Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

Photo by yumi

Oh, man. I made the mistake of reading transrealist cyberpunk before going to bed last night, and I had this weird dream in which I lived in a post-human society made up of people who had transformed themselves into miniature action figures, and I had the job of using temperature-controlled streams of water to reprogram sharks threatening the colony. Ten points if you understand a word I just said.

But enough of that. Happy Father's Day to all fathers out there. If you don't know about it, check out the Catholic Dads blog.

And of course, the patron saint of Father's Day is (or must be) St. Joseph, foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the
Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.

I know, I know. On Mother's Day, I found a Marian prayer that was more about honoring Mary than about asking for stuff. I have one like that for St. Joseph, too, but it has one of those pesky copyright notices at the bottom. But legend has it the "St. Joseph Prayer" printed above is over nineteen centuries old, so I figure its copyright has run out.

Now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to run off on a Father's Day rant in honor of our fathers. Back in Wyoming, I used to listen to a Baptist radio show in the evening on weekends. It kept me up to date on social issues and also gave me plenty of stuff to disagree with. Anyway, since I can't get Albert Mohler here in Utah, I tried Garrison Keillor, who was celebrating Father's Day by singing a number of silly songs demeaning fatherhood.

It has been noticed by other, better commentators that our culture celebrates Mother's Day and Father's Day differently. If you take a look at the greeting cards offered for these two holidays, you'll find a bunch of cards telling mothers how wonderful and special they are, and you'll find a bunch of cards telling fathers they're fat, lazy, stupid, and flatulent. Happy Father's Day, guys.

Similarly, Keillor in his musical numbers was reducing the role of father to essentially that of sperm donor. What he said (facetiously or viciously, I don't know) was that the only reason you exist is because your dad was too young and too dumb to get a condom, and that sperm can be had just as readily as a bank as from an actual sex act.

It seems to me that Keillor's assessment of fatherhood has become, in our society, accurate. When a culture removes the dignities and responsibilities that ought to accompany fatherhood, it really does reduce the role of a father to that of a donor of genetic material. On the purely biological level, that is his only role in reproduction, and that is why it is necessary for a society to burden its men with responsibilities such as chivalry or being head of the household. It has been noted too that men, or at least strong, good-looking men, if left to their own devices without moral restraints, will father possibly hundreds of children on hundreds of women and take no responsibilities for the rearing of their offspring. When the father's responsibilities are taken away, it isn't just bad for men. It's bad for women, too.

In the world of science, we are now surprisingly close to making viable sperm from body cells. This means that, with the aid of science, women could potentially father children with other women, and their offspring would be all female. I have recently decided that the dystopia is the only "true" form of futuristic sf left because any realistic assessment of the future based on the present must determine that the future is going to be bad. The demeaning and marginalization of fathers coupled with the inevitable unethical use of advanced biotechnology may mean that our dystopic future will have none of the dignity of, say, Brave New World, which I consider the greatest sf novel ever written. Our future may end up looking more like Last Man on Planet Earth or even Hell Comes to Frogtown.

A famous feminist sf author is James Tiptree, Jr. Tiptree was actually a pseudonym for Alice Sheldon, who was a C.I.A. agent before she was a successful writer. Her fiction is thoughtful, well written, surprisingly masculine, and ugly. As far as I can make out so far, the basic theme running through her stories can be summed up as, "All men are rapists." Anyway, she has a short entitled "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" about a group of male astronauts who get zapped into a future where all the men are dead and the women survive by cloning themselves repeatedly. Most interesting about this future all-woman society is its lack of genius. As Tiptree depicts it, after the men are gone, humanity continues without any new advances in science or other fields. All the women have accomplished are only augmentations of existing technologies and ideas. Though each of the male characters receives a strongly negative evaluation by the time the story is over, the absence of males doesn't seem to be such a good thing, either. I don't know what Tiptree meant by all this, but as grim as her fiction is and her thoughts about death are, I'm not entirely surprised she ended her life first by killing her husband and then killing herself.
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