Today's 'famous Dads' illustrate failings at the most basic levels of fatherhood.
Rule no. 1: Don't sacrifice your children.
In the story of Abraham and Isaac from the Bible, the founding father of the Israelites was commanded by God to offer his son up as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. He travelled for three days until he came to the mount that God
told him of. Abraham gets Isaac to carry the wood upon which he would be sacrificed (well, you would, wouldn't you?), and when Isaac gets a bit suspicious and asks where the animal is that they're going to chuck on the fire, his father replies "God will
provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering". The just as Abraham is about
to actually sacrifice his son, "the angel of the Lord" appears and goes "woah woah woah, you weren't really going to do it were you?! We were just having you on!". The angel points to a ram "caught in a thicket by his horns", at which point I imagine Abraham is feeling pretty daft and definitely not Dad of the year.
Still, for his obedience Abraham received a promise of numerous
descendants and abundant prosperity. I just wonder whether, years later when Abraham and Isaac were sharing a pint in a cosy tavern, Abraham said: 'Isaac, you remember that day we went to the mount and sacrificed the goat? Well, you'll never guess what…'
Of course, the story of Abraham has featured in a few songs, including Leonard Cohen's 'Story of Isaac', which may well have been inspired by
Wilfred Owen's 'The parable of the old man and the young' as it seems to
speak to the cruelty and futility of war. Here we hear the story from
9-year-old Isaac's perspective, with the suggestion that maybe he was a
bit more clued in to what was going on than the Bible version makes
out. There's also Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61 revisited', where Abraham switches from an incredulous "Man, you must be puttin' me on" to a Tarantino-esque "Where do you want this killin' done?" rather too quickly for my liking.
Rule no. 2: Don't devour your own offspring.
According to Roman myth (inspired by the original Greek myth), it had
been foretold that one of the sons of the titan Saturn would overthrow him, just
as he had overthrown his father, Caelus. Not one to take any chances, Saturn ate his children moments after each was born. After being caught out by this five times, his wife Ops eventually hid his sixth son, Jupiter, on the island of Crete,
deceiving Saturn by offering a stone wrapped in swaddling in his place (I suppose he'd never had the chance to learn the difference in feel between a baby and a stone).
Jupiter eventually supplanted his father just as the prophecy had
The Spanish artist Goya depicted Saturn devouring his son in a famous painting.
Wikipedia says: 'Various interpretations of the meaning of the picture have been offered:
the conflict between youth and old age, time as the devourer of all
things, the wrath of God and an allegory of the situation in Spain,
where the fatherland consumed its own children in wars and revolution.
There have been explanations rooted in Goya's relationships with his own
son, Xavier, the only of his six children to survive to adulthood, or
with his live-in housekeeper and possible mistress, Leocadia Weiss; the
sex of the body being consumed can not be determined with certainty.'
I used this painting on the cover of The Psychologist following our 2008 redesign. It didn't go down too well.