As an undergraduate architecture student, we had a unit in philosophy 101. One of the lecturers was a very interesting fellow. I still recall him asking us something about why we think we owe our parents anything. It’s a question that no one wants to think about or answer. Most of the answers would have something to do with their begetting us, educating us, loving us which sometimes is not the case for many children.
In the Robbers by Schiller, this question is brought to the fore by Charles, while talking about Francis, his vagabond brother. He asks
A common source of being is to produce community of sentiment; identity of matter, identity of impulse! Then again,—he is thy father! He gave thee life, thou art his flesh and blood—and therefore he must be sacred to thee! Again a most inconsequential deduction! I should like to know why he begot me; certainly not out of love for me—for I must first have existed!
Could he know me before I had being, or did he think of me during my begetting? or did he wish for me at the moment? Did he know what I should be? If so I would not advise him to acknowledge it or I should pay him off for his feat. Am I to be thankful to him that I am a man? As little as I should have had a right to blame him if he had made me a woman. Can I acknowledge an affection which is not based on any personal regard? Could personal regard be present before the existence of its object? In what, then, consists the sacredness of paternity? Is it in the act itself out of which existence arose? as though this were aught else than an animal process to appease animal desires. Or does it lie, perhaps, in the result of this act, which is nothing more after all than one of iron necessity, and which men would gladly dispense with, were it not at the cost of flesh and blood? Do I then owe him thanks for his affection? Why, what is it but a piece of vanity, the besetting sin of the artist who admires his own works, however hideous they may be? Look you, this is the whole juggle, wrapped up in a mystic veil to work on our fears. And shall I, too, be fooled like an infant? Up then! and to thy work manfully. I will root up from my path whatever obstructs my progress towards becoming the master. Master I must be, that I may extort by force what I cannot win by affection.
So I ask, where lies the sacredness of paternity?