Broken Bones and the Father Wound

Through pain and recovery, Belden relates to his father.

Not long ago I wrote, “Bad luck is the language of the unconscious.” In the eight weeks since breaking my right wrist and shoulder in a fall, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to ponder and explore the meaning of those words, and they have led me back, in a most unexpected way, to the connection established with my father during childhood around physical pain, and to the significance of that connection for me as an adult.

For the first few weeks after my accident, I found myself struggling with powerful feelings of shock, disappointment, and despair. The fall, the injuries, the devastating effect on my life, everything about the situation in which I found myself seemed so cruel, so random, so meaningless. But the words I’d written only months before, my own words, kept coming back to me: Bad luck is the language of the unconscious. And those words challenged me to find some meaning, something useful, in what I was experiencing.

Prior to breaking my wrist and shoulder, I’d only broken a bone at one other time in my life. I was very young, just learning to walk, and one of my lower legs was broken somehow while I was outside in the yard with my dad one evening. My memory is that he was walking away from me, leaving me behind, that he was angry with me (just for being there with him, as he so often was), and that I fell trying to catch up with him, breaking my leg. Given my father’s anger problems, I’ve sometimes wondered if there was more to the story of my injury than that, but I’ll never know. What I know for sure is that I was with my father when I broke my leg, and that regardless of how I was injured, the experience formed a point of deep connection with him around physical pain.

◊♦◊

My father and the men of his generation were masters at controlling and denying the pain in their bodies. In many ways, this was a necessity. He worked in a factory, in brutal, exhausting, dangerous physical conditions. He had a family to support, and he didn’t make that much money. He couldn’t afford the luxury of surrendering to aches and pains, or even injuries. He had to work, and he had to sacrifice his body to do it.

A few years before he retired, I asked my father to take me inside the factory where he’d worked and spent most of his adult years. It was a complex of connected windowless buildings I’d only seen previously from the outside at the employee’s entrance, where every eight hours, the men walked in big and walked out small.

◊♦◊

When I was still small, my dad’s left arm was sucked into the huge steel rollers of a machine at work while he was cleaning it. The doctor told him the damage was so severe that he’d never have full use of his left arm again, which was especially devastating given that he was left-handed. My dad’s response, as the story goes, was, “Like hell I won’t.” He then went home, built some sort of device with pulleys and weights on the front porch, used it to rehab his arm on his own, and recovered the use of that arm completely.

I finally saw that big machine for myself almost 30 years later, when my father showed me the dents in the steel rollers where the bones in his arm were squeezed through all that unforgiving metal. His injuries must have been severe, but somehow he recovered, and I don’t doubt that it was largely through his own determination and efforts, given that there probably wasn’t a lot of help in terms of skilled physical therapy available to him at the time.

Now I find myself connected to my father once again through injury, pain, and the struggle to heal. Bad luck, the language of the unconscious, has spoken, giving me yet another opportunity to explore the depths and the subtleties of the father wound, and to revisit that mysterious connection through physical pain that was formed so strongly with him when I was a child.

◊♦◊

My father was left-handed and lost the use of his left arm for a time due to injury. I’m right-handed and now I’ve lost the use of my right arm for a time due to injury. He must have struggled to recover, just as I have, but he also had the additional pressure of a family to support and he didn’t have the benefit of the excellent medical care and physical therapy I’ve had the good fortune to receive.

Frankly, I don’t know how he did it. And I don’t know how I would have done it had I been in his shoes.

My father turns 75 today. He was not a good father to me in many ways. He was distant, demeaning, neglectful, abusive, threatening, angry, and violent. He did a tremendous amount of damage to me emotionally and psychologically during my childhood, and his mistreatment continued into my adulthood. But as the years have passed, I’ve found it easier to see him, not just as the father I knew and not just as the father I needed and didn’t have, but as a more complete human being who had his own struggles, strengths, and burdens, as we all do.

I haven’t seen my father in 10 years—haven’t spoken to him in five. I believe this is for the best. He hasn’t been able to hurt me physically for a long time now, but he was never going to stop hurting me emotionally and psychologically, no matter what I did or how hard I tried. The moment when I finally realized that fact, in a flood of tears and pain and anger and grief, was the moment when I finally knew for sure, once and for all, that it was hopeless for me to keep trying to reach out to him.

Still, his life continues to influence mine, even across the distance of time and space, in ways both obvious and mysterious, as I continue to work toward resolution and completion of my relationship with him, that distant point on the inner horizon of my psyche toward which I am always aiming and always moving, but may never reach.

◊♦◊

Rick Belden is the author of Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood. His book is widely used in the United States and internationally by therapists, counselors, and men’s groups as an aid in the exploration of masculine psychology and men’s issues, and as a resource for men who grew up in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems. He lives in Austin, Texas.

More information, including excerpts from Rick’s books, is available at his website. His first book, “Iron Man Family Outing,” is available here.

—Photo Crystalline Radical/Flickr

About Rick Belden

Rick Belden is the author of Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood. His book is widely used in the United States and internationally by therapists, counselors, and men’s groups as an aid in the exploration of masculine psychology and men’s issues, and as a resource for men who grew up in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems. His second book, Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within, is currently awaiting publication. He lives in Austin, Texas.

More information, including excerpts from Rick’s books, is available at his website. His first book, "Iron Man Family Outing," is available here. You can follow Rick Belden on Facebook.

Comments

  1. FrankfromPA says:

    Such a powerful reflection of what seems like a very complex relationship that you have with your father.
    I could relate to much of this in my own relationships with my family. Thanks for being willing to be so open and such a personal subject.

  2. Wow, Rick, it is always so painful to hear stories like this where a boy grows up never feeling validated by his father. Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly.

  3. Jeff Nepute says:

    Typical of Belden’s work, this piece is emotionally evocative and really relates to the experiences of a lot of men. Inspiring especially in how he recognizes both his own pain and acceptance of his father, as imperfect. Very touching to read.

  4. What an inspiring message. When we really accept our pain and listen to what it’s telling us, it can melt away the illusions that keep us in a cycle of suffering. My own relationship with my father was nonexistent, so I can only imagine the wounds dealt by physical and emotional abuse; but then, lack of love is lack of love and it damages us all. Very clear, honest and poignant article!

  5. Thanks, Rick, for this beautifully written exploration of your relationship and connection w/ your father. It is powerful to hear you coming to terms w/ him being a “human being who had his own struggles, strengths, and burdens…” AND also your understanding that it was hopeless to continue trying to reach out to him. I am only just realizing in my own journey the necessity of fully grieving what cannot be in order to move forward, and that paradoxically grieving, as painful as it is, brings on healing.

  6. Rick, your courage and authenticity always move me. You are a model for us all in that life is a journey of healing. We may look like adults on the outside, but we are just little scared, hurt, and angry kids on the inside searching for love, care, nurturing, and wholeness. The journey never ends…it changes. Moves from a place of survival to a place that shows you to thrive.

    Thank you for sharing your soul!

  7. Rick’s article eloquently captures the timeless struggle of father-son relationships. Gaining freedom while still feeling being under the psychic thumb of the father.

    Rick’s writing evokes experience that is both universal and male-gender specific. It’s raw and honest, chronicling struggles and openings around love relationships, family dynamics, and gender freedom. I use his poetry in Men’s groups and with clients in my private practice. It opens doors to feelings kept too long in musty, shadowy rooms. Thanks Rick! Keep it up!

  8. Rick movingly describes what it’s like on the other side of maturity: our parents somehow become both smaller and larger. Both their virtues and their faults shrink to human-size, since they become ordinary people, usually doing the best they can with the situation at hand. Yet, they also symbolize, as Rick is so good at delineating, the archetypal parents; if we are to learn how to relate to and become independent from the human parents, we must also deal with the energies of the archetypal parents. This sometimes allows us to resolve the wound through which we can return to God or Source.

  9. This article is raw, evocative and profound.:the unconscious directs us in our drama…

    such an honest and raw revelation of heavy karma being paid off by son for dad & himself, & the family lineage of males//the DNA changed
    Sacrificial … remindful of Abraham & Issac (but G_d intervened

    Rick is so dedicated in his writing and life to exploring & expressing through the written word what it means to be male in America & to be authentic… & generous of self

    I admire Rick. I ..am blessed to know him albeit on the Web & in e-mails correspondence

  10. Rick’s writing always brings me to tears, an emotional place I seldom go due to my typical American male acculturation and the shaming from my family for being “a baby… too sensitive…”, etc. Only in support groups, and in Rick’s words, do I get validation for my feelings of animosity towards my father, who was well liked by, it seemed, everyone else outside and in my family. I connect and relate and am healed by Rick’s writings. I am sure I am not the only one. I feel less alone. I am able to have more compassion for myself when i react with compassion to Rick’s story. Thank you, Rick, for sharing with me and the world and for helping me on my path to acceptance and healing.

  11. Rick’s poetry is passionate, heartfelt and brings all who read it to a place of empathy for his pain. He has moved mountains through his work and his words and this article is beautifully written expressing the oft times unexpressed pain of men toward their fathers. The need for everyone to have that connection with their parents is so powerful. The lack of it flows into every nook and cranny of life especially with partners causing hurt. Healing is possible, things can change. You never get over it but you move through it to a place of peace. Blessings Rick

  12. Chad Medlin says:

    Thanks, Rick. As always your observations of growing up with a father in turmoil are astute and well-expressed. I, too, long for the father I never had but can appreciate my dad as a damaged person doing the best he knew how. I have come to love his desire to do good while hating the hard expression of his fear.

  13. As a psychotherapist, and one that specialises in working with men, I have repeatedly come across men who have poor / abusive / non-existent relationships with their fathers. Getting those men who’s fathers are still around to have what Steve Biddulph called “the big conversation with dad” is a wonderfully healing process. For those without their fathers, the healing can still happen, but has to be inside.

    Rick – loved your article. The yearning you display in wanting to re-connect with your father’s spirit is a the heart of what I do. Thank you for sharing so eloquently your experiences.

  14. Rick,
    Thanks for sharing this powerful, yet challenging journey. Many men have experienced challenges, trauma, injuries and accidents in their lives, yet it takes a brave soul to look beyond and got to a deeper, more painful place, in order to fully explore the meaning of their experience. Just as your poetry models a story about how to fully become a man because or, or despite, our past experiences, this article is important in demonstrating that it is possible to find meaning in all our experiences, if we are willing to go there. In this case the expression “Bad luck is the language of the unconscious” is the gateway that you chose to open to. Thanks!!

  15. I was introduced to Rick’s writing when I had the honor of receiving a review copy of his book, Iron Man Family Outing several years ago. His work is powerful, brave, raw and so important particularly for men who have experienced abusive childhoods whose shame keeps them from speaking of it.

    This piece does a great job of demonstrating the ties and longings that bind us to our parents, abusive or not. Rick’s healing process reflected in his work is surely a benefit to countless others.

    Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT
    The Toolbox at http://www.LisaKiftTherapy.com
    Tools for Emotional and Relationship Health

  16. Rick, so good to see your comments on Twitter and FB! Times are a changin fast and it is essential for men to turn and face into their own trauma and fears and begin shining their true light in the world. I am committed to assisting individuals who experience radical signs of transformation that traditional medicine and psychology don’t really know what to do with. It’s about finding the patterns in the body and nervous system and learning how to change them so you can start choosing different behaviors and beliefs. So go for it guys……….there’s no time to wait! Thanks for your courage!

  17. On the Father’s Day many of us, like Rick, mourn the true lack of positive fathering that our early lives lacked. Rick’s writing speaks to this forcefully and powerfully. I often use Rick’s words and thoughts in my counseling practice for sex addicts. His writing encourages us to pull this healing energy from our OWN Essence and break the cycle of abuse. Thanks Rick for your fine work.

    George N. Collins, MA, Director
    Compulsion Solutions
    http://www.compulsionsolutions.com/
    (Outpatient Treatment for Sexual Addiction)
    Author of: “Breaking the Cycle: Free Yourself from Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession, and Shame”
    and (with my wife Paldrom): “A Couples Guide to sexual Addiction”

  18. Rick and GMP – thanks for posting this.

    I too have found that getting closer to my father and understanding his life has been a path of great healing for me. My relationship with m father hasn’t been nearl as traumatizing as the one you had with yours, Rick, but I still see shared themes.

    I believe it is of great importance that you highlight a son’s healing of the relationship with his father – if not within the actual relationship itself (like has happened for me), then inside the son himself.

    I have read about your father before and in reading this story I found new respect and love for him. I was glad to read it. Thank you for your great work. And I hope to see you write a new piece on Masculinity Movies again soon 🙂

    Eivind,
    Masculinity-movies.com

  19. My father died when I was 13. I wasn’t “abused”, but he and I weren’t close (White Collar). As a father – my now 24 year old son experienced me also as a distant father. I can’t undo the mistakes I made, and don’t have the relationship with B – that I wished I would have.

    I appreciate you sharing – your experiences. You are brave to do what you need to do to take care of yourself and Not to try to silence the difficult memories.

    I’m sad – that your father doesn’t reach out to you – and “get you” (if he could) in at least small ways. I’m happy to see my son and have a relationship with him – not what I want, but still positive.

    Thanks!

  20. Great read Rick. Thx so much for popping it up on my radar. J

  21. I admire your work Rick and your courage to share your story, experiences, vulnerabilities and healing process with others. You are a remarkable man and your writings not only continue to inspire me as I move forward in developing my new organization for healing men and boys, but I’m certain they are inspiring, encouraging and helpful to many men and boys that may be suffering in silence or feel along in their pain.

    Thank you for your voice, courage, shared stories, beautiful writings and ongoing advocacy on behalf of men and boys. I’m glad to know you and know of your efforts, heart and great work!

    In Respect,
    Stacey Bellem


    Founder & CEO, The Unifying Center, Inc.
    http://www.TheUnifyingCenter.org
    http://www.ShiftYourMind.org

  22. As an avid supporter of Rick, and having read his previous works, I am more than happy to review this section of his ongoing work.

    Rick never fails to get his message across and says it as it is, with full use of every day language, to make sense of what is often nonsense from the past. I am proud to know Rick and recommend his books to everyone

    SSteve

  23. Rick’s words are so evocative and touch me on a deep level as I have my own ‘father wound’. His voice is an inspiration to those men who have not yet found theirs. Whenever I read his work I find comfort in knowing that as a man I am not alone in the journey, given that we have been silent on these issues for too long. Thank you Rick.

    Blake aka @ShadowVortex

  24. Puzzled Hat says:

    This is a great article. I can relate on a lot of levels. I think it’s good you can see your father as a whole person with his own struggles, though I’m sorry for what you endured because of him.

    I still long for my father, despite everything he did to me. I haven’t had contact with him for 9 years because it just wasn’t safe and I needed the space to heal. Thanks for posting this. 🙂

  25. Reading Rick’s article, I am reminded that most of my peers grew up with blue collar, frustrated, alcoholic, violent, cynical, hollow eyed members of the “Great Generation”. I understand how fathers and sons struggle with each other. Fathers and sons also struggle with their own internal demons brought on by life’s trauma and challenge. Rick continues to break through his troublesome childhood baggage inspiring the rest of us to have the courage to do the same.

  26. Stephanie says:

    Rick, great work! You really put your heart into this article!

    This article is a great representation of how a child’s understanding of their parents evolves. As children become older, they are better equipped to identify with their parents lives and struggles- although they may not agree with their parents styles and methods of parenting. I have a daughter going out into “adult world” very soon. She doesn’t understand some of my parenting methods and I know she doesn’t agree…..but one day, I hope she will at least be able to see things from my point of view.

    Rick, once again, you’ve opened up and made people THINK. Many people have had similar experiences to you and are afraid to discuss it. With your help, they know they’re not the only ones with your experiences. They can look at you and begin a path to healing for themselves. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Dear Rick,
    The more I read your work the more pleased I am to have come across you.
    Your words are stunning, honest and brave.
    I don’t know you, and have no right to say it but I could burst with pride for you!
    Well done, what an advocate, what a man!
    Wounded warrior.
    Thankyou.
    @sheepfoldcarer

  28. Great article!

    To be able to see your father as a complete person, and not just your father, that must bring with it the gifts of understanding and insight. I thought it was so powerful to see the parallels in your lives, but also the ways that you have differed as men.

    I still feel the pull and influence of my father, even though I have not spoken to him for seven years, and probably never will again.

  29. Dear Rick & the Good Men Project~BRAVO for a well written and published piece at the most appropriate time. I deeply appreciate the recognition of the father/child relationship, a relationship that often gets cast aside as a far less impactful and significant contributor to the shaping of one’s life when in fact this relationship shapes men and women just as much as the mother/child relationship shapes us all. Thank you Rick for illustrating the ‘father’ impact with grace, humility, and compassion for both you and your father, beautiful. I am honored to continue to be inspired by you, the text that you compose, and the heart of who you are as a human and a man.

    Sanguinely~ Shelley

  30. Thank you for a very powerful and moving post Rick. I especially like the quote “Bad luck is the language of the unconscious”, and it brings up in me a response: awareness is the antidote. By thinking and writing about these issues, you are slowly and surely applying the antidote, the salve, to the wound that started when you were small. And you are sharing that healing with me and all the other readers. As Father’s Day approaches (my first since my son was born) I appreciate your words, your vulnerability, and your awareness.

  31. Rick’s book of poetry is stunning and deep. He’s an explorer and deep sea diver.
    The layers and levels of his observation and awareness continue to amaze me.
    From everyday event, though many labyrinths and connections to myths and
    archetypes and the just plain mystery of it all. Thanks for publishing this article.

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  1. […] As I wrote at the conclusion of “Broken Bones and the Father Wound”: […]

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  4. […] I wrote at the conclusion of “Broken Bones and the Father Wound”: … his life continues to influence mine, even across the distance of time and space, in ways […]

  5. […] I wrote at the conclusion of “broken bones and the father wound”: … his life continues to influence mine, even across the distance of time and space, in ways […]

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