“Symbolism exists precisely for the purpose of conveying to the imagination what the intellect is not ready for.” -C.S. Lewis
“Mythic stories help us to see clearly, which is to say, they help us see with the eyes of our hearts. So cast a wide net, and draw in all those stories that have ever stirred your soul, quickened your spirit, brought you to tears or joy or heroic imagination. You will need them all, as you shall see.” -Waking the Dead by John Eldredge
Greek mythology is packed full of wild and weird stories about men, women and sons and if contemplated can unlock wisdom for life. One narrative vein of gold that I think is particularly worth mining is found in the home life story of Perseus. It’s a story of how Stepfathers can become rescuers of children and mothers who are often cast aside, abandoned, betrayed and abused in our culture.
Perseus, King Acrisius, Zeus, fisherman Dictys and King Polydectes
“The story starts when the Oracle of Delphi warns Acrisius, King of Argos, that his own grandson would kill him. Fearing that this prophecy would come true, he locks his only daughter, Danae, into an underground bronze chamber, to keep her away from all men. However, Zeus saw the girl and fell in love with her. He then took the form of a golden rain to get into the bronze chamber and seduce Danae. From this union, Danae gave birth to a son whom she named Perseus. When king Acrisius heard the baby crying and realized he had a grandson, his first thought was to kill the unfortunate boy and his mother. But he couldn’t do as he feared he would cause the anger of Zeus. So he cast his daughter and grandson into a wooden chest and set them into the wild sea to get drowned.
However, Zeus saw the desperate woman and asked Poseidon to calm the sea water. Indeed, the sea calmed down and after a few days, Danae and his newborn son landed on the island of Serifos. There Dictys, a fisherman and brother of the island’s king, found them and took them to his home, where they would be safe. Perseus grew up into a fine young man under the care of the kind fisherman Dictys. In the meanwhile, King Polydectes began to be inflamed by passion for Danae, who was still a charming lady although many years had passed since her youth. Danae, however, did not wish this marriage. Polydectes thought that the presence of Perseus was an obstacle for Danae and that is why she didn’t wish to get married. So he decided to set up a plan to get rid of this annoying youth. He challenged Perseus to dare a difficult task, to kill the fearsome Gorgon Medusa and bring back her head. Gorgon Medousa was a terrible monster with snakes in her head and she could turn into stone everyone that looked her face. By killing Medusa, Perseus would prove his braveness, as fits to the son of Zeus. Polydectes was sure that Perseus would not survive this dangerous task.”
In a story oozing with pungent narrative wounds worth picking at, I want to dig into “The kind fisherman Dictys”. To me he stands out as an unsung hero, the type that is easy to overlook in the sensational ‘glory and gory’ aspects of Greek mythology. A simple working man, whose defining characteristic is that he is not a king, but he is kind. It’s a character trait that can be missed in the midst of all the over-bloated masculine stereotypes crowding around Danae. A kind man, a fisherman, who saves a little family cast out on the terrifying seas by an abusive father and husband. It’s a story that is wreaking havoc across our own land. Men who are leaving a tumultuous wake of relational destruction, psychological deformity and dad disillusionment behind them.
The impact of fathers and the abscence of them is well documented and the statistics are sobering.
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
- 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Center for Disease Control)
- 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average. (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
- 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average. (National Principals Association Report)
- 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes – 10 times the average.
In the midst of all this chaos, the kind fisherman Dictys, rescues a woman and her son and brings gentle but meaningful order to their cosmos. He is the box opener. The one who helps releases the son and woman from their abusive prison. He is instrumental in moving them from the dark waters of abandonment and the cramped confines of their family coffin to freedom, love and a life of destiny. A kind man changes their story and brings them to a place where they have solid footing, safety and care.
There’s no sexually charged narratives, no emotionally driven pursuits of conquest, capture or conjugal love with Dictys. Just the acts of a kind man. In relationship to Danae, it’s a stark contrast up against the malevolent men in the story who strive to ‘have her’ instead of ‘serve her’. It’s a story that still plays out in homes, workplaces, schools and club culture every day.
But the Spirit of the Lord has a word for you stepfathers: “It is time for Step-Dads to Step-Up!”.
-Stop comparing yourselves to other men.
-Embrace the role of rescuer and provider when it applies or is needed.
-Stop judging yourselves and step up to the challenge of being the type of man needed.
-Forget your past, embrace the present and work to create a better future for others.
-Build your character, because the type of man you are, matters the most.
-Be aware that God has a Perseus rising and he needs a father.
-Kindness is what crowns you a king, not conquest and copulating.
I know that many men struggle to find a meaningful identity in a church culture where the moral ideal is most often championed, exalted and highlighted, but never forget that God is a God of restoration, redemption, renewal and rescue. Embrace the reality of life, don’t shy away from that which was broken because of sin or suffering, but realize that love is calling you to step up to the challenges and needs of the hour.
Perseus needed a kind fisherman to care for an abandon son, who would become known as the slayer of Medusa, the rescuer of the Ethiopian princess Andromeda, the ancestor of Hercules and forever praised as a brave man, a good son and an honorable king.