Father - History of Fatherhood

History of Fatherhood

The discovery of fatherhood is likely to have been as important for the development of the human race as the discovery of fire. The discovery of fatherhood took place in a historical period for which information sources are rare, but the few scholars focusing on that period gave us a sufficiently clear picture of this discovery.

The link between sexual acts and procreation can be empirically identified, but it is by no means of immediate evidence. In fact, the conception of life cannot be observed, whereas its birth is obviously visible. The extended time lag between the former and the latter certainly does not help to identify their link, but on the contrary it makes even more difficult to assume any kind of relationship between these two events. As a result, human beings ignored that males fecundate females for thousands of years. During this extended period procreation was considered to be an autonomous 'ability' of women: men were essential in order to ensure the survival and defence of the social group, but only women could enhance and reintegrate it through their ability to create new individuals. This gave women a role of primary and indisputable importance within their social groups.

This situation probably persisted during the whole Palaeolithic age. Some scholars believe the well-known Venus figurines of that age to be clear witnesses of it. During the transition to the Neolithic age, agriculture and cattle breeding became the core activities of a growing number of human communities. Breeding in particular is likely to have led women – who used to spend more time than men taking care of the cattle – to observations and considerations which gradually allowed them to discover the procreative effect of the sexual act between a male and a female.

For communities which looked at sexuality just as a source of pleasure and an element of social cohesion without attaching any taboo character to it, this discovery must have led to a sense of upset with consequences not only on the regulation of sexuality itself, but on the whole political, social, and economic system. The time to arrive to sufficient certainty about the mechanism of life conception must have been very long, but this time length cannot have prevented the implications of this acquired certainty from being extremely dramatic. Eventually, these implications led to the model of society which – in different times and shapes – was adopted by most human cultural communities.

Still today, this social model founded on the capacity of the man to fecundate women tends globally to prevail: this capacity allowed men to free themselves from the secular frustration derived from having recognized only to women the ability to generate life and led them to configure a society affirming their supremacy over women. And, of course, their supremacy over the human beings they created: their children. We find an enlightening example of this social development in Aeschylus's tragedy The Eumenides. The Coryphaeus of the Erinyes blames matricidal Orestes for having shed his own blood, but God Apollo replies that this is absolutely untrue because the mother is only a wet-nurse and not a progenitor of the child, whose blood derives from his/her unique parent: the father. This argument is accepted by the judges and Orestes finally obtains a verdict of not guilty. The extreme position taken here by God Apollo did not find complete acceptance, not even in Athens. In the regions where this position originally prevailed, it was gradually abandoned facing improving scientific explanations of human procreation. But traces of this position can still be found today in some cultural systems.

The discovery of fatherhood led to the supremacy of the father lineal over the matrilineal descent – which is still characteristic of most models of family we observe today – and, most of all, to the sacral character assigned to the sexual act which was rapidly regulated by severe norms. These norms revoked the absolute freedom human beings used to enjoy with respect to their sexual behaviour, thus blaming and prohibiting all sexual acts not aimed at a fecundation of the woman. Moreover, the discovery of fatherhood and the sedentary forms of living developed during the Neolithic Age led the man to develop the first forms of private property and to defend them through conflicts – and eventually wars – with competing human beings.

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