5. Politicians: John Adams (30 October 1735 – 4 July 1826) and John Quincy Adams (11 July 1767 – 23 February 1848)
In our lifetime, of course, the most well-known father and son political leaders of a superpower are unquestionably American presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, whose importance arguably surpasses even Joseph Kennedy and John Kennedy, given that only the latter served as president. Nevertheless, the two Bush presidents are not the first in American history and because the actual first father and son to hold America’s highest office come from the time of America’s founding, they merit a higher consideration that those of just a few years ago. Put simply, America exists in part because of the works of two men named John Adams and had they been lesser men, who is to say if we would have even had the Kennedy and Bush families as modern American political dynasties? In any case, the careers and influence of two men named John Adams on American and arguably broader Western if not world history is undeniable.
The elder Adams, a lawyer, held major political offices in America from 1770 as a member of the Massachusetts General Court (around the same time that he also defended the British soldiers involved in the infamous Boston Massacre) until the end of his term as second President of the United States ended in 1801. In those thirty years, Adams worked as a delegate to two Continental Congresses during the American Revolution and also as a minister (what is now known as an ambassador) to first the Netherlands and then Britain. He also became the first ever vice president of the United States and the first president to reside in what is now known as the White House. What is more, as president among his most significant accomplishments was making peace with Napoleonic France. The political career of his son, John Quincy Adams, is nearly as impressive. The son served as the official minister (again, now known as ambassador) to successively the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, and Britain. He was both a senator and a congressman. He was also eighth United States Secretary of State and sixth President of the United States.
He held these varied positions during his long political career from 1794 to 1829. Yet, his influence on American policy did not end with his last day in office. In 1841, Adams representing the defendants in United States v. The Amistad Africans in the Supreme Court of the United States, a case that was depicted in a major motion picture. He successfully argued that the Africans, who had seized control of a Spanish ship on which they were being transported illegally as slaves, should not be extradited or deported to Cuba (a Spanish colony where slavery was legal) but should be considered free. Adams not only won their freedom, he never even billed for his services in the Amistad case. As such, the work of father and son on modern notions of democracy and anti-slavery sentiments has benefited humanity and civilization in profound ways that scholars have filled the pages of numerous books discussing. Moreover, we cannot neglect how much the father influenced the son.
At age 10 (yes, age 10!), an intellectually curious John Quincy Adams wrote the following in a letter to his father: “I wish, sir, you would give me some instructions with regard to my time, and advise me how to proportion my studies and my play, in writing, and I will keep them by me and endeavor to follow them….Sir, if you will be so good as to favor me with a blank book, I will transcribe the most remarkable occurrences I meet with in my reading, which will serve to fix them upon my mind.” Fortunately, the father’s influence was one in support of human freedom that has had such wonderful consequences for the peace and prosperity of many who wish to further the aims of these most admirable among America’s founding fathers!
4. Conquerors: Genghis Khan (1162? – August 1227) and Ögedei Khan (c. 1186 – 11 December 1241)
While the greatest of father and son conquerors are not exactly the freedom instilling people the fifth entry on our list embodied, they nevertheless have also left a massive influence on world history, especially given that they lived centuries earlier and presided over a much larger chunk of the world at the height of their political power. For the greatest father and son conquerors in history, you may have expected Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great. Yet, their relationship was not exactly the most pleasant as anyone who has seen Oliver Stone’s cinematic take on their lives would know.
Moreover, the total amount of land conquered by these men is actually dwarfed by the Mongols who earn this spot on our list instead. Genghis Khan was the founder and as such first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, what eventually became the largest contiguous empire in history. This empire survived him in a way that was not the case with the empires established by Alexander before him or Napoleon after him. After one of, if not the, single most impressive series of conquests by any one man in human history, Genghis Khan left his son Ögedei Khan with a massive empire. Admiring various qualities in this third of his official sons, Genghis Khan designated his favorite son Ögedei Khan as heir over his two more quarrelsome elder brothers.
Ögedei Khan’s reign included numerous invasions not only in Asia, but also in Europe and the Middle East, as well as palatial building projects in his capital. After his death, his son Güyük (c. 1206–1248) became the third Great Khan and continued Mongol expansion until his death. These three generations of the same line of descent thereby established probably the most astonishing and extensive series of conquests in human history and the strong father and son dynamic of their family played a major role in teaching the successive generations the character necessary to maintain and expand such an enormous empire.
3. Explorers: Erik the Red (950 – c. 1003) and Leif Ericson (c. 970 – c. 1020)
Among the oldest and therefore most historically influential father and son explorers in human history are the Vikings, Erik the Red and his son Leif Ericson. The father’s greatest accomplishment comes from having founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland. The son’s great claim to fame comes from being the most realistic person considered the first European to land in North America (excluding Greenland), a feat accomplish nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Their story, however, is at times quite violent, which may seem consistent with the stereotypical image of Vikings, but perhaps not so much as more peaceful settlers. Erik’s Norwegian father, Thorvald Asvaldsson, was exiled from Norway c. 960 for having committed murder.
He and his family settled in Iceland, where, like father, like son, apparently, Erik was in turn exiled for three years due to “some killings” he committed around the year 982. As such, Erik established a colony in Greenland. Not surprisingly, continuing this island hoping tradition, Erik’s son would also look to move the family to “greener pastures” if possible, although in Leif Erickson’s case, finally, a member of the family was not exiled for killing someone. Yet, whereas, Erik had the wiser practice of naming his colony the rather appealing-sounding “Greenland”, Leif named his discoveries such less-attractive sounding names as “Flat-Rock Land”, although he seemed to wise up when he named his landing place Vinland, usually translated as either Wineland or Land with great grass fields. He also converted to Christianity and as such was perhaps the first Christian to set foot in North America. Thus, three generations of Norse explorers journeyed from Norway to Iceland to Greenland to Vinland to establish a Scandinavian presence along the Northern Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
Although the settlements in North America did not last, the Scandinavian presence in Iceland and Greenland has endured. Moreover, it is conceivable that Columbus may have been familiar with stories of Leif’s voyages due to Columbus having claimed in a letter to have visited Iceland in 1477. The long-term legacy of Leif has been visible due to the erection of statues in his honor and the issuance of stamps with his depiction in even twentieth-century America.
2. Kings: David (c. 1040–970 BCE) and Solomon
While most monarchies of note have had fathers and sons serve as successive kings, by far the most famous and influential in human history due to their preeminent position in the Old Testament and as such their influence on Judaism and Christianity alike is without any doubt the three generations from Saul (1079 BC–c. 1007 BC) to his son-in-law David to his son Solomon the Wise as the first three kings of Israel. David became Saul’s champion and successfully slew the formidable Philistine giant Goliath before forging a legendary friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan. David then married Saul’s daughter after defeating and slaying two hundred of Saul’s Philistine enemies.
For many reasons, including being a possible ancestor of Jesus as well as a righteous king and prophet in his own right, David is a central figure in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic doctrine and culture. He is revered not only as a great warrior, but as a possible composer of parts of the Biblical Book of Psalms. He has accordingly been depicted thousands of times in art, literature, films, televisions, games, toys, and music. His son Solomon has also been depicted in various forms of popular culture from ancient through modern times. Known for his wisdom, he has entered the popular mindset as the namesake of the yet undiscovered King Solomon’s Mines. His less well-known son Rehoboam (974 BC–915 BC) succeeded Solomon on the throne and would be succeeded by his own son Abijam (unknown–912 BC) who was in turn succeeded by his son Asa (unknown–873-869 BC) who was then succeeded by, you guessed it, his son the somewhat more well-known Jehoshaphat followed by his son Jehoram and finally his son Ahaziah (unknown–c. 842 BC) as Ahaziah’s successor was actually a queen regnant rather than a son.
Among these multiple generations of father and son kings, the most famous are without any question David and Solomon. We can get a sense of their relationship from Biblical sources. According to 1 Kings 2, a dying David said to Solomon, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’” Later, Solomon reportedly said to his Lord, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.” We see in these quotations fatherly advice to a wise son who clear admired his father, not as the slayer of Goliath, but as a faithful and righteous man, qualities we admire in any person of worth.
1. Religious Figures: God the Father and God the Son
I suspect some may find our first entry controversial as the other nine entries were humans, whereas here we enter into the divine! Now most religions have some kind of father figure and yet, the relationship among the most significant divine father and his son(s) is not always something one would want to emulate. In Geek mythology, for example, which makes for excellent films and video games, we have a frightening succession of three supreme father figures in their pantheon of Titans and Gods. Uranus, or Father Sky, imprisoned his mate Gaia’s youngest children in Tartarus, deep within Earth, where they caused pain to Gaia. So, she shaped a great flint-bladed sickle and asked her sons to castrate Uranus. Cronus, youngest of the Titans, ambushed his father and castrated him, casting the severed testicles into the sea. From the genitals in the sea came forth Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Given his version of patricide, it is not surprising that Cronus feared a similar uprising by his children. As such, he proceeded to devour his sons and daughters, although his mate Rhea prevented him from devouring his sixth child (Zeus) by swapping the young god with a stone wrapped in an infant’s clothes. Zeus later fought a great war against the Titans and overthrew them. In popular culture, the story gets even more intense when Zeus’s son Kratos also slays his divine father in God of War III.
You do not find this cycle of son on father bloodshed in Christianity. Moreover, because Christianity is the world’s largest religion by number of adherents, its father-son narrative is naturally the most globally culturally significant in human history. In Christianity, God is conceived of as a being with three parts, two of which are God the Father and God the Son. God the Father, or Yahweh, is the completely divine omnipotent and omniscient deity, whereas God the Son is of his same essence, but born through a mortal virgin named Mary, probably the most revered woman in human history and also a descendant of King David.
The relationship between God the Father and God the Son is complex and possibly the most written about of all fathers and sons in human history given the extensive theological debates that have concerned them over the past two thousand years. Making the relationship even more complicated is the aspect of sacrifice, specifically God the Father allowing His divine son to suffer on the cross for mankind’s sins. Yet, after the crucifixion they are reunited in Heaven and as such reign over mankind in a united manner absent from Greek and various other pagan religions. Moreover, because they are considered divine beings, their love is sometimes deemed as something on a level perhaps incomprehensible to man. Yet, whether or not we can understand a relationship on a divine level, we cannot deny that the Biblical narrative of God the Father and God the Son has been the most influential story of any kind of father and son in human history and continues to inspire over a billion Christians the world over while still beguiling theologians and scholars alike.
Who do you think were the greatest father and son pairing in human history and why? In any case, we at TopTenz.net wish all the fathers out there the happiest of Father’s Day!
Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, author of Banned from the Internet.