The Measure of Fatherly Love (Excerpt)
In 1924, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge proposed a national Father’s Day to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” Then in 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon signed a bill for the official founding of Father’s Day. Later, the custom of celebrating this day gradually spread to other parts of the world. Today’s urban Chinese, who, like their ancestors, set great store by parental love and a father’s responsibilities, also find themselves more and more supportive of this “Western celebration.”
The Chinese nuclear family, with a single child to bring up and educate, is not unlike a corporation with unlimited responsibilities. In such a family, the parents take unlimited responsibility for their child’s future and development. “To raise a child without educating him is a failure in the father.” Whether a child turns out well or not, behaves properly or not, attains success in life or not, his father will get his share of blame or praise. The father not only has to attend to his financial and moral obligations to his children; he is also charged with overall leadership responsibility by his family and society. The benefits to be derived from the success of educating a child are not always predictable, but the opportunity cost to be paid is almost certain! This being the case, the father has to set the measure for his child. Yet, how to set that measure in real-life is no easy task.
The father is sometimes deferentially called “jiayan” in Chinese, meaning “stern master of the household.” Traditional Chinese culture, especially Chinese ethics and customs, have cast a clear, precise and reasonable role for the father and set the expression of parental love. “The father guides by discipline, the mother nurtures by affection.” The father needs to maintain a proper sense of authority and self-respect before he can win the respect of his family and take charge of his child’s education. The sages have left us a saying: “If the prince is not upright, his ministers will turn to serve other states; if a father is not upright, his offspring will flee to foreign lands.” That is to say, a father must teach by personal example, or else he will fail to inspire confidence in his child and to carry out his duty. Worse still, father and son might grow estranged from each other or even become enemies. The affectionate mother and the stern father each have a role to play. A father is expected to be strict, stern and serious. But unfortunately, some fathers go right over the top, turning sternness into verbal abuse and rod-wielding. From Zen Buddhist cultivation and practice I have a revelation. When a Zen master watches over his disciples at mediation, he gives them an occasional blow and a shout. His purpose is to bring stimulation, vigilance, enlightenment and inspiration, to help them gain better control of their minds and become wiser, and not to subdue them to his will or assert his authority. Likewise, a competent father is intelligent and insightful. He knows better than to unleash unwarranted anger on his child or to fool himself with a false sense of superiority. He commands respect not because he is “a head above” other members of his family, but because he is a cut above them in the strength of character. He acts as a mentor, advisor and spiritual guide for his child.
Parents all hope that their children will have glorious futures, and they spare no efforts to turn that dream into reality. Many young people do meet their parents’ expectations, embarking on careers once pursued by the father and winning even greater distinction. However, some others stray from the paths set for them, or even do things contrary to the wishes of their parents. As some wise sayings put it, “Just as a hero’s son would likely be heroic, so an onion seller’s son would likely sell garlic;” “warriors’ children learn early the spear and the sword.” Yet there are other proverbs that reflect less certainty: “How well our children will turn out, even the wisest parents live in doubt.” Besides, home education also involves the question of how best to help a child realize his or her potential. Children should be encouraged to develop their own interests and talent, find their own paths and live their life to the full. Human aspirations vary; one cannot force them to do things to one’s own liking.
Western educational philosophy stresses parental affection, guidance and warm encouragement. Traditional Chinese educational philosophy, on the other hand, sees parental love as stern and serous on the outside but with no less affection deep within. Chinese parental sternness is an outward sign of the relation between the father and his son, with love at its core and the child’s wellbeing as its ultimate goal. Traditional wisdom puts it this way: “An unloving father brings up an unfilial son.” An uncaring and irresponsible father would likely raise a mediocre, lackluster, unfilial son. On the other hand, another proverb registers the danger of the other extreme: “Fierce parental love torments the beloved.” Excessive praises and pampering may produce either an ignorant, incapable, dull-witted and aimless weakling, or an arrogant, egocentric and lawless villain. Such is the difficulty in achieving a balance between sternness and affection. Too much of the former stifles individual initiative, whilst too much of the latter breeds vices of all kinds.
“Pity all caring parents!” is a thought that finds an echo in many hearts. How to be a competent father is more than an art; it is a severe test, or rather, a long unending series of taxing ordeals.
（集体讨论，王维东 执笔，黎翠珍、张佩瑶 审定）