When Sperm Meets Egg | The Ludicrous Lunacy of Patriarchal Succession

What happens when wealth and power is intertwined with the lucky draw of human genetics? What if–money and power–as we understand it in legal terms and within a cultural context; has little bearing on who has actually inherited the genetic lucky draw?

The ludicrous lunacy of choosing a successor based on the meeting of a sperm and an egg has hung over most of human history like a terrifying poltergeist; causing immeasurable disturbances and disruptions in business, politics and in the lives of private citizens.

That fact that we inherit genes from our ancestors is a no brainer. But which gene did we inherit, from whom, and from who in which generation? And let’s not forget the elusive nurture factor: the circumstances and the environment which hold tremendous sway over the latent talents we actually have the opportunity to develop.

Between your mother’s and father’s line, you probably have, encoded within your genes, a myriad of latent talents. Some will come to the fore and form the focus of your life, while others will fall to the wayside unused and unawakened till the time is ripe…and right.

So who is the lucky one who landed the genetic lucky draw? And who is the perhaps unlucky one who only got the money and very little power?


The English word ‘nepotism’ has its roots in the mid 17th century. In French, it is known as népotisme; in Italian, it is known as nepotismo. The word comes from nipote, which means nephew. It is a reference to the privileges bestowed on the ‘nephews’ of popes who were, in many cases, their illegitimate sons.

Similar to the popes of yesteryear who preached celibacy and sired illegitimate children, there is a real problem when a government preaches meritocracy and practises nepotism.

Can the meeting of a sperm and an egg–preferably a meeting that results in a male heir–define a family’s, and by extension, a nation’s destiny? Can a concept as ludicrous and as irrational as birthright hold the power and sway to define the lives of private citizens who can barely make ends meet? Those are the thoughts that went through my mind as I saw yet another son benefit inequitably from his father’s legacy–and fail to live up it.

In the ‘lucky’ event that a couple do sire a son, vital questions about leadership succession cannot be answered till much, much later on. What if the son is incapable? What if the son does not even have half the capacity of his father? And lastly, what if the son turns out to have an intellectual disability?

A cultural norm neither normalises nor universalises a decision. To make such an unalterable decision based on such a flimsy and uninfluenceable criteria is a key element which allows a nation to self-destruct. While sons taking over fathers is not the only criteria required to dismantle a legacy, it is undoubtedly a determining factor. There are, of course, other factors at play.

I’m not a psychiatrist and I’m not at liberty to diagnose anyone. As a former educator, though, I do know the warning signs. Intellectual disability was formerly known mental retardation. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by significantly impaired intellectual and adaptive functioning. According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are many different causes of intellectual disability: from a genetic predisposition, to an illness, to a head trauma, to an exposure to toxins such as lead or mercury. Other factors that may contribute to intellectual disability include: brain malformation, maternal disease and environmental influences such as: alcohol, drugs and other toxins.

Before the advent of modern science, patriarchal cultures ‘blamed’ mothers for having daughters and for having children that are born with birth defects. While scientific research has provided us with new findings to answer age-old questions, it has not changed our deeply-rooted attitudes on the matter.

I have spent a significant portion of my life–and teaching career–hearing stories from sons who incessantly complain that Daddy didn’t love me enough. In the early days, I was sympathetic and perhaps even empathetic to such woes. But over time, the empathy I once felt morphed into irritation and later into indifference. It’s become a meme of modern psychology to sit on a couch or reclining chair and talk about all your Daddy issues.

The larger-than-life-father is an archetype of the human experience. He rises and succeeds in life through the strength of his heroic characteristics. But the heroism that was embedded within the father’s recipe for success eventually turns out to be a fatal flaw in the masterplan for continued success. As circumstances change, it requires us to reimagine and even demand a different set of responses and approaches.

The larger-than-life father figure can continue to loom large over a family legacy; be it in business, politics, or in religious institutions. They are the chief architects of a successful period in history. If their sons do want to carry forward this legacy, they will have to work equally, if not doubly hard. Instead, they rest on their father’s laurels. The truth is, they do not have much else.

This will not be easy for the son in question, especially if he does not have the capacity or has a mental illness that has never been officially diagnosed or recognised. In instances such as these, it is the mother and/or wife who ends up ruling behind-the-scenes while the son in question has to contend with his role as a symbolic figurehead.

While his father stood tall and proud, unshakeable in moments of crisis and conflict, the son looks like he has emerged from a coffin to give his press conference. The only thing the poor boy seems to have inherited is a lifetime of living in his father’s shadow.

In spiritual circles, the shadow is described as a mental phenomena of something that we bury deeply in the closet of the human mind and which haunts us till we either make peace with it or bring it into the light.

So why is it that a son does not live up to his father’s legacy? The simple answer is: he was never meant to.

The father was the light and the son is the shadow. Perhaps it is universal balance at work. Wealth and power is never meant to stay in one family indefinitely. History has taught us that time and time again. But that has never stopped us from trying to cling onto it.

As we move into a new age, it would perhaps be wise to have a better succession plan than sperm meets egg and creates a boy. Over the years, I have met many fathers who wonder what they did wrong and what more they could have done.

My answer once again is simple. It doesn’t matter how much you groom him, how hard you try, or if you afford him the advantage of the best schools and the best education that money can buy. It doesn’t matter how much you give him or continue to give him. Your son does not have the capacity to succeed without you and you need to admit that to yourself.

Once that’s done, sit down and have a chat with your wife about how he is not going to succeed you; because he is not a carbon copy of you and nor will he ever be. And even if he were, he would still not be able to recreate what you did, as he is born into circumstances that are different to yours.

Best you pardon him from a life of the silver spoon. Once humans grow accustomed to the pleasures and past times of the elite, the plastic spoon will be a reality he cannot stomach.

And if I may also suggest; do take an interest in your child’s education and don’t leave it all up to your wife. As the mother of the child, she quite likely has her own agenda–one that is different to yours and one that you are most likely not seeing because you’re too busy with work to pay attention to your personal life. And wait till the daughter-in-law enters the picture. It will be an even bigger fiasco and circus, then.

It is cliche and it is trite. It is a story that has repeated itself in history time and time again. It seems we humans never learn. We must be terrible students.


It has always been my belief that the power of the human spirit is far more potent than genetics and environmental factors. The power of the human spirit can propel us forward to make brave and courageous decisions that go against all that others tell us to be true.

The real question is: how do we move beyond the cultural limitations that have been created for us? As I made a special note of earlier, a cultural norm is never a universal norm.

We all know of people who emerge against the odds that are stacked against them. They did not get to where they were because of their fathers. They forged their own path and stood in the splendour of their own unique light. We all have the power and potential to hold our ground and overcome dramas or energies that are holding us back from being all that we can be.

Another father-and-son archetype is that of the rebellious son who goes against his father, forges his own path and succeeds. Unlike the archetypal story of the son who stands in his father’s shadow, this other son is brave. He strikes out on his own and walks to the beat of his own drum.

He is neither trite nor cliche. He is his own person.

As to why some sons choose their own path and why others end up hidden in the shadows–the answer is once again very simple.

It’s called choice.

The sperm may have met the egg well before you were born and set you on a certain path–but what you do after that; well, let’s just say that we can no longer blame Daddy Dearest.

By Dipa Sanatani

CEO at Sanatanco | The Leading Global Publication and Communications Consultancy for Writers, Readers and Thinkers

Leave a Comment