In Leon Podles’ excellent book The Church Impotent, he points out that from the beginning men were created to leave. In summarizing how marriage works, Genesis says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother…” But this pattern holds in life as well. Men go out, leave, explore. From Odysseus to Beowulf to Abraham, men are called to leave their father and mother, leave their homeland, and go out into the world.
But this isn’t permanent. Podles points out that the leaving ought to ultimately lead to cleaving, reuniting, a home coming, and (often) marriage. Podles points out that the Bible strikes a fairly unique stance in this regard since family and marriage were often seen as mere entanglements if not direct threats to masculinity. A true man fathered children, but there was often little regard for the responsibility of caring for a wife and children. In other words, Podles points out, that despite the fact that “patriarchy” is currently experiencing a dip in popular sentiment, it was originally a glorious counter-cultural movement, insisting that though a man’s mission was to leave, to go out, to explore, to conquer, that this going out ought also include a coming home, cleaving to a wife, providing for a family.
Yet, it’s striking that one way to read the Old Testament would be to trace the story of the dangers of wives. It was Eve who tempted Adam. It was Sarah who suggested her maidservant Hagar. It’s the Canaanite wives that the Hebrew men are warned against. Samson had Delilah. David had Bathsheba. Solomon had many wives who lead him astray, and Ahab had the most infamous wife of all: Jezebel. In other words, though patriarchy is seen as a moral and social good, even a masculine glory, it is also seen as the very place where the greatest danger lies. In this respect, a man must both cleave to his wife, but in a certain respect, a man must continue to be outward facing. He must continue to be the one who goes out, who listens to God’s call, who explores, who leads. He must not stay home when the armies of Israel go out to battle.
Thus, the Bible strikes a precarious balance between presenting masculinity as both the call to leave home and the call to have a home. The call to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife, to lead, and yet to receive true companionship and help from his wife.
Podles points out that it’s the woman’s calling to make home a place that is lovely, welcoming, and encourages communion and fellowship and rest. And yet the man must not stay home. He must rejoice in his wife. He must have sabbath. He must care for his family, and yet, he must also go out. He must leave. He must leave in order to provide, in order to protect, in order to come back home again. In this way, it’s the husband/father’s responsibility to make sure that the children grow up and leave the home. Since it is the father/husband who is the one who leaves, he is the one showing the children that it is safe, that they must go out and explore and take spouses as well.
This is a striking insight if not the least because what sometimes passes for “patriarchy” is often a hovering rooster who in effect will not allow his children to leave. Often the over-domineering father/husband is ironically a highly domesticated man, even though he may chew tobacco and walk like a cowboy. But a man who doesn’t cheerfully send his children out into the world to live and learn and explore is a man who in effect has forfeited his own manhood. He’s denying to his children what ought to be normal to him. But the fact that he won’t let them suggests that he isn’t actually comfortable in those boots. He just wears them for show.
I’m happy to note that I think that different children need different sorts of encouragement and counsel, and that includes different sorts of care for sons and daughters. I don’t believe that sons and daughters need to leave home in the same exact fashion. Yet there’s something terribly wrong about a father who isn’t eager to see his children follow him in leaving to start new families and explore the wide world of creation.