Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Daddy Issues Follow-Up

Andrew Stevens writes:
I don't think I buy it. I don't think it's nearly as universal as you seem to think. Warren Buffett cites his father as the major influence in his life and one of his personal heroes. Bill Gates still has a close relationship with his father.

I suppose it might be true for political ambition. There is Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Ronald Reagan (whose father was neither absent nor dastardly, but was an alcoholic). On the other hand, Jimmy Carter got along well with his father and this is true for many aspirants as well. We won't count the two Bushes since neither of them probably count as "truly ambitious" given that politics was just the family business for both of them.
I was thinking more about politics, and I do think it's pretty damn universal.
  • I'm not sure about many classical figures besides Alexander and Augustus, but Phillip II loomed large and Augustus' father died when he was very young. 
  • Don't know about Julius Caesar off-hand. 
  • George Washington's father died when he was 11. 
  • Lincoln had some serious issues with his father in his teens. 
  • Joe Kennedy was no picnic. 
  • Gerald Ford's father was an abuser, if I remember correctly. 
  • Churchhill's father died when he was 20 or so, and it made a profound impact on him. 
  •   Tricky Dick's father?

Anyway, perhaps I'll go through every president and see how many this holds for at some point.

9 comments:

The Ancient said...

Phillip was killed when Alexander was a teenager (and who really knows if Alexander and his mother were in on it). Octavian's father died when he was young, and Atia (pace Rome) is not known to have been influential in his subsequent life. Julius Caesar's father died while he was young, and again, was a person of no real consequence. Washington's elder brother was vastly more influential than his father -- against whom he probably bore a grudge for his poor (non-British) education. Lincoln hated his father so much that when the old man died, Lincoln refused to attend the funeral. Joe Kennedy was not only much loved by his sons, he was a model they each strove to emulate. (The priapic parts, not the money-making parts.) Gerald Ford was adopted. Churchill's father was a syphilitic maniac who chronically and compulsively belittled Winston, who responded by making his father out to be a great man. (Go figure.) And Nixon was Satan's very own spawn, so obviously there were issues.

Backing up a bit, Bill Gates loves his father for many good reasons, not least because he helped Bill avoid what appeared to be certain expulsion from Harvard. Buffett is too rich and too much of a one-off to be a good example of anything. As for the Bushes, I think it's incontestable that W wanted to do his father one better -- to be a more influential president, and to win re-election.

FLG --

It's hard to see a theme in this pudding except one -- fathers who are a) weak and b) monsters of some sort (if only monsters of selfishness) often seem to produce great men.

(Not that I would take that as a guide to parental behavior.)

The Ancient said...

Phillip was killed when Alexander was a teenager (and who really knows if Alexander and his mother were in on it). Octavian's father died when he was young, and Atia (pace Rome) is not known to have been influential in his subsequent life. Julius Caesar's father died while he was young, and again, was a person of no real consequence. Washington's elder brother was vastly more influential than his father -- against whom he probably bore a grudge for his poor (non-British) education. Lincoln hated his father so much that when the old man died, Lincoln refused to attend the funeral. Joe Kennedy was not only much loved by his sons, he was a model they each strove to emulate. (The priapic parts, not the money-making parts.) Gerald Ford was adopted. Churchill's father was a syphilitic maniac who chronically and compulsively belittled Winston, who responded by making his father out to be a great man. (Go figure.) And Nixon was Satan's very own spawn, so obviously there were issues.

Backing up a bit, Bill Gates loves his father for many good reasons, not least because he helped Bill avoid what appeared to be certain expulsion from Harvard. Buffett is too rich and too much of a one-off to be a good example of anything. As for the Bushes, I think it's incontestable that W wanted to do his father one better -- to be a more influential president, and to win re-election.

FLG --

It's hard to see a theme in this pudding except one -- fathers who are a) weak and b) monsters of some sort (if only monsters of selfishness) often seem to produce great men.

(Not that I would take that as a guide to parental behavior.)

The Ancient said...

Sorry for the double post -- my Comcast connection is on the fritz.

I think I could have made it all shorter by saying that history seems to be driven more by hatred than by love.

FLG said...

I'm arguing that it's fathers who are a) absent or b) monsters of some sort (if only monsters of selfishness) often seem to produce great men.

I believe that great men are generally maladjusted, and most often their fathers are to blame for it.

Andrew Stevens said...

One could argue that Carter was not "truly ambitious," but his father was not weak - he was a prominent business owner and Jimmy idolized him, so it's probably safe to say he wasn't a monster. George H.W. Bush was also certainly not weak, regardless of W's desire to one-up him, and also no monster. I assume the same is true of his father Prescott. Certainly not weak, probably not a monster.

There is mixed evidence on Nixon's father. I found an unsourced quote which claims that Nixon's father was a mean-spirited man who psychologically abused his sons, but I don't know what the source is for that and Nixon always spoke well of his father.

Ford didn't become President in the traditional way, so I have no problem not including him in this analysis. It's true that his natural father was an abuser, but Ford never knew his natural father until late in life. In fact, he didn't know he wasn't his stepfather's biological son until he was 17 and he has described his stepfather as "a magnificent person." So, if we count Ford, I'm counting him on my side of the argument - a happy childhood with the man he knew as his father.

FLG said...

In other words, Gerald Ford's biological father was absent.

Also a possibility that HW and Prescott Bush were both absent. Although, with the Bushes, I think it's as you said, less ambition than the family business.

I'm hesitant to include business leaders. I think they have different motivations.

Withywindle said...

But this is all an attempt to explain (away) greatness; ultimately beside the point. We all have issues; some of us are great.

George Pal said...

Alois Hitler’s father wasn’t a charmer, his earlier years as a father spent almost exclusively at work, in taverns, or tending the apiary. His second marriage to Adolf’s mother, was a perfunctory ceremony after which he went to work. He was described as hard, short-tempered, and mentally abusive, either berating or ignoring the family.

Stalin’s father was a drunkard, abusive, and abandoned the family when Joseph was five.

Mao’s father was the best of the bunch, a businessman who didn’t want Mao going off to school and wanted him to learn the business instead. He eventually relented. Mao seems not to have needed motivation to become the greatest murderer of the three.

Andrew Stevens said...

Gerald Ford didn't know his father was absent until he was already grown. He thought his stepfather was his father. He wasn't told the truth until he was 17.

 
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