Douglas Wilson’s second chapter in Father Hunger takes on the task of debunking egalitarianism, explaining masculinity as an objective concept, and then proposing that fathers are to lead their families with an eye towards the distant future. This is a foundational vision which will shape the thesis of the entire book, and it is likely one of the areas that will be most in dispute. It will be in dispute by many Christians as well as non-Christians, and so it will require the right mixture of intellectual power and a good sense of humor. Wilson gives us both. For now we’ll just look at his treatment of egalitarianism.
“The Dude” from The Big Lebowski is a lamed-vavnik, or so argues Cathleen Falsani in her very fun book The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.
The concept of the lamed-vavnik comes from a certain school of mystical Judaism. Falsani explains its meaning and significance:
According to various kababalistic teachings, at any given time in history there are thirty-six righteous people (lamed-vavniks take their name from the Hebrew letters lamed— meaning “thirty”– and vav— “six”) on whom the fate of the world rests. If even one of them were to perish, God would destroy the world. The lamed-vavniks–also known as menschen in Yiddish– don’t know the identity of one another and in fact don’t even know that they themselves are counted among the righteous thirty-six. Sometimes the lamed-vavniks appear to be humble fools– slackers or burnouts, in the parlance of our time– but the rest of us should take heed. We never know when we might meet one of the thirty-six, so we should treat everyone as if the fate of the world rests on their unassuming shoulders. (110)
I received an advance reader’s copy of Douglas Wilson’s Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men To Love And Lead Their Families several months ago, but I didn’t manage to actually read it until a month later. Atop that, after reading it, I had planned to write a review of it, but also allowed another month to pass. So this is no longer “advance.” Still, I very much enjoyed the book, finding it engaging on an intellectual level and helpful on a personal level– me being a new dad and all. So I do intend to review Father Hunger here, but it will now be a series of posts, taking the various chapters in order as I reread them. I’ll probably skip a chapter or two, or at least combine some, but for the most part I’ll be going through them individually.
You can find “20 Quotes from Father Hunger” over at the desiringGod blog. As good as those are, I have to say that they are the “safe” ones, suited for the broader Evangelical audience. I plan to give you the full Wilson treatment here, particularly highlighting all of his funny, manly, tough-talking, and almost-dirty-but-not-quite-because-we’re-talking-about-real-life stuff. This book’s got some chutzpah, and long-time Wilson fans won’t be disappointed. It is a blend of what you’ll find in his earlier books on marriage and family, with the obvious qualification that it is directed towards fathers.
Pastor Wilson also relies on the work of George Gilder’s Men and Marriage. The thesis of that book is basically that men will either be horndogging scoundrels or they will get married, and for the sake of civil society, we should encourage the latter. Pastor Wilson whimsically follows this theme in one of his subtitles: “Fight Crime, Get Married.”
At this point I would also want add the contribution of Denis De Rougemont’s Love in the Western World. De Rougement argues that erotic love is at war with civil society, causing men to rush off into affairs, adultery, and even death. The great antidote is, of course, marriage. And while one might not agree with all of De Rougement’s religious and historical genealogizing (he connects it all to a medieval theological heresy), his basic point is true: the passions must not rule us but rather be ruled by us. C. S. Lewis puts it more simply, “Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be god.”
What this has to do with Father Hunger should be plain, and Pastor Wilson explains it ably. Men have been lead away from Fatherhood by the supposed virtues of our modern culture. They follow after romance, independence, and avarice, but the end result is not a dreamy blessedness, but rather permanent adolescence. The only way out of this muck is to man up. And so throughout Father Hunger, Pastor Wilson addresses the Biblical command for maturity, male leadership, and the goodness of marriage and children. He explains the various competing ideologies in our society today and how they pull against marriage and fatherhood. And he concludes the book with practical advice on how to be a father, directing it to those who currently are fathers, to those who will be fathers, and, most importantly, to those who have never had fathers.
Pastor Wilson’s first chapter, serving as the introduction, lays out the basic vision. The solution to a broken society is to reclaim the concept of a well-pleased father. When daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. And the only way to recover happy paternal relations temporally is to first recover them spiritually and eternally:
In human history, there will never be a more perfect father-and-son moment than this moment between Father and Son [alluding to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river Matt. 3:16-17–SW]. This is the keynote–pleasure. This is the pitch that a father/son relationship needs to match– “well pleased.” (p 12)
And so it is that Pastor Wilson begins to show us how to be well-pleasing fathers and have well-pleasing families, all by finding pleasure in our father in heaven. I will continue this review in the upcoming posts.