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'The Mother-Wound', Part 2: Cutting the Apron-Strings/The Need for Spiritual Death

(from chapter 1: Over-Mothered Boys—Passive Men)

In his best-selling book Healing the Masculine Soul, the Reverend Gordon Dalbey gives an account of an initiation ritual, shared with him by an African man during the time Dalbey was serving as a Peace Corp volunteer in Nigeria. 

This is what he wrote, decades later:

‘‘In the rural village where the son lived, the father, who often has several wives, lives by himself in his own hut, while his wives each have their own hut nearby. A boy lives with his mother until he reaches the proper age, usually about eleven. Then, one evening the village elders and the boy’s father appear outside the mother’s hut, together with a drummer and a man wearing a large mask over his head. The word for ‘mask’ is the same as that for ‘spirit’; so as the masked man steps out first from among the men both to call the boy out and to usher him from the mother to the men, the spiritual dimension of manhood is understood from the outset as primary and essential.

‘At the signal of a sharp drumbeat, the mask/spirit approaches the mother’s door, dancing and shouting, “Come out! Come out! After several retreats and then thrusting forth to announce his presence and intention, the mask/spirit rushes the mother’s door and beats upon it loudly: Bam! Bam! Bam! “Come out! Son of our people, come out!”

‘Eventually – perhaps after two or three such “approaches” by the mask/spirit – the mother opens the door tentatively, shielding her son behind her. At this the elders and the father join in the chant: “Come out, son of our people, come out!” Significantly, the mask/spirit does not enter the mother’s hut to seize the boy, but rather waits for him to step out on his own from behind his mother. Louder the elders chant, sharper the drum beats sound, more feverishly the mask/spirit dances, and more firmly the mother protests – until finally, she steps aside. It is the moment of truth for every boy in the village.

‘Standing there before the threshold of his mothers’ house, he hesitates. Beside and behind him holds all that is tender and reassuring and known and secure. Before him, and within him, cries out all that is mysterious and sharp, and true. “Come out!” the men shout. Hesitantly, wanting but not daring to look at his mother, the boy steps forth from the dark womb of his mother’s hut into the outside – born again, this time the child of the father. At once the mask/spirit seizes his wrist and rushes him over to the father and the elders – lest in his fear he have second thoughts – where he is joined with the other boys called out for that year’s initiation. Behind him, a wail of mourning breaks forth from his mother; the men around him burst into a victory shout. The drummer picks up the sharp and decisive beat, and the group moves on to the next boy’s hut. Once gathered, the group of boys is led out of the village to a special place in the forest, where they are instructed for the next two weeks. Manly skills from thatch roof construction to hunting are taught first. Then the boy enters into a period of fasting for several days, thus turning the focus from physical satisfaction to spiritual discipline.

During this time, the boy is circumcised and while he is healing, taught clan history. Upon returning from the wilderness ordeal, the boy is regarded as a young man; when he enters the village, his mother is not permitted to greet him. He proceeds directly to his own house, separate from his mother’s; that evening he receives from his father a gun, a piece of farmland, and a hoe – his stake with which to establish his manhood in the clan. When he has planted his seed and demonstrated an ability to hunt his own meat, he can then visit his mother.

‘The message is clear. Until he`s secured in his manhood and the fellowship of men, a man will fear his mother`s power to draw him back into boyhood. As a Christian, he cannot keep the commandment to honor her, but can only withdraw from her.

‘Hearing this story at twenty, as a world traveller romantically 'on my own,' I scoffed. Today, at forty-three, I weep. For I have grown strong enough to face what I and my fellow twentieth- century Western males have lost. The pounding on your mother`s door, the cry of the man-affirming spirit to 'Come out!,' the chorus of older men waiting to receive you, the father's gift of accoutrements – all these tap deep, deep longings within me that words cannot express.

‘Hearing such a story, I am humbled, emptied – no, revealed as empty. ’’

Reading Dalbey’s words during a fast-advancing modern age in which the vacuum of fatherlessness becomes more and more the norm, I too, am humbled, and filled with longing…

What would life as a man look like if—after years of receiving the wonderful life-giving love of the mother—one has been ‘taken’ from her and brought into the world of men?

What would life as a man look like if the young boy that lives inside men of all ages, finally begins to feel like a ‘man among men’—no longer shying away from leadership, from confrontation, from sacrifices and the constant need to tackle some form of hardship in that a man is inevitably called to face if he is to live fully?

No man can embody a wholesome, bold and decisive masculinity—that is fully free to serve goodness and truth—unless he has been ‘cut’ from his mother in some way, thus ‘released’ and freed to enter his own manhood.

From ‘Matter’ to ‘Pattern’

One of the ways in which the oft-observed hesitancy and timidity in men today has come about is the lack of a process, such as described by Dalbey, during which a man has been ‘cut off’ from the immediate, material, sensual world of his mother, and has joined the life modelled to him by his father. A boy is meant to follow a blueprint of masculinity, a ‘pattern’ set as an example and an avenue for him by his father, and all the paternal male influences in his life.

The word ‘pattern’ shares the same root with ‘paternal’ and it indicates ‘a form or model proposed for imitation’

Some synonyms of ‘pattern’, according to Mirriam-Webster, are:

‘Model’; ‘example’; ‘pattern’; ‘exemplar’; ‘ideal’: meaning someone or something set before one for guidance or imitation.

‘Model’ applies to something taken or proposed as worthy of imitation.

‘Example’ applies to a person to be imitated or in some contexts on no account to be imitated but to be regarded as a warning.

‘Pattern’ suggests a clear and detailed archetype or prototype.

‘Exemplar’ suggests either a faultless example to be emulated or a perfect typification.

Now, who is the one setting up the ‘pattern’ in our lives? The father, of course. Whether we like it or not, whether we have grown up with fathers whose ‘patterns’ we have found worthy of emulation—or have recoiled from and moved against—is beyond the point here. The point is that, despite the nature and degree of human brokenness, male children are destined to follow a pattern—to set a design, to blaze a trail—for their lives; and a masculine pattern can only be given by a paternal force.

But the boy must be lifted out of the maternal, the material first. 

The Price of Unreleased Manhood

For if a boy is not released from the care of his mother, and is not ‘rescued’ in some form, by his father, the maternal matter will become the mire in which he will love to wallow, but at the same time, hate himself for it…

For the masculine design within him will not give him rest. He will know, deep down, very deep, that he is less than what he is destined to be. 

He will know that he is not following a masculine pattern. He will know that he has been trapped.

Surrounded by the material, maternal, feeling-oriented mire that his mother’s caring embrace had become, an ‘unreleased’ boy will not be free to become the man he has been destined to be. He will therefore find it very difficult to live as a man, and act in all the ways that ‘free masculinity’ is called to act…

He will be afraid of the feminine, and seek to please the women in his life, rather than bless them with his life-giving, fiercely passionate, presence.

He will be ‘on the back foot’ in his marriage, and will shy away from shouldering the hard burden of leadership.

He will not feel secure in his masculinity, sexuality, and gender; and he will be ambiguous in his physical and sexual expression as a man.

He will be hesitant in everything; and a hesitant man is a man who’s a slave to fear, rather than a servant of the good of those around himself.

But fear is only conquered after one has passed ‘through the fire’ of the masculine initiation; that is, the unknown realm that the father—and the men of the tribe—take the little boy in order to turn him into a man.

If a boy spends too long in his mother’s embrace, and is not ‘rescued’ by the masculine, by being made to ‘die’ in order to rise again as a man, he may remain feeling trapped by her—and later, by every woman who playes the role of his mother in his life—and may struggle with a burning desire to ‘escape’ or ‘leave’.

Choosing Sacrifice and Spiritual Death

When the desire to escape becomes too large to contain, and a man is compelled to take action, he may do what my friend (whose story of suicide I told earlier) did—and what I myself have wanted to do more than once...

Or he may, by faith, chose another path: to die to his old desires and his old life and self, and pick up a ‘cross’ that would pull his whole being apart, expose his wounds, and destroy his dreams, his hopes, and his ego…

But isn't’t this what every man needs? Isn’t this how boys are turned into men?

I remember how, not too long ago, I found myself resigning myself to spend a whole week doing nothing for myself but instead being with my young children, while they were on a break from school and my wife needed to be at work during the day. I had plans, of course; I had many hopes—little, pathetic, selfish hopes, most of them; but nevertheless things I was really looking forward to doing—and they all had to ‘die’ in the prospect of a week at home with my young children.  I remember praying a specific prayer—something along the lines of choosing to be a ‘living sacrifice’ and putting my selfish desires aside—and I will never forget what I felt a bit later during the first day…

I remember walking into the kitchen, to make a drink (and take a break from the noise) and then suddenly feeling that something—like a certain life-force, or something that was spiritually heavy; I am not certain what exactly it was—was draining away from me. And all the while this was happening, I felt sorrow and a sense of loss. It was as if I was losing my life—as if life as I knew it, and wanted to live it, was ebbing away; and there was nothing for me to look forward to. I felt as if I had no life left; and I knew, even while I was feeling that loss, that it was right to feel it.

I know that, for most men who are mature enough to have a healthy degree of that ability to be selfless and gladly do their duty for their family—and indeed, be able to enjoy intimacy with their loved ones—it would be ridiculous to feel ‘loss’ while I had so much joy with the children to look forward to. I know all that, just as I know what I should and shouldn’t feel. But I am writing this not as a way to communicate what should have happened, but what did happen. And I know that, for the sake of others who also struggle with the desires of the initiated, over-mothered and under-fathered boy inside them, I must be honest, and tell the truth.

The truth is, there is a little boy in every man, and no matter how weak, confused or fearful he has become, he longs to leave the soft, sensual, smothering mire of the ‘matter’ that surrounds him, and  follow the austere, sacrificial ‘pattern’ of the men who had gone before him.

Every man longs to have a destiny. And a man’s destiny—while nurtured, supported and ‘equipped’ emotionally and sensually by the feminine—is forged by the masculine.

No matter how old the man is, the young boy inside him will always long to enter his destiny.

And, you who read this: no matter what you’ve done to that boy—no matter how much you’ve allowed him to be smothered, suppressed, over-fed, or over-stimulated with perverted pleasure—he is still within your reach.

You can still take this journey. You can still leave the realm of false comfort, and enter the realm of conflict, sacrifice and duty.

Despite what you may have grown up believing, the ability to make your own decisions is within you—but it needs to be released, integrated into your conscious life, and trained. 

Then and only then, will you begin to be forged into the man you are destined to become.

But in order to begin this journey in a way that would be true to the complex, detailed reality of the world and the two polarities of being—the masculine and the feminine—we must do so in a manner that honours rather than destroys. For the feminine and the masculine are both needed, and what they can provide us with, must be fully claimed—in our heritage and within our very being.

And to do that, we must look into some of the reasons behind the way things currently work. We must look at our wounds with a deep and honest understanding, if we want to be healed of them. We must explore the hidden ways in which the feminine force that women have been called to channel, embody and express, has been affected by the brokenness that reigns around us and within us all.


The Mother-Wound: Cut the Unseen Strings that Control Your Masculinity is now available on Amazon (click here for more info)


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