The Norman Transcript

June 14, 2013

Pater familias

The Norman Transcript

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.

As has been mentioned in past columns, our parents were European, meaning they were strict. They had rules and any failure on our part to follow such rules had consequences. And our father, who dwelt in an ivory tower, tended to be a bit on the dictatorial side.

Of course, no one ever expected the relationship between parents and children to be a democracy. That foolish notion made parenting even more difficult because of the intervention of groups who are barely capable of handling their own business.

Hubby’s father worked incredibly hard and yet made time for his children and grandchildren. Consequently, both generations have wonderful memories of fishing, talking and spending time with Dad/Papa.

Since so many things in life are learned by example, Hubby also id a great father and grandfather. Just like his Dad, he gives of his time and attention to our children and grandchildren, rather than just material and impersonal stuff. And he, too, works hard to provide a loving and stable home for his family.

Folks in today’s society seem to have lost respect for parents, persons of authority and each other. It is troubling and wrong to see fathers portrayed as bumbling fools in movies and on television. No wonder respect is lacking in our egocentric world where the end all and be all is the self-stroking and nearsighted “I.”

Granted, some fathers merely provide a microscopic drop toward the creation of new life and some end up in the news, giving the world a bad impression of fathers in general.

What about the good fathers, who quietly do their duty, earning a living, spend time with the children and support their wives in raising the children in a loving home? They are the underappreciated and unsung heroes of every generation.

To all the great fathers who rarely make the news, but are firmly enshrined in our hearts, Happy Father’s Day!

Elizabeth is a freelance writer and author. Her novels: “The Dionysus Connection” and “The Marathon Man” written as Liz Cowan are available on Visit her website: