Thursday, 4 October 2012

Father Knows Best

Young Laertes: Dad, Hamlet wants to borrow my marbles. He lost his.

Papa Polonius: Neither a borrower or a lender be.

Young Laertes: But I want him to be my friend.

Papa Polonius: To thy own self be true.

Young Laertes: Hamlet! I've got my marble bag!

Papa Polonius: Arggh!

This is an early conversation between Polonius, the king's advisor, and his son, Laertes, from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hamlet is THE play about Fathers and Sons. Not only does Hamlet have to contend with his regicidal uncle as stepfather, he's got his own ghostly dad pressuring him to avenge his death.Then you have Polonius trying to raise Laertes and a daughter, Ophelia.

Polonius, a successful advisor to two kings, can't get his son to even listen to him. As Laertes tries to leave for France, Polonius chases after him giving him reams of ignored advice. I imagine Laertes rolling his eyes, putting his earbuds in and turning UP the volume.

A boy becomes an expert in all things by the time he is 8. I recall an argument with my son about whether the Blue Whale is the largest animal that has ever lived. He insisted the largest was some dinosaur a neighbourhood boy claimed to know about. I dug up a reference book that substantiated my claim. My son was still doubtful - who wrote the book?

It drives me crazy. What ever happened to Father Knows Best? 

But in Hamlet, the fathers give some questionable guidance. The otherworldly king pressures Hamlet to kill his uncle. WTF? And Polonius advises Ophelia to spurn her lover Hamlet but, when she and Hamlet follow their fathers' advice, they both end up dead. Thanks, Dad. When we jump in with our opinion we often don't have all the facts to offer good and helpful advice. So shut up and wait to be asked.

Maybe asking fathers to stop offering advice is futile but you can always adopt my policy - I give unsolicited advice, wait for them not to follow it and then say, "Daddy's right again." It drives them crazy. Perfect.

A version of this article also appears in Village Living Magazine, October/November 2012 issue.

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