In Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, Sir Thomas is the patriarch of the Bertram family. He is a generous man, but he is naive and a fool. These traits come back to haunt him in the closing pages of the book as shame is brought down upon his family.
And he could have prevented it all.
While away to inspect his holdings overseas, his children and their friends conspire to put on a play in the manor. The rehearsals of the play allow them to engage in a dangerous intimacy, and the seeds planted during this time eventually sprout destruction.
The details are not important. You only need to know that
- what they were doing was unwise
- they knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Sir Thomas would disapprove
Yet they did it anyway.
Sir Thomas comes home. He learns what has happened. He sees his study in disarray, rearranged to make room for the rehearsals.
Yet there are no consequences beyond an immediate halt to the play. After speaking to one of his sons, the book says that Sir Thomas “did not enter into any remonstrance with his other children: he was more willing to believe they felt their error than to run the risk of investigation.“
This is cowardice. This is foolishness. This is selfishness.
Sir Thomas would rather pretend to have obedient children, would rather have the appearance of morality, than to seek out his children and run the risk of popping his delusion bubble.
Sir Thomas eventually pays the price for his willful ignorance.
As fathers, our pride can tempt us to do the same thing. Instead of running the risk of investigation, we ignore and hope it fixes itself. Does your teenage boy have a computer in his room? If so, he has almost surely looked at pornography.
Are you scared to check? Are you scared to ask? Are you unwilling to run the risk of investigation? Do you want to keep pretending that your son hasn’t been wallowing in the mire? Do you want to remain blissfully ignorant as your son poisons himself?
Another manifestation of this pride is when we are interested in disciplining our children only when they embarrass us. We don’t care about their actual character. Only how well they reflect on us in front of other people.
Jane Austen is not a mean-spirited author and so she gives Sir Thomas enough wisdom to learn his lesson and the Bertram family gets a happy ending.
But in the real world, you may not get such a happy ending.
So run the risk of investigation.
Your children’s souls depend upon it.