THE EMPEROR'S EMBRACE by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson


Reflections on Animal Families and Fatherhood
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            Lessons in fathering – good, bad, and parlous – from the nonhuman world, challengingly and divertingly told by Masson (Dogs Never Lie About Love, 1997, etc.).

            There is much that humans can learn about the essence of fatherhood, Masson makes plain, by studying how other animals father.  And might it not be reasonable to ascribe our deeper feelings to animals, or at least entertain the idea that they may experience them:  “If we remain reluctant to even imagine other scenarios we are unlikely to ever uncover them,” particularly “as long as we do so out of a desire to expand ourselves rather than diminish the animal we are studying.”  Not that all fathers are worthy of our emulation, Masson notes:  the absent elephant; the ill-tempered solitary bear that sups on cubs, perhaps even its own, as bears do not recognize their offspring.  Then again, consider the emperor penguin, keeping the egg warm as the female shoves off to feed for three months, or the wolf – teacher, guardian, bather, food gatherer to its young, an object lesson to the household dog, that clueless father seemingly robbed by domestication of any parenting talent.  Or the ultimate, the male seahorse, which carries the pregnancy and greets its mate each morning in a ritual dance of re-acquaintance.  Masson also intelligently turns over such puzzles as why monogamy appears to lead to an alert, involved father; the role of adoption in the Darwinian universe; why paternal certainty matters in some groups and not in others; and what triggers a move toward fostering independence in children.  And while he marvels that humans alone welcome children back after long absences, he wonders why we are the only species that forbids our children from our beds and “holds parties where the invitation states that children are not invited.”

            Who wouldn’t tap any source to be the best father possible, asks an incredulous Masson, then suggests we stop looking after our species uniqueness and start appreciating the interspecies continuities.  (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-671-02083-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999


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