DADDY ISSUES

I was hearing how former Soviet Spy FBI guy Hanson failed his driver's test several times because his father kept bribing the DMV guy to flunk him. The elder Hanson confessed to the younger on his death bed.

A friend of mine was getting married, and on the eve of his wedding his father said some really nasty things about the bride-to-be, whom he had always spoken well of before.

That groom has a son, and I've seen him deliver some cruel and unprovoked insults to that son in public.

If you've seen "The Great Santini," watch how Robert Duval treats his son. Rent a movie called, "October Sky," and watch the Dad's back alley subterfuge to prevent his son from escaping the life of a coal miner. See how the father of the Beach Boys treated the Wilson sons.

So what is the deal? Is this a universal behavior? It's apparently wired right into our brains because it happens a lot, to varying degrees; and it serves no purpose other than to cause us anxiety. I have to believe that this behavior once conferred an evolutionary advantage, and did so for most of our history.

Back in the good old days a man needed to master only three skills in order to propagate the species. Feed, fuck and fight. For most of the last million years you didn't need twelve years of basic education, four of college plus an advanced degree in order to hope to become a high status male. There were no three R's. There were three F's, and by age fourteen you had a handle on the program. The only thing do was get to get your lazy backside out of the cave and get you pulling your own weight.

Dad's hostility would have promoted the independence of many a fourteen year old back in the days of hunting and gathering. And it seems to me just from looking around that the teenage years is when that stuff starts. Not to put all the blame on Dad, the early teenage years are the rebellious times. There's a hormonal synchronicity that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and it ain't likely to change any time soon. This natural animosity once caused pop to push sonny boy out of the cave at about the time junior's hormones made him want to go. The realities of our modern society tend to keep these two together while nature is trying to push them apart.

Refer to your very antique manhood rituals, the christian confirmation, the jewish bar mitzvah all ritually mark a boy's entrance into manhood in early teen years. Today it's totally symbolic. Like the joke goes, "Today I am a man. Monday I go back to eighth grade." But two thousand years ago, you were ready to scratch for a living. After age fourteen, you're only going to eat more and more, and dad's in his thirties in an epoch when the life expectancy is forty.

Typically today a son lives at home for eighteen years and is financially dependent for several more. So the bioligically programmed hostility is likely to last ten years, where in a primitive society it might last six months.

It's not a rational thing. We can't think it away and I'd doubt if family therapy does much other than vent some anger. The wierd hair, the crazy clothes, the tattoo, the youth culture music, those are just excuses. Dad doesn't really know why junior bugs him. He just finds something and pins it on that. Even boys who don't do the drugs, the hair, the music and the rest all have the same conflicts with Dad.

If you want to get your dad's approval, there is a way to do it, and the answer can be found in the Austin Powers movies. Dr. Evil hates his biological son Scott and he adores his subservient clone, Mini Me. If you want Pop's approval, be his subservient clone.

PART TWO

When I was about fifteen I asked my dad how he knew he had become a man. He became strangely reverent and thoughtful. Unusual for him. He narrowed his eyes to the horizon, which is I'm guessing where the past can be seen, and told me that when he was thirteen he picked a hundred pounds of cotton in one day and was paid a dollar for it. Back in the depression, that was what a grown man was paid for a hundred pounds of cotton. To his thinking, if you haven't had exactly that experience, your manhood will be forever in doubt.

There's another way of interpreting that same experience. He worked himself to exhaustion and was paid the minimum. Not much of a test of manhood if you put it that way; but the validity of the test is not important. The point is that we each improvise our own rite of passage. We stamp our own passports and validate our own places in society. Our passage is not surprising, since we devise our own test. The kind of test we devise for ourselves defines our values. When Dad was fifty years old, he was still working long hours for short pay. His self-designed rite of passage set the pattern for the rest of his career. You've heard it a thousand times. It's not the destination. It's the journey.

Part of the attraction of military service is that you instantly attain grown man status as part of the deal. This seems ironic to me. You join up to become utterly submissive and leave just about every decision to your superiors. To me, manhood is built around questioning authority; but as I said above, we all make up our own definitions for which we are conveniently preconformed.

RTJ--7/13/02


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