Bill Lyndsey wrote a fascinating piece yesterday which left me pondering the question he attributes to Walt Whitman. At the time of this quote, Whitman was functioning as a nurse/aide in military hospitals during the Civil War.
Whitman told O’Connor that many of the young men to whom he was ministering—some as young as 17—had run away from home and joined the army to escape the severity of their fathers. On the basis of what he was hearing from these soldiers, he told O’Connor that he was inclined to think that, while mothers often succeed in being loving and sympathetic, “the institution of the father [is] a failure” (as cited, p. 130).
"The institution of the father is a failure." What I found thought provoking is Whitman's calling fatherhood a failed institution, as in a failed cultural concept. Whatever cultural goal the institution of 'fatherhood' was supposed to accomplish, in Whitman's mind it failed. On the surface, one would think that any institution which drives it's own flesh and blood into the bloody jaws of a gruesome war is a failure---unless, when it comes to sons, that's one of the unexamined unstated goals of the institution of fatherhood.
That would mean a successful father is expected to pass on a masculine definition based in a hierarchical martial mentality, even if doing that means driving your sons from your home. If that's the goal, then institutional fatherhood was pretty successful during the Civil war, and a whole lot of other wars. It's been pretty successful in assuring the hierarchical martial structure has been adopted in virtually every male dominated enterprise. Very often ruthlessly adopted.
When I worked in the mining industry it took about a nano second to determine that one's corporate status could be seen in the type of company vehicle one had. Mid level guys had generic pickups in standard colors, but as one went up the corporate ladder, one got to pick different colors, and when one hit the equivalent of command rank, one got a custom SUV.
At one point I was ordered to buy a used truck for our exploration team and I decided to play with the system. I bought a used Dodge Power Wagon that had all the bells and whistles and a custom paint job. It was powder blue. I knew the color alone would cause angst in any male who might be tempted to grab the truck, and so by my devious design, it became mine by default. It was however, a Power Wagon, and it put the Ford's to shame. It went places no Ford truck dared to go. My possession of it caused great jealousy. Eventually word came down that it was to be retired and put up for auction. It didn't fit the fleet, not being a Ford. Ahem...... Oh well, point made. RHIP and I didn't have enough R and certainly no P.
I've always been somewhat befuddled by this whole rank and privilege thing in male thinking. On the ranch my father and brothers would get into huge battles over who drove what piece of equipment or what truck. Combines and swathers were the pinnacle, plows the dregs. Guess what I got to do? I really never understood why what piece of equipment one drove in endless circles at three miles an hour was such a big deal. To me it was all boring, but to them it was really really important.
It seemed none of this hierarchical stuff was ever really goal oriented as far as the actual mission. If anything, the mission came after everyone's rank and status had been fully established. It was based on this pecking order that assignments were given. Competence didn't seem to have much to do with it. All it accomplished was to reinforce the importance of ego over mission.
Give this guy a shiny new pickup and he'll do anything he's told in order to keep it, because that's exactly how he's been raised. That's what real men do who want to advance and keep their assigned toys. Even if it kills them or they kill others.
Whitman's observation about the failed institution of fatherhood is correct, especially in a twenty first century milieu. We can no longer afford to base our institutions on enculturated martial notions of RHIP which do not address reality. I guarantee this played out in the BP disaster. Rank and file on site guys who knew BP was taking way too many risks, caved into the driver of the shiney SUV whose understanding of the situation was colored by keeping his place in the pecking order. We are all paying the price for that. Eleven employees paid with their lives.
And then there is Catholicism, where this whole notion of fatherhood and RHIP is taken to infallible divine levels. It's amazing to think that even though Jesus turned RHIP on it's head, RHIP is still the foundation of His church. Whitman then is ultimately wrong. Institutional fatherhood with it's martial notions of RHIP has been so successful even Jesus couldn't over turn it.