Papà, dad, papa, папа, 爸, أب, pai. Millions of languages and one sole figure. The second person our eyes met when we were born. The first hero; a rock for our insecurities, a trusted friend when we are in doubt, a strict teacher when we risk to fall. The relationship we have with our father is unique. It is not innate, visceral, like the one with our mother, but a relationship built over time, with ups and downs. There are quarrels and reconciliations, conflicts and unity of purpose, frequent dialogues and long silences. A combination of intricate human relationships, which are fundamental for our growth.
According to what psychologist Stephen Repici wrote on Medicitalia with regard to the paternal function, which begins in the first months of life as an active complement of the mother-child relationship. Subsequently, a harmonious bond with their dad allows children to identify with him, and strengthen their feminine identity. In adulthood, finally, the father becomes a key figure in the construction of our extra-familial relationships.
Yet, in today’s society this role often ends up being diminished. In Europe and the United States, dads have gradually assumed a marginal role inside the family, so much so that many people have begun to talk about a “society without fathers” in the past few years. The laws on divorce, for example, end up favoring mothers, leading to the marginalization of the father. The purpose of these rules are different, but the result is unexpected and does not protect the child’s right to relate to both parents. According to the same Repici, for example, in America “once a father is ousted from a family unit, he is treated as an outlaw: he risks to get arrested if he attempts to meet or contact his children in public places without permission, and is subject to all kinds of investigations in which children are used as informants.” An insult to the family.
Things go in a different way in geographic areas where society is still strongly patriarchal. In the Islamic world, for example, the father’s role is very close to the figure of the “pater familiae” in ancient Rome. In the classical Islamic law, father’s position was that of absolute power over his children (like the Roman pater familias). As this situation has been changing, more rights were acknowledged to mothers, although male power is still dominant. A Muslim can take care of her children under the direction of the father until they come of age. Whereas a non-Muslim woman, she can take care of children’s education only till 5 years of age. The father plays, therefore, a protecting role, which lasts till puberty for sons and until marriage for daughters. In the absence of the father, this role is taken on by a guardian (Muslim of course).
But there are situations where this relationship is reversed. In the village of Loshui, located in the Chinese province of Yunnan, lives one of the last existing matriarchal communities. Men have a purely reproductive purpose there. There are no bonds of marriage or living together; they practice free love. Once girls reach puberty, they undergo an initiation rite: locked in a room, they can bring in the male they like the most. His presence is indicated only by a hat hung on the door. Children are cared for by their mothers, grandmothers, and uncles, while paternal figures do not exist at all. Moreover, like Ricardo Core wrote in The Kingdom of Women. The last Matriarchy, it is totally irrelevant to know who the biological father is.
Secularized societies on the one hand and ancient legacies on the other, cannot play down entirely the role of the father who continues to be an important reference point for most of the world’s population. To the point of deserving a special occasion. In Italy it is celebrated on March 19, in memory of St. Joseph, Mary’s husband and Jesus’ foster father. Yet, Father’s Day falls on different days in different cultures. Legend has it that the first “Father’s Day” was celebrated in the United States, and specifically in Fairmont (West Virginia). In Denmark and Russia, this festivity has a civic value: in the first country it coincides with the Constitution’s Day, whereas in the second one it overlaps with the Defender of the Fatherland Day. In France, children use to offer a red rose to fathers who are still alive, and a white one to the fathers who are gone, but cannot be forgotten. English children, give sweets and flowers to their dads on the occasion of Father’s Day (scheduled on the third Sunday of June). On the same date, “Father’s Day” is celebrated in Argentina, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, where children jump over bonfires. As if it were a tribute to those who teach us every day the courage to be men and women.