A Tale of Two Fathers: Silas Marner on the True Meaning of Fatherhood


Randall Smith recently published a two-part Public Discourse essay on Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Smith criticizes the radical argument put forth in the novel’s trial scene by a sophisticated city lawyer who claims that Fyodor Pavlovich is not truly a father because his son Dmitri feels no loyalty to him. The lawyer argues that, even if Dmitri murdered Fyodor, the accusation of parricide is senseless. In Smith’s view, this line of argumentation prophetically foreshadows our current culture’s relentless attempts to redefine our concepts of marriage, motherhood, and fatherhood to be based upon consent rather than nature.

Although the defense attorney may be attempting to undermine the traditional family, his statement that “he who begets is not yet a father, a father is he who begets and proves worthy of it” includes an element of truth. While there is no denying that a child’s emotions toward his father do not negate biological parenthood, many children understandably lack filial devotion toward their absent biological fathers. In our quest to emphasize the cultural, sociological, and personal importance of biological fathers, we should be careful not to negate the importance of those men who step up to love and care for children to whom they are not biologically related.

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