I remember the moment I knew the kind of father I wanted to be. As I read through hundreds of lines of the Iliad in my first year at university, I read about the champion of Troy: Hektor. Homer describes him often with his bronze war helm, shimmering in the sunlight. The same helmet frightened his son as he came to greet his lovely wife and young son atop the tower at Ilion in Troy. His wife, Andromakhe, pleads with him not to face his certain death at the hands of the near-immortal Achilles in a duel. Hektor admits to having similar thoughts of dread weigh on him, but he could never be moved from the path that leads him to honor his city and his people as their champion in battle.
He then looks down at his son, smiles with deep satisfaction, lifts him to the sky and asks his god:
And all immortals, may this child, my son,
Become like me a prince among the Trojans.
Let him be strong and brave and rule in power
At Ilion; then someday men will say
‘This fellow was far better than his father!’
Book Six, Lines 553-558
Let him be strong and brave and let men say ‘this man was far better than his father!’
That is one of the purest wishes a father could have for a son. And for a daughter you could ask the same of the almighty:
And all immortals, may this child, my daughter,
Become like me a woman beloved of her people.
Let her be strong and brave and rule in power
On whatever seat she may sit; then someday people will say
‘This woman was far better than her mother and father!’
When I read that text I knew the type of father I wanted to be: the father that lives to teach his children all he can, set an example that favors progress over stagnancy, ruling in strength not selfishness, and give them any support they need to find their progress and surpass his own.
If we think of the ‘human race’ as one long relay race, then each of us will run a certain distance in our lifetime. Different people measure that ‘life distance’ in different ways. Some measure in years and their longevity. Some measure in dollars and retirement funds. Some measure in experiences and passport stamps stamped. Still others have lost sight of this concept of distance and seek either to stay in place, or actively move backwards. Hektor does not wish his children to just repeat his victories and try to live up to him. He actively wishes his son to surpass him as a man. And Hektor, it seems, measures this distance in quality of character: through an example of strength and courage.
In this same analogy, each of us cannot carry the baton forever in this human race. We must hand off he baton. Our children are the baton holders for the future human race. We must set our sights on preparing them as best we can; not for them to fulfill a specific desire in our hearts.
Hektor, and Homer, taught me this lesson about being a father. The purest desire I can have for fatherhood is to set my sights on preparing my children to go far in the human race, and encourage them to run their own race, not the one I dreamed up for them. I want them to be strong and brave and rule on whatever seat they may sit.