The Thinking 

A Father’s Farewell

June 18, 2017


IN ACT THREE of Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walkure, of the Ring Cycle, Wotan, lord of the gods, punishes his beloved daughter, Brünnhilde. In doing so, he must deprive himself of the thing he so cherishes: her company.

From Wikipedia:

Wotan arrives in wrath and passes judgement on Brünnhilde (since she disobeyed his orders). She is to be stripped of her Valkyrie status and become a mortal woman, to be held in a magic sleep on the mountain, prey to any man who happens by. Brünnhilde begs mercy of Wotan for herself, his favorite child. Wotan consents to her last request: to encircle the mountaintop with magic flame, which will deter all but the bravest of heroes (who, as shown through the leitmotif, they both know will be the yet unborn Siegfried). Wotan lays Brünnhilde down on a rock and, in a long embrace, kisses her eyes closed into an enchanted sleep. He summons Loge (the Norse demigod of fire) to ignite the circle of flame that will protect her, then slowly departs in sorrow.

In this beautiful scene, Wotan takes the higher path. He defends justice, but at a great price.

The scene is a reminder of the sometimes awesome responsibilities of fatherhood and the tender love a good father bears for his children. A father’s authority is grounded in love and is distinct from any other form of authority. Without human fatherhood, we would not understand as well our Divine Father’s all-encompassing love for us.

Happy Father’s Day! Thank you, fathers. Even ordinary men — not gods — make heroic sacrifices and must sometimes risk a child’s happiness for the sake of justice.

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