology, and philosophy. A former professor or religion and psychology, he is the author of Care of the Soul, Soul Mates, The re-Enchantment of Everyday life, The Education of the Heart, and The Soul of Sex.

   Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

   Patriarchy is a form of creativity that needs to be rediscovered in our time.

   Feminists have rightly complained about the devastating effects of a certain kind of patriarchy that has jealously kept women out of places of influence and power and has led to extreme instances of injustice. But the justified assault on patriarchy has been indiscriminate, weakening our appreciation for the importance of fatherhood and masculinity. In spite of the oppressions of a male-dominant society, we need strong, wise, paternal guidance and protection, whether that spirit appears in institutions, in ways men live their lives, or even in women.

   We should be able to distinguish between the paternal spirit, with all its benefits, and paternalism, which is a manipulative, self-serving exploitation of fatherhood. Every once in a while a political leader appears who is full of wisdom and personal strength. His words are trustworthy and worth listening to, and his leadership transcends self-aggrandizement. In him we sense a deep-seated, porous, and selfless father spirit. Too often, of course, leaders speak the language of authentic paternal wisdom but their actions show that they don't understand the meaning of their own words. Others courageously dare to embody the father spirit without using it for their personal advantage. Gandhi did not show a need to grasp power for himself, and he offered challenging guidance along the path of nonviolence. Martin Luther King led with a style and philosophy light years distant from the usual, acting effectively and powerfully without conjuring up oppressive paternalism.

   The father spirit that seeds culture and personality is a subtle substance. We may recognize strands of traditional paternal qualities in it--guidance, protection, procreativity, teaching, and genuine leadership. This spirit is so subtle that although we see it clearly in a confident man, we might also glimpse it in a woman of vision, a pioneering community, or even a forceful but imperturbable building.

   We have weakened the nobility of fatherhood in our time by mistaking imperialism in business and government for genuine paternal leadership. Mistakenly we complain about patriarchy instead of paternalism and weak-kneed authority. Patri-archy refers to the archetypal or original father, the ur-father, the father in heaven who permeates every created thing with his seminal possibilities.

   It is no wonder that fathers today are confused about how to be and therefore surrender their role. Our criticisms have obscured the archetype, and in all areas of life we are left without the leadership and procreativity we need. Procreativity differs from plain creativity in that specifically it seeds a future, offering confidence and hope. It sustains and teaches the new generation instead of being afraid of it. Mythology warns us of the tendency to fear the future generation as a emasculating threat, and current politics demonstrates that fear. In America today, many leaders honour 1940s patriotism and fear 1960s vitality.

   We might deal better with virulent paternalism by giving new honour to fatherhood and strong, wise leadership than by creating a climate of criticism around all attempts at being a father. We might take on the challenge of fatherhood with new vision rather than skirt it. We might reimagine our educational institutions around the theme of father and his stand-in, Mentor, rather than more abstractly as the genderless, mechanical dissemination of information. Rather than disseminate, we might simply seminate--seed and create life.

   The father becomes a problem only when his deep and subtle spirit disappears and is replaced not by a mentor but by an impostor. Paternalism, like any ism, is a disguised and corrupt version of the real thing. Yes, he needs to go, but we must take care lest when we banish the imperial impostor, we lose the Father Almighty.

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2005