Patriotic and Patriarchal: Charles De Gaulle’s Love for His Daughter
From a very young age, my oldest daughter has been very good with words. She paid close attention to books she was read, to everything my wife and I said, and developed a large vocabulary herself. At three years old, she was helping my wife make a cake for one of my birthdays. My daughter announced that she wanted to make my cake “sophisticated.” Sophisticated to a 3 year old apparently meant dumping a massive amount of chocolate chips into the batter.
Of course, she didn’t always use the words she heard exactly correctly. One July Fourth, I had dressed in red, white, and blue and my daughter approvingly told me, “Daddy, you look very patriarchal.” I’d like to think she was right.
Of course, the modern world might struggle to decide which offense is the greater--patriarchy or patriotism. It seems to hate both. Fathers Day seems an appropriate time to say something about the former.
One man who was both patriotic and patriarchal in the best sense of both terms was the great French General and President Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle has often been seen by history as a rather stern and severe man; his ardent nationalism has done little to endear him to many recorders of history, journalist and professional. They have been both inclined to see nationalism as evil and to prefer large supranational organizations like the United Nations and European Union. De Gaulle hated both. He was too patriotic. His patriotism, though, was also the one boast of the French during World War II. When most of France became the Vichy government and cooperated with the Nazis, even in the extermination of the Jews, DeGaulle led the French resistance. His resistance to the Nazis was driven by his patriotism, his deep love of his country, his hatred of what it had become and, perhaps, his love of his daughter.
For, besides his love of his country, DeGaulle had another lesser known, but deeper love: his love for his daughter Anne de Gaulle. Anne was not like other children. Dr. Samuel Gregg writes movingly about Charles’s relationship with his daughter. A few months after her birth, it became clear that Anne was severely disabled; in fact, she had Down Syndrome. Most such children were placed in understaffed hospitals to be cared for by strangers. The Nazis simply killed such children either by gassing or lethal injection. In an ugly modern equivalent, such children are simply aborted in utero, eliminating Down Syndrome by eliminating the people who have it.
Charles DeGaulle would not go that route. He and his wife refused to institutionalize their daughter; they cared for her, keeping her with them, even at great financial cost to themselves. Charles was never ashamed of his daughter and refused to let her be treated differently. He loved his daughter no less than his country and he made sure she knew it. He sang to her, played with her, said prayers with her as she repeated him, one word at a time. When she died of pneumonia at the age of 20, Charles was heartbroken. 20 years later, De Gaulle was laid to rest beside the child he called, “my joy.”
My joy. The story of Charles and his beloved daughter Anne is a beautiful one for many reasons. Venerable Fulton Sheen used to comment about how the modern world saw children as burdens rather than joys. Here was Charles De Gaulle, not only seeing a child as a joy, but seeing a specific child, his severely disabled daughter, as his joy. He was patriotic, patriarchal, and paternal.
But, it will be asked, isn’t patriarchy bad, a sign of toxic masculinity that we ought banish from the world? Actually, as Chad Pecknold smartly points out, it is not patriarchy that is toxic, but the lack of it. He references another article by Nina Powers, “Why We Need the Patriarchy,” which points out that the patriarchy demands a man be protective, responsible, strong, caring, and compassionate. Genuine patriarchy demands a man be paternal. A man who isn’t these things is merely a “bro,” a perpetual adolescent, addicted to porn, frat (from the french for “brotherhood”) parties, and video games, refusing to take responsibility, to protect, and ultimately, to love as deeply as Charles De Gaulle loved his own daughter, Anne.
Fraternity, Pecknold writes, has replaced paternity, and our world is the poorer for it.
On Father’s Day, we should embrace men who, like De Gaulle, are patriotic, patriarchal, and paternal. Our world must embrace and recapture the paternal nature of men and, dare I say it, patriarchy. It must again make and demand men who will protect, love deeply, and take responsibility for their countries, their families, and themselves. God willing, we have all known men like this, fathers, friends, priests, others. If we are men, we should also try to be men like this. In this, we may have some faint imitation of the divine Paternity of which the earthly fatherhood is only a pale shadow.
God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.