Saturday, June 16, 2007

Monkeys don’t

AN INTERESTING movie to watch for Father’s Day is “War of the Worlds.”

In Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film version of the H. G. Wells’ classic, Tom Cruise plays a father battling to survive and save his daughter, played by Dakota Fanning, when America is invaded by aliens.

At the start of the movie, his estranged wife shows a great reluctance to leave their daughter to him. This tips off the viewer that Cruise’s character is far from being a paragon. Not only does he not have custody of the child, whatever visitation rights the state has awarded to him elicit telling misgivings in a former intimate.

But the prodigal turns out to harbor a deep well of feelings that go beyond the merely fatherly to the feral.

In the climactic basement scene, father and daughter play hide-and-seek with the aliens. When their male companion starts shouting and threatens to give them away, Cruise ties a strip of cloth across Fanning’s eyes. While she whispers a lullaby to herself, he closes the door to a room and murders the deranged man.

Would things have turned out differently had the script called for the mother to be the parent hiding with the child? Would she have silenced the threat or tried other ways to defend herself and her young? Who is better at ensuring the child’s survival: mother or father?

Fatherhood and motherhood are regarded as complementary halves in raising a family. But in culture, specifically language, both sleep with different bedfellows.

Roget’s Thesaurus has “mother” paired off with “origin,” “wellspring,” and “inspiration,” with the verbs even hewing closer to the biological: “conceive,” “bear,” “nurse,” and “nurture.”

To father, according to the same reference, is to “sire,” “beget” and “create.” According to Roget’s, fatherhood is not exclusive to the procreative function as it also relates to invention, authorship and religion.

The English language has more permutations on species survival for mothers. Roget’s has 15 nouns and 16 verbs that are synonyms to mothering, compared to the 12 nouns and eight verbs that refer to the father’s role with their offspring.

Is motherhood then the quintessence of humanity?

On the contrary, asserts Margaret Mead, “human fatherhood is a social invention” and thus, is the perfection of what it is to be human.

The acclaimed thinker studied primitive people to draw insight into modern sociology. In her book “Male and Female,” Mead writes that the human mother’s ties to her child is so “deeply rooted” in the “biological conditions of conception and gestation, birth and suckling, that only fairly complicated social arrangements can break it down entirely.”

On the other hand, humans and primates differ only in one behavior. While human and primate males claim lordship over the females that grant them sexual favors, only humans provide food to their women and children. “Among our structurally closest analogues—the primates—the male does not feed the female… He may fight to protect her or to possess her, but he does not nurture her.”

In her 1950 treatise, Mead contends that “while women may be said to be mothers unless they are taught to deny their child-bearing qualities,” “men have to learn to want to provide for others, and this behavior, being learned, is fragile and can disappear rather easily.”

Half a century later, how do Mead’s ideas sit with a generation that sets apart this day to pay tribute to “the provider?” 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 17, 2007 issue

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