The Norman Transcript


June 14, 2013

Pater familias

NORMAN — In our home the parents spoke many languages, including Latin. So, I studied Latin in high school and college to find out what the folks were keeping from the “little pitcher with big ears.” Then they switched to German because they knew my German had gotten rusty.

The term “pater familias” is Latin for “father of the family.” In Roman times the term meant that the father was the owner of the estate with power over every member of the family. In fact, an ancient right gave him the power of life and death over them. This particular power, according to Wikipedia, “was seldom exercised” and “was eventually limited by law.” Mighty good of them to pass such a law, otherwise the herd could have been indiscriminately thinned.

Traditionally, the “pater familias” was to “raise healthy children as future citizens of Rome, maintain the moral propriety and well-being of his household” and “be a good citizen.”

Except for the life and death part, the duties of a father have not changed much. He was respected, in some cases out of fear and in others out of love. It is unfortunate that today the respect afforded the “pater familias” is almost non-existent.

Just as with motherhood, fatherhood does not come with instructions tattooed on the baby’s bottom. And that’s a good thing. The posterior of an infant is not an ideal spot for instructions because the opportunities for getting more than just a gander at the “How To” side of a baby is fraught with odiferous and messy perils.

The whole parenthood thing is generally accomplished in the time-honored tradition of “flying by the seat of your pants.” Some people have a knack for parenting and others do not. For the most part, parents try their best to raise their little snot-nosed, and at times challenging, urchins to be civilized. However, what happens to said urchins when they go out into the big wide and uncivilized world is out of parental hands.

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