Originally published on Earl Hipp’s Man-Making blog
An engaged and loving father is the most powerful man-making force on the planet. The opposite is also true. When fathers are absent, physically or emotionally, the wound that results is profound. It touches a man to his core and forever leaves him with the question, “Am I good enough as a person and a man?” All men long to hear the biblical pronouncement from a father, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” The truth is that too many men and young males did not and do not hear it, and we are all paying the price as a result.
In my research for the Man-Making book, countless men offered up clear statements of their sense of masculine insufficiency as one of the barriers keeping them from being involved with and supporting young males. Too many men said they had been poorly prepared for manhood, their fathers had been unavailable, and as a result, they felt, as men, they didn’t have anything to offer boys. In the most tragic stories, some men felt such low masculine-esteem they believed their involvement with a boy would be damaging or hurtful to the young man. You can be certain that behind many of those stories is an invisible but still-open father wound.
In the Rite of Passage and group-mentoring work men are now doing with young males, an all too common story is about pathologically disengaged or abusive fathers or dads who were simply never part of a boy’s life. In the emotionally safe and supportive place that’s created, if it’s time, young males have the emotional room and permission to give up their deeply shielded and buried grief about their father wound. Often this shows up as powerful anger or deep sobbing. The tears in the eyes of so many of the men who hear these boy-stories are damp testimony to the pervasiveness of this father wound, and the core emptiness of the men that carry it. I have my own story about a present, but unavailable, shaming and emotionally terrorizing, alcoholic father.
Nearly every gang member I’ve dealt with had inadequate or no fathering
and little or no elder male mentoring.
Fathers Unite is an organization dedicated to equal rights for both parents in divorce, and fighting to keep fathers involved with their children. On their website you can find a description of the personal and social costs of fatherlessness. Here is a very small sample. Children from fatherless homes are:
- 5 times more likely to commit suicide
- 32 times more likely to run away
- 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
- 14 times more likely to commit rape
- 9 times more likely to drop out of high school
- 20 times more likely to end up in prison
Into this masculine reality comes Justin Hunt with his film Absent. Justin already has built a solid reputation from his previous documentary, American Meth, a heart-wrenching tale of the impact of the methamphetamine epidemic in the United States. In Absent, his approach is just as potent. Justin says, “The father wound is so deep and so all-pervasive in so many parts of the world that its healing could well be the most radical social reform conceivable.” WithAbsent, Justin intends to start that healing.
Absent is winning rave reviews because of the honest and intimate way it talks about this painful issue and resulting damage to the collective male psyche. In the film, Hunt interviews prominent figures from the world of men’s work, and conducts brutally honest and emotionally charged exchanges with prostitutes, homeless people, and a world champion boxer. There is one especially moving conversation with James Hetfield of the legendary heavy metal band, Metallica. If you REALLY want a sample of what a father wound sounds like, read a few of the 175 letters to fathers that have been submitted to the Absent website. You can learn more about the film, order a DVD, contact Justin, or even schedule a screening at the Absentwebsite.
Viewing this film (with a group of men friends) will stir your male psyche, greatly increase your male-literacy, and just possibly increase the likelihood you’d find the courage to become a man-maker in the life of a boy with a gaping father wound.
We must look at why this is happening. Some fathers choose to be distant, but many fathers want nothing more then to be a positive force in their child’s life. We must stop the blame game that is so prevalent in our society and focus on supporting fathers. Reform family courts so fathers do not have to go broke to just see their child. Put parents on the same playing field instead of blaming fathers like many agencies automatically do. Recently the the federal government has begun encouraging its welfare social workers to include fathers in case plans. That example… Read more »
Unfortunately, How do you support a father who is NPD a textbook Narcissist. It’s impossible I’ve tried and Narcissism is a huge societal disease that is increasing. Narcissists take responsibility for nothing! They are toxic and has one mission only to exploit everything and everyone for their own benefit. I do agree about family court reform and recognize there are genuinely decent dads out there that get screwed by the court systems. My case was the opposite he worked the system masterfully and my daughter got screwed.
“pathologically disengaged or abusive fathers or dads” It would best for all concerned to repeal policies and procedures that force daddy out of the house to become a distant wallet figure. First VAWA has to go. Second no fault divorce has to go. Third restore due process for men in the courts. That is is you really want daddy back home, instead of just laying more shaming language upon him from your pedestal. How’s the war on hetro-normative going? Real good I hear,except for the disintegration of peaceful society as we know it. %85+ single mother households, and it’s not… Read more »
Though you are right about these things, they are not the only cause for pathologically disengaged fathers. It is devastating to do the important work of making sure fathers are not pushed out of their children’s lives, to make sure they have physical custody, to make sure they are not just a distant wallet, only to see them grossly neglect those children. This must be addressed, too.
An additional note on fatherloss:
My father died when I was 6 years old. That wound is still a powerful source of pain that pops up in unexpected places and times. I watch my son, nearing age 5, and I am ecstatic that he has his father, my husband, who is tender, present, nurturing, all that great stuff. It also brings up that old pain, that at my son’s age, I too had all that, and how painfully it was so suddenly ripped from me. I just love to observe the two of them play and love each other, so so glad he has that.… Read more »
yes, indeed, and it is also so true that GIRLS need a loving and strong father…my father stood up for me, and laid down the expectation that i should settle only for a “good” man, one who would cherish me as he (my Dad) cherished me…it is all around for boys and girls they should have both parents, father and mother, loving and supportive and providing the appropriate leadership.
I so agree Eva. There is equally compelling evidence of the social and personal costs of the absence of father in girl’s lives.
Yep this is me. Approaching 40 and still struggling. It doesn’t help that most of the women were abusive. When men are standing in their role, everyone suffers.
A wonderful look at a subject near and dear to my heart. As a boy who grew up in a twice broke home and now a dad of 3 boys and 4 girls this bit of Spiritual Jujitsu is a big part of my focus as a father. You might enjoy an old post of mine on the subject.
Thanks for this and all you do for the dads of tomorrow!
Great topic!…Love this one ” “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
I think purpose is the shortest rout to healing. An obvious purpose for those who have lived without fathers, is to promote fatherhood.
This is a new POV. Cheers to men who nurture!
Another way to say this: The path to healing goes through the original wound. If something has been missing in your life, such as nurturing by an older male, then nurture a younger male. Become what you didn’t have. This isn’t the only way to heal, but it’s big medicine.
I like Wolf’s take on this. I’ve been doing Rite of Passage retreats for adolescent males for the last 10 years. While the impact of being surrounded by caring men and the processes of those events is indeed transformational for the young males, it’s just as extraordinary for the men involved. I have always held sobbing men in my arms as they revisit the joy and pain of their adolescence during the weekend’s activities. I like to say that even after years of this work, each weekend melts and reforms my heart. In the process making me a more whole… Read more »
First, its a sensitive subject, as I am inflicted at well.
I wont even go into my past behavior from being a child without much male mentoring.
Its hard for girls to develop a sense of how to coexist with men when they dont stay around very long.
I can say there is help out there. It is personal for everyone so find your own path of healing and get to it. Dont waste your life in pain. As a child you are a helpless victim. As an adult you can choose to continue the cycle, or not.
I chose not to continue the cycle. However, the only way I could do this was to forego having kids of my own. I don’t regret doing so but when people tell me what a good father I would have been, it gives me pause.
Another option is to find help to “work through” the damage you’ve taken. Go deep and through those wounds and see if a different you emerges on the other side. For most, it’s a frightening, even terrifying path, but the rewards can be great. Then you’d be making a very informed choice about parenthood or not. Your friends may see gifts you carry that could indeed make you a good father.