West Point Grey United Church
Jun 16, 2024

The Father, an Archetype

Ezekiel 17:22-24, Mar 4:26-34

Having recognized Family Day in February and enjoyed a lovely Mother’s  Day service in May, I’m pleased to now wish you all a happy Father’s Day.  Elementary school children have been hard at work this week crafting gifts from macaroni, tape, and construction paper in preparation for the  occasion. They know their craft will be appreciated by one of the most  important people in their lives: their dad. Some will have to work extra hard,  because they have more than one. And some might look at their  classmates, wondering who their craft will go to, since they don’t have a  dad in their lives. 

Father’s Day was founded at an American YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart  Todd. She didn’t have a mother to celebrate on Mother’s Day, having been  raised by her single-parent father with her 5 siblings. She thought that he  deserved to be celebrated, too. The celebration lost steam after a few  years, but has been a staple holiday since its revival in the 1960s. 

Ms Dodd didn’t have a Mother to celebrate on Mother’s Day, and we  similarly we don’t live in a world where every child has a father. Maybe they  were raised by two mothers. Or just one. While some women choose the  single parent life, others have it thrust upon them. Perhaps a husband died,  or maybe the man ran off. I don’t think the latter really counts as a Father;  he certainly doesn’t deserve a “World’s best Dad” mug. 

So, if not just genetics, what does make someone a Father? Or a Mother,  for that matter? Should we just call every person caring for a child a  “caregiver” and respect each equally? There is something to that; every  child similarly needs love, care, and protection. Do we need to divide tasks  along strict, gendered lines? 

In literature, we often look at “archetypes”. Archetypes refer to recurrent,  recognizable story elements present in literature across times and cultures. Joseph Campbell, a prominent western literary theorist, proposed a set of  eight character archetypes: Hero, Mentor, Ally, Trickster, and others.  According to Campbell’s theory, any character from any story can be  described in terms of these archetypes. 

While we can use Campbell’s archetypes to describe the actions of any  character, it’s important to acknowledge that they are descriptive, not  prescriptive. One character may fit an archetype perfectly, but others may  chafe a bit at the edges. And some stories may be missing some  archetypes altogether. Not every story has a hero like Luke Skywalker from  Star Wars: a good, self-sacrificing figure through whom the reader  experiences a transformative journey of personal growth. Pick up a slice-of life style story and you might not find a hero in it at all. 

Just because a story doesn’t conform perfectly to Campbell’s eight  characters doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the model. Our families don’t  all match the prototypical mother + father + one-to-two children model, with  each parent taking on a specific, distinct, pre-defined role. But we can use  that as a model, and learn from it. 

So, that said, if we were to create a “Father” archetype, what would it be?  What are Fatherly qualities? At our last meeting, the Affirming Committee  came up with this: the Father is a nurturing protector; someone who listens,  supports, and encourages the next generation. The Father is like a sturdy  tree, providing shade and shelter from the harsh sun. They ask not for  payment, but instead love unconditionally. 

It is important for children to see these qualities in their caregivers, whether  embodied in one person or shared. It can be a harsh, uncaring world out  there. Having someone they can trust to come back to can make a huge  difference in their lives. Especially amongst queer youth, who are at  particularly high risk for bullying and suicide. In 2019, gay and bisexual  youth in the US were over one-and-half times more likely to be bullied in  school than their straight peers and 3 times more likely to have attempted  suicide. The same survey found that trans youth were twice as likely to be  bullied, 4 times as likely to have been threatened with a weapon, and 4  times as likely to attempt suicide as their cisgender peers. If they are to  grow up from a tender, vulnerable cedar cutting into a strong tree with spreading branches, they are best served by the nurturing protection of a  caring gardener. 

We are the gardener; but we are trees as well, with our own boughs to  provide protection for our youth. But for them to come to nest in our  branches, we have to make sure that they know we are safe. Kids listen to  us: if we push to remove books with gay characters from library shelves  because “it might confuse the children”; if we support anti-trans policies like  those espoused by the governments of New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, or  Alberta; our kids aren’t going to come out of the closet – they’ll stay in there,  where it’s dark and cramped. Instead, let them know that you want their  partner to love them for who they are. Let them know that you will support  them, regardless of what name they choose or what pronouns they use. Let  them know you will be their staunchest supporter, giving them space to  grow, so that they can become strong trees like us, producing branches  and bearing fruit, providing shade and shelter to the generation after them. 

The qualities of a Father are not limited by sex or gender. After all, many  plants, including both the mustard plant and the mustard tree, contain both  male and female parts. We all can be that sturdy tree, that nurturing  protector, that fount of unconditional love. Let us all try and learn from the  archetypal Father to be listening and encouraging, supporting and  protecting. And let’s reach out to our Fathers; regardless of their genetic  relation to us or their gender; to thank them for doing the same. 

And to my father in particular: 

Vielen Dank, Vati, für alles, was du für uns gemacht hast. Wir drei liebst Du  sehr, sehr viel.