Finding Fatherhood in the Myths of Old

Odysseus-Sketch-

I have always loved a good story.  As a boy I loved to hear them, as I grew older I became fascinated by the many ways we tell them; now as a father, I love telling them.  Mythological stories are particular favorites of mine.  They are the morality plays that have set the standard for how we pass our values on from one generation to the next. We are even today still using the same basic story models that our ancient ancestors developed long ago.

A good story speaks to the time and place we are in

The Odyssey of Homer is my favorite mythological story by far.  My wife once pointed out to me, as I was retelling part of this tale over dinner one day, that this tale is constantly evolving for me and always has new meaning for me in my various stages of lie.  I think that is the true sign of a good story or myth. A good story speaks to the time and place we are in.  It shines a light on the elements of our character that we need to summon or develop in order to conquer the demons that presently bar our way.  This is a huge part of my motivation to read and tell stories to my children to have them make friends with these mythological heroes who may someday serve as a moral compass for their lives.

Last year we finished reading the “Percy Jackson” series of books (Rick Riordan) to my boys.  These books called back to me the heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey that I remembered from my youth.  Which meant many nights my family and I spent time talking about my old friends Odysseus, Achilles, Hector and Telemachus. My boys were being introduced to their new mythological friends, Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase, and Grover Underwood.  They would talk about them they way I talk about mine, animated, excited, and curious what they would do next.

One night as I was retelling some of my favorite parts of the Odyssey to my boys.  My wife pointed out to me that being a husband and a father has helped me understand the story, not better necessarily, but in a whole new light.  The motivation of Odysseus carries much more weight with me than the battles and the wit he employed.  I find myself understanding more clearly why you would try so hard to avoid going to war, why you would fight to survive a war for 10 years, and struggle 10 more to find your way home.

I can see myself in those stories not as Odysseus the brave and clever warrior who found ways to surmount impossible challenges,  but as Odysseus the father who would only accept as impossible the notion that he would never see his Ithaca again.  These stories have new life in them for me, I recognize my struggles and demons in them.  My family is my “Ithaca”, and being a good father and husband is the odyssey that I am on.  There are battles to fight, monsters to be faced bravely, and storms to weather.

I tell them the stories that have helped me be strong…

I can remember as a kid reading this story for the first time and saying “oh man I’d have just given up, it was too hard…” and as a kid I would have.  As a father I can’t and I won’t. I know all too well how special a place my “Ithaca” is.  I have crafted an “Ithaca” of my own with my wife.  It is a place that is home to two boys that love to hear my stories. It is a place in which I yearn to see my boys grow to be men.

So what obstacle, what demon, what storm is worth surrendering to and thereby sacrificing those things.  I can tell you as a husband and father, there is none.

I had no idea that my fascination with mythology and storytelling in my youth would become such a dominant theme in my life.  The lessons I have learned, which provide clarity and reason to my life, have been profound.  Now I find myself working hard to pass those same lessons and values on to my children. I tell them the stories that have helped me be strong, the ones that have given me courage, the ones that have exposed my weaknesses, and above all the ones that give me hope. These are the values I have learned from my stories.  These are the values being whispered to me from the ancients through the deeds of Odysseus, Achilles, Hector and Telemachus. These are the values I want to pass to my children, for I believe that is what being a father is all about.

(This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project )

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