Ischomachus’s wife: “My mother told me that my job was to be responsible.” Ischomachus: “My father gave me the same advice.”
Xenophon, The Estate Manager
One casualty of the decline of the household is that men and women don’t see their role in it as central to their life and identity. This phenomenon is dramatically expressed in contemporary arts and entertainment. We rarely see men who are serious about their place in the home. Even less do we see a husband who steps into a unique and crucial position as having first responsibility for the household.
It is difficult today to think clearly, or even to have good discussions, about the natural place of man in the household. Many factors conspire together to make this an exceedingly difficult topic. The failure of men to be the husbands and fathers they should be is the central factor. Others include decades of concerted efforts to discredit ‘traditional’ notions of manhood, the lack of examples in life and art of husbands and fathers, and the deformation of language including political correctness.
Any man who wants to understand and pursue real manhood must tread with care, humility, and courage. Both what he says and does might often be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Yet must he not try to do it nonetheless? Does he not owe this much and more to those he loves, especially his wife?
In the end being a husband and father is nothing but a unique way of loving and serving. It must not be lost to us.
It seems to me that a great place to begin is with the notion of responsibility. If I have responsibility for something, then it is my place to see to the proper execution of what needs to be done. It is mine to care for and attend to the good of that or those for whom I am responsible, to see it through to completion.
If I have first responsibility in the household then I especially must understand what a household is, and how life there can and should be lived. I need to have a plan and do all in my power to assure that all in the household, starting with my wife, have the support they need to thrive, each in their own way.
First responsibility means that any failure in the ordering of the household is in some sense mine first. It is mine to accept first blame; mine to initiate a remedy and healing as necessary. And this while never usurping but rather empowering the proper role of my wife.
There is so much more we must discern and pursue to get this right in the details. Yet taking first responsibility, it seems to me, is at the heart of the burden, the challenge, and the potential glory of being a husband and father, of being a man in a household.
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Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we get an insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.
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Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.