Fathers in Lore
Father, daddy, papa…from tyrants to kind-hearted souls, the role of father varies widely in stories throughout the ages. Representing authority, power, legacy…the patriarch is looked upon to offer both a firm hand and wise counsel.
Kronos (Cronus), a Titan offspring of Ouranos (Father Sky) and Gaia (Mother Earth), sired the twelve Olympian gods. He gained power by deposing his own father (Ouranos); castrating him with the sickle given to him by his mother. The Titan Kronos attempted to thwart the prophecy of his own imminent demise at the hands of his child by swallowing down each newly born babe…all save one. The child Zeus was hidden by his mother after handing Kronos a rock wrapped in swaddling in his stead. When Zeus was grown, he assembled an uprising and returned to face his father. Kronos was enticed to drink down a potion which caused him to disgorge the children he had previously swallowed. The siblings, lead by Zeus, formed an alliance with the Cyclopes and the 100-armed Giants to conquer the Titans. A harsh lesson…fathers must pass on the torch; Fate will neither be deceived nor robbed.
The image of Kronos with his sickle conjures a likeness of Father Time; the eternal father figure, carrying with him a scythe. With not so much as a shimmer he morphs within our view; from counter of life’s moments to grim reaper, harbinger of our last breath.
Mythology also gives us Daedalus, the brilliant architect and engineer, who tried to protect his son, Icarus, after both were imprisoned in a tower by King Minos. Daedalus was the one who designed the intricate labyrinth which held the Minotaur beast trapped within. The hero Theseus volunteered to go forth and kill the Minotaur. To ensure that Theseus could find his way safely back through the twisting passageways, Minos relayed a message to him that he should tie the end of a clew of thread to the entrance, unwind it as he walked, and follow along the thread to travel back to the entrance, the same way he had come. King Minos was enraged by the betrayal and ordered Daedalus and Icarus to the tower. The clever Daedalus crafted wings for the pair so they could fly out the window to safety. As he affixed the wings, he cautioned Icarus not to fly too low, as the mist from the water would moistened the wings, nor too high, as the heat from the sun would melt the wax used to hold them together. Alas, poor Icarus did not heed his father’s warning and flew too high. The heat from the sun melted the wax, and down, down Icarus fell to his death.
Bitter winter cold was personified in a Russian tale as Father Frost, who appeared in the frozen northlands as the almighty sovereign clad in furs, with a red nose, a long, long, white beard and a shining crown on his white head. From the story: “Old Frost, however, knew all about the weakness of human beings; he knew very well that few of them are really good and kind; but he knew no one of them even could struggle too long against the power of Frost, the king of winter.” (Read full story here )
A much more welcome, and excitedly anticipated, wintertime figure is Father Christmas (Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus). He is the jolly, gift-giving soul who rewards good children with presents, but leaves lumps of coal for naughty children.
Fathers in many fairy tales were often depicted as weak in character, often having suffered the loss of a wife and mother of his children. He becomes vulnerable and succumbs to manipulation by a wicked woman; causing much distress to his children, such as in the tales of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and Cinderella.
In Beauty and the Beast by Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, the Beast valued his roses “beyond any thing in the universe”, so when Beauty’s father took some roses to give to her the enraged Beast sentenced the father to death for his crime. Beauty’s father begged forgiveness that his life be spared, and the Beast agreed, saying “…you say you have three daughters. I will forgive you, on condition that one of them come willingly, and suffer for you.”
The merchant had no mind to sacrifice his daughters to the ugly monster, but he thought, in obtaining this respite, he should have the satisfaction of seeing them once more; so he promised upon oath, he would return. Upon hearing her father’s plight Beauty lovingly agreed to go to the Beast in his stead. Even though her father allowed her to sacrifice herself to save his life, the story ended quite happily for Beauty and the Beast. (Read the full tale here )
Papa is the affectionate title bestowed upon the Pope; priests are called “father”. In the United States, George Washington is referred to as the “father of our country”.
Television, in the decades following World War II, offered strong, but loving father roles in programs such as, “Father Knows Best”, “My Three Sons”, “Leave it to Beaver”, and “Bonanza”. The father figure evolved with the times in such series as “Full House” and “Cosby”. And in”Frasier” we are witness to the acceptance of Fate as sons become caretakers and companions to an aging father.
In 2014, Billboard published a “Dear Daddy Playlist: 25 Songs for Father’s Day”; including such hits as Eric Clapton’s “My Father’s Eyes”, and Luther Vandross’s “Dance With My Father”. (See complete list here)
In the United States, we set aside the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day…a day to honor and show appreciation to our own dads. Yes, there are a few tyrants. But there are many, many more kind, loving fathers who do the best they can to provide valuable life lessons and wonderful memories.
Happy Father’s Day!
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