I wish to introduce a new series of posts on this blog: Dad Crushes. By ‘Dad Crush,’ I mean a fixation with or affinity toward some fellow I earnestly wish was my dad. I expect that I may get pervy or hostile emails about this, so let me belabor the obvious now, at the commencement: I have no romantic or sexual affections for my dad crushes, or for my real father, and I do not advocate that anyone have erotic feelings toward their parent, and incest is unacceptable and objectionable in every way. Jesus.
My first Dad Crush is Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790). I’ve been a Franklin fan for about ten years. He is my favorite Founding Father.
There are many things I admire about Franklin. First and foremost, he is that rare sort of genius who is also tremendously affable and approachable. Oftentimes brilliant people are intimidating, or difficult to relate to, or they isolate themselves from society and interact exclusively with a small circle of other intellects. Not Franklin! Franklin loved people, and he had faith in their ability to realize their best potential. He was a true democrat, and very friendly. There was nothing snobbish about his character. He was like the awesome older brother you never had.
Another thing I love about Franklin is his sense of humor. He could laugh at anything–especially himself. This helped to make him a big hit in diplomacy (and in other endeavors), especially with the French ladies. I mean, come on–we’ve all seen portraits of the fellow; we know what he looked like: he was plain and middle-aged (geriatric in those days). And yet he was popular; he was charming. His humor had tremendous appeal.
Consider this passage from his Autobiography, in which he recounts deciding to eat animals (fish–cod) again after a long period of (ethical) vegetarianism:
” …our crew employed themselves catching cod and hauled up a great number. Till then I had stuck to my resolution to eat nothing that had had life; and on this occasion I considered, according to my Master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had or even could do us any injury that might justify this massacre. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and when this came hot out of the frying pan, it smelled admirably well. I balanced some time between principle and inclination till I recollected that when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of the stomachs. “Then,” thought I, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we many’t eat you.” So I dined upon cod very heartily and have since continued to eat as other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enable one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”
Ah, the use of rationality for self-serving purposes! Justification! Who cannot identity with this story…? The internal struggle between principle and inclination, as Franklin puts it. Ethics vs. Desires. The crucible of choice. This duality. You have to make a decision.
Franklin understands all of this, of course. He’s making gentle fun of himself in this passage: the ironic description of being a ‘reasonable creature,’ the shrewd–and inarguable–observation that people (conveniently!) contrive excuses to gratify their desires.
He pokes fun at himself periodically throughout his Autobiography. I suspect that this is a deliberate, but not affected (re: insincere) strategy on his part. His self-criticism is never brutal or black. It is always joking and friendly–light.
See this passage, in which he recounts stepping off the ship to visit Philadelphia for the first time as a young man. He wanders around, sight-seeing, and stops at a bakery for a snack:
“Not knowing the different prices nor the names of the different sorts of bread, I told him to give me three pennyworth of any sort. He have me accordingly three great puffy rolls. I was surprized at the quantity but took it, and having no room in my pockets, walked off with a roll under each arm and eating the other. This I went up Market Street…passing by the door of Mr. Read, my future wife’s father, when she, standing at the door, saw me, and thought I made–as I certainly did–a most awkward, ridiculous appearance.”
I mean, you can picture this kid, all slovenly from his ship voyage, wandering up and down the street with loafs of bread under each arm and stuffing his face, with crumbs going everywhere, and gawking around like a tourist. And this dork is going to be sitting at your dinner table, courting your daughter. Your future son-in-law! It’s a funny story, right? Universally recognizable. This sort of story establishes intimacy and trust with the reader. A sense of camaraderie, which is crucial to effective delivery of the book’s message (it is not a memoir, but a self-improvement guide for the citizens of the new Republic–proxies for the sons he never had). His tone is humorous and witty throughout, but he does not engage in sarcasm or off-putting comedy. Franklin is gracious, approachable, seductive. He knew people.