Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Visceral father

In the Lost episode “Fire + Water,” one of the stranded passengers, Charlie, is ostracized from the group for asserting his assumed paternal rights over Claire’s baby. The result is predictable and tragic.

The conflict begins when Claire suspects Charlie of using heroin. On the basis of this suspicion, despite all he’s done to be a good surrogate father to the baby, she cuts him out of her and the baby’s lives. The other crash survivors assent to this without comment.

Charlie has vivid dreams of the baby being in danger, and he’s convinced the baby must be baptized. Claire refuses to hear him out. When he tries to baptize the baby in the ocean himself, the group confronts him and talks him into giving the baby back to Claire. Locke beats the shit out of him, and they leave him beaten and bleeding in the surf.

Treated like an enemy, Charlie becomes an enemy. Humiliated and embittered, he schemes with Sawyer to steal the guns from Locke and Jack, taking away the group’s ability to defend itself.

Being a single, childless man, detached from the female sexual rhythms that assimilate one into society, I empathize with Charlie, and I see our confused cultural misandry mirrored in the survivors’ double standard. They appreciate Charlie when he volunteers to take paternal responsibility, but they are indifferent when Claire takes that responsibility away. They are outright hostile when he tries to reclaim it. Her motherhood is privileged over his fatherhood, even though both are important for the baby, as well as to themselves.

The difference is Claire’s role in her baby’s life is determined from the moment of conception. The baby gestates in her womb. At birth, the baby is literally tied to her by the umbilical cord. She nourishes the baby with milk from her breasts. Insofar as it came from and is fed by her body, the baby is undeniably hers.

Not so with fatherhood. George Gilder writes: “The man is estranged from this process; his sexuality arises merely as a compulsive drive to pleasure. It’s short term by nature.” Men, whether they “watered the seed” or not, have a choice: They can run or stay. Choosing to stay and to continue to stay is what makes fathers out of men.

I recognized from the beginning Charlie’s desire to be the father of Claire’s fatherless baby. The fragile life developing inside her presented him the perfect opportunity to fill God’s intended role for him and to transcend his inborn selfishness. The primal instinct to bond to a woman and child gave him a visceral incentive to improve himself (i.e., kick his drug habit) and provide a needed service to the group. In essence, he had a new lease on life.

Did they really think he would go quietly when they took that away? Did they really think they’re better off saddled with Claire and the baby as dependents? Probably not. They probably didn’t even think about it. Nevertheless, they deserve whatever harm befalls them from ostracizing Charlie.

I also fault Charlie for not clearly defining his role to Claire. Had they been married, the group may have stepped in to protect his paternal rights. Then again, it may not have done much good, given the ease with which Claire could divorce him and get full custody. The divorce court’s “reasoning” would be a simple formulation of: He’s a junkie, after all. Who is he to have a say in his child’s life?

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