Robert Bly once noticed a phenomenon others will recognize. Whenever he called his parents’ home and his father answered the phone, after their hello’s, the next thing his father would say is: “I’ll get your mother.” An important moment for Bly was the day when he said, “Wait a minute. I want to talk to you.”
Despite the fact that ours is often described as a “patriarchal culture,” fathers really get little respect in our society. Reflecting this fact are the dads who appear in Storyland. From Ozzie Nelson to Homer Simpson, television presents doofus dads who are kindly indulged by the rest of the family. They pay lip service to the notion that “Father Knows Best” and generally wink at each other about the lovable old fool who pretends to be head of the household.
Disney’s children’s films are full of Dotty Dads. Think of Belle’s dizzy inventor father in Beauty and the Beast; it is the daughter who must take care of him, rather than the other way around. And Geppetto in Pinocchio is an equally loony and pitiable figure, not some honored patriarch.
The same is true in children’s stories. Near the end of Peter Pan, Mr. Darling worries his children may think him insignificant, and he has every reason to worry about their low opinion since he is painted as a buffoon who engages in silly and unbecoming behavior. And fathers fare little better in fairy tales where they are weak people easily bossed around by their new wives. How else can we explain why they don’t jump to the defense of their beleaguered offspring: Cinderella, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel?
When we consider how fathers are presented our culture, what is apropos is comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s signature complaint: “I don’t get no respect.” But beneath is also a cry for consideration, not limited to just Father’s Day. Instead of cuff links or tools or a watch, there’s something else they really want.
“Attention must be paid.”