“…mothers love more than fathers do.” Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics
I couldn’t decide whether this assertion made me angry. To be fair, from the context it is clear that Aristotle is speaking of love for infants.
I thought of my own experience. The days that each of my children were born stand out from all other days of my life. Finally to meet the person that we had been awaiting for months; to hold that precious treasure in my own hands; to see flesh of my flesh, the fruit of the love I share with my wife. How could Aristotle say such a thing about fathers?
Then I thought about it a little more. There is no image more precious to me than that of my wife holding our newborn child. They look into one another’s eyes. This is a sacred moment, unrepeatable and irreplaceable. This is the welcome that my child most awaits, most needs. This is the moment when my child first starts to see herself for who she is. In that gaze of her mother.
But why not in my eyes? I think the simple truth is this: in the child’s infancy, the mother is most able to see–to see the child for who she is. And greater insight means greater love. I do not immediately have such a deep connection with the child, nor such an intuitive sense of her personhood. We fathers often stand more at a distance; we also tend to objectivize. To be honest, I think sometimes we can be more in love with the idea of our child, than with the reality, which we have yet to come to know. To mothers, on the other hand, this baby is this baby; and it is nothing but beautiful.
Indeed, in this way they surely see things clearly–they see the child as the person she is, undistracted by accidentals. Therein, mothers excel. In this, as in so many things, I have much to learn from my wife.
I think this should not make me angry, but grateful. Most of all for our children’s sake.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher.
Image: La Mere (The Mother), by Elizabeth Nourse, 1888.