Friday, April 30, 2010

The sons of great men

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 5, 2010)

THE ONLY CHILD (a son) of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, arguably the greatest American general of the 20th century, was born in Manila on Feb. 21, 1938.

Arthur MacArthur IV
his mother, Jean.
The life of Arthur MacArthur IV, however, remains a mystery to this day. His mother shielded Arthur from the public eye during his childhood, and Arthur developed a disdain for publicity in his later life. The elder MacArthur was apparently a doting father to Arthur: his love for Arthur was described as “relentless.”

In his twilight years, the elder MacArthur said he wanted his family to remember him more as a father than a soldier. “By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder—infinitely prouder—to be a father. . . It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battle but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, 'Our Father who art in heaven’.” Douglas MacArthur died in 1964.

The world, however, knows precious little about the only son of one of the greatest men of the 20th century. The world doesn’t even know if Arthur MacArthur remains alive today.

The younger MacArthur’s obscurity is intentional: he petitioned to have his family name changed. That petition was granted, so Arthur MacArthur now lives under a different name.

Many speculate about the real reason for Arthur rejecting his legacy of greatness. Some say he fled from the immense burden of living up to his father’s renown. Others say he wanted to be his own man.

Described as a “sensitive” child, the young MacArthur is thought to have become a musician, artist or writer. Some say he still lives in New York City, which is where his family lived in his younger years.

The son of a great man only has two choices: that of Arthur MacArthur’s or that of his father, Douglas, whose own father was a hero of the Civil War and recipient of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor. Douglas MacArthur chose to outshine his great father, Arthur, and he did.

The sons of great fathers--or great parents--carry a name that can either be a terrible curse or a goad to new greatness. And they must make a choice for which they will forever be faulted.

In choosing to follow a great father’s footsteps, a son is always held up to comparison by his father’s peers. Sadly, he will always be found wanting despite great personal success, and some will say he would not have succeeded were it not for his father’s fame.

In choosing to disregard the greatness of his father, however, a son is readily branded a failure. It is the most terrible of all epithets because it means a son is forever his father’s shadow and is thus inferior.

And it is painful being introduced time and again to strangers as, “Ang anak ni _________” ("This is _______'s son), instead of by one’s first name.

The son of a great man can do no more than light his own fire within his father’s giant shadow. And by stoking those embers into a brilliant light within that comforting darkness, proclaim his existence to a cynical world.

Sons of great men.

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