Every father's odyssey
LOOKING FOR a model father on Father's Day? Though Father's Day is less than a century old, it turns out that one of our best fathers is much older than that: the Homeric hero Odysseus, who we don't usually think of in that way.
LOOKING FOR a model father on Father's Day?
Though Father's Day is less than a century old, it turns out that one of our best fathers is much older than that: the Homeric hero Odysseus, who we don't usually think of in that way.
The sneaky hero of the Trojan War is more famous for his decade of adventures on the way home: He pokes out the eye of the Cyclops, resists the song of the Sirens, sails between Scylla and Charybdis and lives to tell the tale. Very manly, but not exactly Boy Scout meetings or a trip to the fishin' hole. As a father, Odysseus is usually noted only for being absent for the entire 20 years of his son's childhood.
Yet he's worth another look.
When we meet him in "The Odyssey," Odysseus isn't fighting a dragon or charming a goddess - he's doing nothing more noble than staring toward home, weeping because he misses his wife and son. In fact, those famous adventures actually constitute barely a sixth of "The Odyssey" - fully half the poem takes place after Odysseus has arrived home, finding the place overrun by suitors terrorizing his wife and son.
Odysseus rolls up his sleeves and sets things right. And those adventures? Odysseus actually recounts them himself, over drinks. At the time of the poem's action, he's not some young fire-eater. He's a mid-40s guy, sick of it all, who just wants to get home.
Think about it. First off, Odysseus has a job he hates. He knows this Trojan War is a terrible idea, but some cabal (including the boss, Agamemnon) drags him there, against his will, away from his wife and infant son. (He even tries faking illness as an excuse - it doesn't work any better for him than it usually does for you or me.)
In Troy, Odysseus thinks up the Trojan-horse trick that wins the war, but Agamemnon is King of Kings, so don't think Odysseus gets the lion's share of the bonus. And let's not even talk about the commute home, which takes 10 years.
So, there's long hours working a junky job for a lousy boss, where he doesn't get paid what he's worth and misses way too much time with his family. Then an ungodly trip home - and when he gets there the place is in chaos, and instead of putting his feet up for nice cup of honeyed wine, he needs to take a firm hand with the help.
Can you blame him for stopping on the way to have a drink and tell a bunch of strangers some stories that make him look like a hero? Sounds like the daddy track to me. Yet you read about Odysseus as an adventurer, a warrior, a hero, even a husband, but never a dad.
His son, Telemachus, tells another story. The first four books of "The Odyssey" chronicle Telemachus as he goes out looking for his dad. When father and son finally meet, their tearful embrace is all but immediate.
REMEMBER, for half the book, after he's returned home, Odysseus engages in a complex dance of lies with his wife before revealing himself as her returned husband.
What does it say that Odysseus can wait half an epic before saying, "Honey, I'm home," but the minute he sees his son, the two embrace, weeping? It says that whatever else has happened during his absence, Odysseus truly missed being a father. And who can blame him? There's always another war to fight or monster to kill, but your kid? That's your real epic right there.
So if you're stuck for a gift this year, you might consider buying dad a copy of "The Odyssey."
And, even if there's no giant-killing or war-winning in dad's average day, try to imagine that he might think there is. So instead of a houseful of problems, once in a while, when he comes home from work, greet him with a glass of honeyed wine, or whatever beverage he prefers. Try to get him to tell a couple of stories that make him sound like a hero.
For a dad, even today, sometimes it's a long way home. *
Scott Huler's most recent book is "No- Man's Lands: One man's odyssey through 'The Odyssey' " (see scotthuler.com).