I’m reading a delightful book called Bed and Board by the charming and wacky Robert Farrar Capon. There is so much good stuff (mixed in with the occasional bad) that I really must share some samples from his chapter on Roles where he is discussing motherhood and fatherhood. It is simply spectacular. First a few things about fatherhood.
“Be their teacher. And expect a lot from them. Avoid, of course, the mistake of demanding they learn things you don’t give a hang about…But if you’re honestly wild about math or letters, music or shopwork, give them both barrels and make them sit still for it. They will gripe and you will get grouchy, but if you really love it, something will rub off that will stay with them like the smell of fresh bread. So don’t be afraid to demand your kind of stuff of them. They aren’t going to see that many people who care. It would be nice if their father could be one. It would be something to hold in their hands all their lives.
Be their Lover. Give yourself, your humor, your small talk, and the minor affections of your hands and eyes. Don’t keep it all in the solemn now-let’s-you-and-Daddy-talk -about-your-report-card vein. Give them the best of your offhand style. Let your sons grow up learning what a man who acts out his caring looks like. Let your daughters learn what it’s like to have a man around who works at quickening their response. It might just pay off in a decent son-in-law.
Be a just Judge. Children can stand vast amounts of sternness. They rather expect to be wrong; and they are quite used to being punished. It is injustice, inequity and inconsistency that kill them. Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, lest they be disheartened. It is precisely the sight of injustice that triggers anger, and it is precisely the helpless rage of inferiors that takes the heart out of them and produces most of the cynics, skeptics and smart alecks in the world. You are first of all the Guardians of the Law. Develop a passion for fairness. If you overdo anything, make it that.
One more. Delight in them openly. Speak your praise of them. Be their Priest. Look at them with the widest eyes you can manage, and don’t be ashamed to be seen at wonder. You will not see their like again. What a shame if they should leave without ever knowing they have been beheld and offered up by an astonished heart.”
Now you can see why I needed to post such a great section on Fatherhood. Now for the wonderful bit about mothers. I’m going to grab a few short sections here and there. That explains all the ….’s.
“To be a Mother is to be the sacrament — the effective symbol — of place. Mothers do not make homes, they are our home: in the simple sense that we begin our days by a long sojourn within the body of a woman; in the extended sense that she remains our center of gravity through the years. She is the very diagram of belonging, the where in whose vicinity we are fed and watered, and have our wounds bound up and our noses wiped. She is geography incarnate, with her breasts and her womb, her relative immobility, and her hands reaching up to us the fruitfulness of the earth.
…The mother is the geographical center of her family, the body out of whom their diversity springs, the neighborhood in which that diversity begins ever so awkwardly to dance its way back to the true Body which is the Mother of us all. Her role then is precisely to be there for them. Not necessarily over there, but just there—thereness itself, if you will; not necessarily in her place but place itself to them; not necessarily at home but home itself.
..But remember, you are a landmark…You are and remain the bodily link with our origin. You are the oldest thing in the world; don’t be in a hurry to forget any of your history.
..You are not only a link with something. You are the thing itself; and you are the sacrament, the instrument, by which we learn to love the things that are. Your body is the first object any child of man ever wanted. Therefore dispose yourself to be loved, to be wanted, to be available. Be there for them with a vengeance. Be a gracious, bending woman. Incline your ear, your heart, your hands to them. Be found warm and comfortable, and disposed to affection. Be ready to be done by and to welcome their casual effusions with something better than preoccupation and indifference.
…Children love fat mothers. They like them because while any mother is a diagram of place, a picture of home, a fat one is a clearer diagram, a greater sacrament. She is more there. I can think of no better wish to all the slender swans of this present age than to propose them a toast: May your husbands find you as slim as they like; your children should always remember you were fat. ”