Oshan Gadsden moves beyond “Father lack” towards a psycho-spiritual perspective of Fatherlessness.
As a child, I was raised in a matriarchically headed home. Over time, I came to understand (through prayer, therapy, and failed relationships) the multi-dimensional effects of not having my father in my life. Although there was supportive male presence in my life (in the form of uncles and men from my church), I still did not have the consistent day-to-day male energy and modeling needed to assist me in understanding myself on both multiple and deeper levels. There is something organic in having good, flexible, and consistent masculine energy in one’s life. An emotionally available father not only provides a sense of comfort and safety, but can provide the growing male with a day-to-day example of what it means to exhibit both strength and vulnerability. My father-lack affected my self-worth, which forced me to create my own distorted and fabricated notions of masculinity and corresponding behavior. I often romantized depictions of patriarchal masculinity adopted from the media and popular culture, without having a nuanced understanding of the multiple ways in which culture, race/ethnicity, and class informed my sense of self and the other.
As I reflect on my history, I would like to explore the implications of developing without a consistent father. After years of personal therapy and metaphysical practice, I have become intimately aware of how my “father lack” affected my ability: to feel safe in the world; to take myself seriously; and to demand the best from myself and others. Additionally, this “father lack” negatively affected my connections and ability to navigate the emotional world of romantic relationships. Brothers, I realized that my “father lack” greatly influenced the way in which I communicated to and behaved toward the women in my life. I had to resolve my neediness for connection as well as my veiled hostility toward the women I felt held the power to either grant love to me or deny me its access. This cognitive and emotional dissonance was greatly related to unresolved issues connected to my father lack. There were times I felt helpless; fearing that I could not and would not measure up to expectations of my romantic interest. I realized, that although the other came with their own developmental history that impacted mine; at the heart of the matter was my own spilt off and unhealed internal world. I journeyed daily with a grave sense of emotional and spiritual impotence; the feeling that despite all my external accomplishments, I could and would never be good enough.
I AM NOT ALONE. Brothers, can we take off the hypermasculine masks? Can we in this moment sit with our pain and unresolved material without the pretense of gendered performances? I am certain that there are quite a few men reading this article that have been attempting to navigate life carrying the burden of unexpressed and unresolved father wounds. There are some that before reading this essay, were unconscious of the connection between their failed ventures, relationships, fragmented sense of self, and father lack.
There is a scripture in the New Testament that says, “Brethren if you find your brother in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering your own self.” I share this with you to be clear about my motivation in writing this article. It is neither to harass, shame, or condemn. But to share from my own journey and psychological training a viable way to freedom. This viable way to freedom is neither fundamentally religious in nature. Nor is it meant to be some self-help psycho-babble rhetoric. No, what I am proposing is quite individual and concrete. It is a mix of cognitive-behavioral and insight-oriented principles, sprinkled with a bit of metaphysical thought. But at the end I am simply inviting you to consider this viable option to freedom, with you making the final choice how you wish to internalize and make use of it.
As we consider a new paradigm of self-understanding and relational patterns, I think it is important for us to have some concrete examples and/or ideas of how our father lack exhibits itself on a day-to-day basis. Allow me to share some possible markers of a man still negatively impacted by unresolved father lack. These markers are not meant to be to shame you but as a way for us to become conscious and begin the process of working toward inner healing and interpersonal transformation.
Here we go!
Marker 1: He is emotionally unresponsive. This man has a tremendous difficulty processing and tolerating emotionally charged material. He might say things like, “I need to go somewhere and figure things out”; “Can’t you just get off my damn back”; “I will let you know when I AM ready to talk.” TRANSLATION: I am afraid of conflict because I fear you might leave me or I might not be able to handle what the conflict might reveal about me, my sense of masculinity, and my fear of connecting emotionally.
Marker 2: He might often try to turn things around on you instead of owning his part in the process/problem. This is the man that loves to employ the art of deflection and projection. This tactic is manipulative in nature and is meant to burden you with the responsibility of having to feel or be responsible for his dissonant emotions.
Marker 3: He might be in a “relationship” with you but several other “options” on the side. TRANSLATION: My idea of manhood is warped. My manhood is defined my ability to hunt and collect. You are a mere object of my narcissism—an acting out of my insecurity and split off self. This man is not integrated. This man feels unsafe and cannot take the risk of loving another without restraints; often fearing abandonment. He does not understand masculinity is not about DOING but more about BEING—a being personified through integrity, honesty, and consistency.
Marker 4: He might become extremely angry over the minuscule of events and often blame you for his inappropriate displays of anger. This man feels more emotionally safe when he feels in control through negative affect. He sees anger as power; most likely connected to protecting the lack of control he felt while growing up.
Marker 5: He might not know how to really be intimate and close unless he’s “fucking” your brains out. This man is confused regarding the nuanced difference between physical and emotional intimacy. His manhood is celebrated and confirmed by his sexual exploits often using sex as a form of masculinity authentication instead of the expression of covenant.
I am sure you have your own set of markers in which you can add this list. This list is meant for you to identify parts of yourself and began to think about the variables that have made you who you are today. If you see yourself on this list, I encourage you to be brave enough to begin the challenging process of digging deeply into any manifestations of father lack you are acting out relationally. Let us begin to work toward true self-actualization—a place of healing and forgiveness. You have the power to begin a radical shift. The power to change your narratives (what you are saying to yourself and communicating to others by your life choices and behaviors). Let us commit to no longer inflicting pain upon ourselves or the other. Affirm that you will begin the work that it takes to become whole, free, and positively engaged with life. And so it is!
Photo: indamoon / flickr