The hand that rocks the cradle, has, from antiquity, ruled the world. Motherhood has been the only recognized blood kinship for the majority of peoples throughout most of the span of human existence. Because she bore them and supported them, woman was considered sole keeper of her children, just as Mother Nature was of Hers. Mother-right, miraculous and inviolate, was, from the very beginning, the obvious and uncontested model of governance. The common course. The right right of way. And every day was Mother's Day.
Clanhood was universally designated and transmitted solely through the mother line, for the fatherhood connection was not always apparent. Who, in the days before blood types and DNA testing, could be completely certain of the paternity of a particular child? It could be a swan, you see. Just think of Leda. Or just as easily, a bull. Or a serpent, a wind, a man, a mood, the moon, a rock, for that matter. But there can be absolutely no mistake about whose flesh swells, grows as large and round as the Earth, then squeezes forth new life in the form of a squalling infant.
Women in the ancient world of Old Europe, the Near, Middle and Far East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas owned their own home and all of it's furnishings. In the biblical story of Ruth, Naomi enjoins her daughters-in-law to "return each to her mother's house." The husband, was not usually a resident member of the household, but rather, a "stranger," as he was known among the Payuga, Algonquin, Iroquois, Sioux, Seneca, Navaho, Pawnee, Seminole, Kiowa and Cree of the New World and also in early Greece where Zeus, god of men, was known as "God of Strangers." In Japan, where the husband was a visitor in the home of his wife, the archaic word for "marriage" meant "to slip into the house by night."
The husband was often steward, whose job it was to tend the property of the mother of the house as is suggested by the Saxon meaning for husband, "one bonded to the house (hus)" The Koran tells husbands "your wives are your tillage." The men of the Zuni nation worked the fields, even though the land and it's issue was held by their wives. The word "husbandry" still refers to agricultural work. And "bridegroom" means literally, "servant, stable boy of the bride."
The patriarchal revolution of about 5000 years ago introduced an abstract and exalted concept of fatherhood, which was essentially political and economic. Parenthood began to be determined by the begetting rather than the actual birthing and nurturing of a child and was largely ceremonial in nature. The notion that, though it takes two to tango, hands-on parenthood is a woman-thang persists to this day as is evidenced by the current epidemic of "delinquent dads." I once casually inquired of my teenage-boy-after-school-helper and protégé, Tashene, as to the topic of his homework essay. He sulked in resentful adolescent outrage, righteously indignant-in-the-extreme at the unmitigated injustice of his assignment. Protesting piteously, he complained that the boys as well as the girls had to write about the problem of teenage pregnancy. What, me worry?
Fatherhood was enacted by authoritarian command through which men assumed the god-like stance of absolute sovereignty. In Egypt, the new word coined to mean "slave" was also used to refer to "wife." Women and their children, male and female alike, were regarded as possessions, resources acquired to enrich and serve their master in life and into death. Tombs have been discovered in which chieftains had been buried with bows, arrows, spears, cutting and killing knives, axes, horse bones and sacrificed women and children, presumably to keep them company and attend to their needs in the hereafter. The related practice of suttee, or the burning of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband, was practiced in India well into the twentieth century.
This chronicle has all been to lead up to Father's Day. But I'm at a loss. What do we celebrate, exactly? What, after all, has father-right wrought? A cultural legacy of unrelenting conflict, control and greed. Despite the great guy, the prince among men, our own personal father might have been, or how perfect a dad you might, yourself, aspire to be, the institution itself is fraught with frightening and dangerous ideas of domination and dominion. The patriarchy was built on the principle of power over. And you know where that's gotten us.
We have inherited a paternal system, which is inimical to our own best interests -- men, women, children and eco-systems alike. Patriarchal fatherhood is below our standards and beneath our dignity. We need to rethink it, reform it, reshape it; mold it and make it our own. Let us forge a new fashion of fatherhood, which functions in creative collaboration -- parenthood in partnership with the entire planet. Husbandry for the good of all.