What can we learn from fathers of myth?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
Sunday is Father’s Day in the United States, the annual day to honor them like our recent Mother’s Day. Although it is not meant to honor any particular historical father, there certainly may be many deserving of that recognition, especially if this definition of a father is extended to fathering something of important psychological and societal value.
Some multicultural and interfaith colleagues and I are in the midst of compiling an edited book on The Eastern Religions, Spirituality, and Psychiatry. Related to that, one of these colleagues just forwarded to me some examples of famous fathers in both Greek and Hindu mythology, representing the so-called west and east respectively.
Greece was quite crucial for the fathering of western philosophical thought, Socrates and Plato being prime real-life examples. But in addition, there are also Greek mythological fathers of importance. Among them are:
Zeus. Zeus was the god of lightning, polyamorous and fathering many children, among them other gods and half-mortals. However, he could be cruel and judgmental, including toward his own children.
Kronos. Kronos was also a father of many gods, including Zeus himself. He received a prophecy that one day, one of his children would murder him, so he swallowed them. However, Zeus was hidden away by his mother Rhea, and emerged to defeat his father.
Daedalus. Daedalus was the father of Icarus. Creating wings for both of them in order to escape the island of Crete, he warned Icarus not to fly too high, as the sun could melt the wax. Icarus did so anyways and fell into the sea, drowning.
In the diverse mythology of Hinduism, there are many fathers from which to choose. Consider these for how they were as fathers.
Manu. Manu could be thought to be the Father of Mankind. He was supposedly created by himself, through his own children. He also is said to have saved the whole universe and mankind from a devastating Noah-like flood.
Lord Krishna. Krishna is said to have had 80 sons. Samba was one of them and was extremely mischievous, especially with Krishna’s younger wives. Krishna then punished him with a skin disease.
Lord Rama. Lord Rama had 2 sons with Sita, Luv and Kush. However, Lord Rama was not present at their births, and Sita raised then with utmost devotion.
Mythological fathers are not the best real life role models. As such, they may convey lessons of what not to do. We can also see implications of their behavior in modern Western theories of psychiatry, such as the Oedipal conflict between father and son.
Freud was interested in these mythological stories, especially those from the west, and he could be considered to be the Father of Psychiatry, at least from the psychological aspect. He did not have a well-known son, but did have such a daughter: the child psychoanalyst, Anna Freud. In the next generation, his grandson Lucian Fried was a famous British painter, known for his distorted body images as might appear in a dream.
We are in a time of the changing role of men and fathers in the United States. More direct parenting is provided by fathers, including in gay marriages. Many fathers nowadays are also fathering as a single parent and thereby the primary parent. Time and research will tell whether this change will be beneficial for the development of their children.
What fathers or father figures, if any, would you like to honor for Father’s Day?
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.