Back in August we heard that News Corp’s family founders, the Murdochs, had something of a family split. Lachlan Murdoch, the 33-year-old son, opted out of managing his father Rupert’s New York–based empire and decided that Bronte Beach was better. Lachlan retains his $7m directorship, but stated that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
I wondered if that was true. Every time I hear the phrase, “to spend more time with family,” I suspect a ruse. Perhaps that’s too cynical, but Australian business guru Maximillian Walsh wasn’t convinced about young Lachlan’s premature retirement from the action. As he put it, “I’m certain it’s only part of the story” (The Bulletin, September 2005).
The problem with Lachlan isn’t just that he’s a Murdoch or that he’s Lachlan; the problem is he’s a “celebrity son” following in the gigantic footsteps of a “famous father” who happens to be one of the world’s media moguls.
ard enough being a son (and, yes, a daughter too, but here I will confine myself to sons), but ordinary sons have the luxury of anonymous fathers—there is no public performance management reckoning. Celebrity sons, on the other hand, battle with the weight of our expectations: are they as good as, or better than their famous fathers are? Celebrity sons can succeed or fail like no other since they are, unfairly by right of birth, always in the public eye. Their lives are a mass-media spectacle calling for judgment.
They come from varied religious backgrounds too. For example, some of the world’s most famous achievers were sons of Christian ministers. The anthropologist Louis Leakey and the British actor Laurence Olivier were both sons of Anglican ministers. Ideologically opposed 1960s civil-rights leaders Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were sons of Baptist ministers. Anti-Nazi martyr Pastor Martin Niemoller and Nazi-inspiration philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche were both sons of Lutheran ministers. The positive thinker Norman Vincent Peale came from a Reformed minister; Paul Robeson from a Methodist minister; and Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda and American president Woodrow Wilson had fathers who were Presbyterian ministers. But which of us knows anything of the sons of these celebrity sons?
There are not, strangely enough, many books about sons and sonship. I say strange, because about half the world’s population can be classified as sons. Strange, too, because there are drawers full of index cards about family, marriage, intimate relationships and growing up. There are numerous books about students and about youth and, more recently, there are multitudinous texts about gender, masculinity, maleness and the male body.
But there are few books and few chapters in this list that deal specifically with the meaning of “son” and “sonship”—what it means to be a son. As a teenager, I was handed a copy of book called, On Becoming a Man. The assumption, I suppose, was that the reader already knew about “becoming a son.” It was taken for granted that sons knew what that was about, because they’d been reared in families that laid it all out through socialisation processes involving that scariest of combinations love and discipline.
Speaking of which, the most celebrated son and sonship is, of course, found in the Bible. Perhaps our familiarity with it explains the absence of dealing with it elsewhere. The most defining names of Jesus are “the Son of man” and “the Son of God.”
Reading and exploring these identities one could come, by sheer volume of recorded incidents and His thoughts, to the conclusion that Jesus had a difficult but maturing relationship with his “celebrity Father.”
But in his struggle with His identity and mission, He modelled with grace and perfection how all sons—and let me reinsert daughters here—should relate to our heavenly Father’s gracious gift of sonship, of what it means to be a son of God, what our status privileges, and how we should behave as sons. And in his case, having got it right, He could claim, as we all may one day, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”