The Wound that All Men Carry
''The father-wound is most often a wound of absence—emotional as well as physical. As such, it’s harder to recognize than others. You can kill a living organism in two ways. With a plant, for example, you can cut it down, smash it, or beat it up. Or, you can just leave it alone and not water it. Live requires input. Abandonment kills. In the souls of men, the weapon of destruction is shame. When Dad doesn’t embrace, encourage, guide, and protect him, a boy grows up thinking, “Dad doesn’t value me. I must not be worth much.” He doesn’t feel like a real man, confident that he belongs in the world, with both a destiny and the power at hand to fulfill it. He feels tremendous shame and anger at being abandoned in his deepest need. Distrusting himself and other men, he’s easily suckered into a counterfeit masculinity, from fast sex and alcohol to isolation and violence. Hence, prisons are bulging. Yet even the average, law-abiding man today hasn’t had a father who said, “You’re my son and I love you,” or who helped him discover his unique talents and abilities. As a small boy in a large world of men, he’s imprisoned by bars of shame from father-abandonment, unable to fulfill his destiny. ''
As a boy grows up, after months and years of receiving the warm, nurturing love of his mother, he begins to look more and more toward the other side of the fence – the world of men.
This world attracts him with an unseen magnetic force, far beyond the limits of comprehension; it promises him future and fulfillment, and without consciously thinking about it, the boy reaches for it…
But he can never draw close to this world unless he is actually taken there; he can never walk into the world of men unless his hand is firmly clasped by the hand of an older man. The boy can never reach manhood without his father, and deep in his young heart, he knows it. This is why he looks to his father in such a special, unique way, and this is why, if the father does not rise to the occasion, the boy will resent him – and probably himself – forever. He cannot simply 'get' his manhood from somewhere, and he cannot just receive it from a source different than the world of men. It is to the father that he looks, and it is the father who must respond, in an act of genuine love for his growing son.
Such father-love should consist not simply of a verbal display of the father's feelings toward his son, but rather, an active father-son relationship, through which the boy's emotional and physical needs are met. It is only through such a close, intimately freeing relationship that the boy can receive what he needs from his father, and so, feels secure in his father's love – and become affirmed in his own self-worth and masculine identity.
In regard to this ‘receiving’ Robert Bly writes:
When a father and son spend long hours together we could say that a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger. The contemporary mind might want to describe the exchange between father and son as a likening of attitude, a miming, but I think a physical exchange takes place, as if some substance was passing directly to the cells. The son`s body – not his mind – receives, and the father gives this food at a level far bellow consciousness. During the long months spent in the mother’s body, his body got well-tuned to female frequencies…Now, standing next to the father, as they repair arrowheads, or repair ploughs, or wash pistons in gasoline, or care for birthing animals, the sons body has the chance to retune. Slowly, over months or years, the sons body-strings begin to resonate to the to the harsh, sometimes demanding, testily humorous, irreverent, impatient, opinionated, forward-driving, silence loving older masculine body. Both male and female cells carry marvelous music, but the son needs to resonate to the masculine frequency as well as the female frequency. (Iron John: A Book About Men) How many of us can honestly say that they have enjoyed such a close, active relationship with their father and the world of men that the father represents and is meant to bring us into?
How many can testify of their own father's close connection to the masculine world – the world of his father and grandfather, with its traditions, rituals, expectations and skills; the connection through which they themselves have been invited to join it?
Yes. Very few of us can.
And this really is tragic.
You see, without a strong, loving, and passionately involved father to introduce and welcome us, in Bly's words, 'into the ancient, mythologised, instinctive male world', we stand no chance in life; we are on our own…we are alone. We are trees without roots, that are for some reason expected to bear good,healthy fruits...
We are all wounded...
* * *
It is important to keep in mind that, since no human is perfect, there are no perfect fathers. This must especially be remembered by those of us who, not remembering any major quakes in their childhood life, have grown up believing that they have not suffered the effects of the wound caused by a broken father-son relationship. It is true that some issues are more subtle than others, and that there are degrees of harm and brokenness; it is also true that our own younger selves could have remained blind to our father's dark side, as I certainly did, growing up around a father who was more than a god to me. Yet, I can assure you that in every father-son relationship, there exist something which is harmful, something which has inflicted pain and damage onto the son's young soul. This brokenness, this effect of all the tremors, big or small, all the neglect, abuse, or absence, is known as the father-wound. If I am to give you any clear-cut definition of the father-wound, I would use the definition Rick Belden gave during a podcast show called Man Rules, hosted by Dan Griffin.
Rick, who is a men's coach, author, poet and artist, defined the father-wound in these words:
A Father Wound may be thought of as injury to the psyche of a child resulting from significant dysfunction or disruption in relationship with the father. In some cases, it is the result of a father's absence or unavailability due to death, illness, adoption, or other circumstances that dramatically separate the child from the father. But more typically, a Father Wound is a complex of injuries to the child's psyche received over many years, often as a result of the father acting, consciously or not, out of his own woundedness.
Undoubtedly, the truth of this harsh reality may feels overpowering and overwhelming, and almost too much to bear, especially for those who are encountering it for the first time. But if we persist in our search for the truth, we will soon be ready to admit that the father-wound has played, and possibly still continues to play a major role in our life.
A harsh father may hurt his son by his terrible outbursts – they are attacks against the boy's tender soul – but a passive father wounds his boy through his withholding of love, affection and other types of failure to meet his needs.
In both cases, there is pain and damage – in both cases, there is wounding.
It is quite safe to say then, that to a lesser or a greater degree, we are all wounded. Growing up, a boy is often misunderstood, ignored, shamed, neglected, and sometimes even violated and abused in the most terrible way. What is a boy to think of the world and of himself? Destructive beliefs, deep and poisonous, set their hooks within him as he walks alone on the path from childhood to maturity.
There is something wrong with me...I am no good...I am weak...I will never be a man...
Generation after generation of boys have chanted this mantra to themselves, often unknowingly, deep below the levels of their consciousness, far out of the reach of their rational mind. Wounded boys, they grow into scarred men; and it's not long before others are made to pay for those scars.
This is the father-wound: it is perhaps the most dangerous, destructive, and deadly disease from which the human race has ever suffered. It does not respect status, nationality, or religion; it is an unseen murderer of noble dreams, a thief of love, joy, and even life itself; it is a diabolical device set against the hearts of all humans.
The father wound kills, steals, and destroys.
Sadly, while we can perhaps see this reality in the lives of others, particularly when so much pain and sorrow is revealed to us every day through the media, it is the tragedy of our own story that often goes unseen by us.
In order to better describe the way this works, I will give you an example from the life of a young boy, a refugee from Afghanistan, who was a client in the young people service where I worked:
'When I was growing up,' he said to me during one of our one-to-one sessions, 'I always heard explosions of bombs, somewhere far in the distance. At the time, I did not see anything unusual in that. I thought that every child in the world sees and hears the same things I saw and heard. Bombs were a normal part of my life as a child and so I thought they were a normal part of every child's life.'
In a way, we are all that boy, for, much like him, we have taken the pain, the neglect, and the shame of our childhood for granted, either believing it to be normal, or choosing to bury it and not remember it at all. Both ways of dealing with the father-wound, though they save us pain, are ineffective to say the least.
In many cases, they are tragic.
* * *
In order to fully understand what the brutal reality of the father-wound has robbed us of, we must first start believing that we were indeed, meant to be men – no less than any man we have ever looked up to or feared. Many boys who excel in their academic work, like I once did, are struggling with sports and the more hands-on, physical aspect of boyhood; others, who have not been affected in that area, often use sports and the 'macho' image as a cover-up for the weakness and the feeling of inadequacy caused by the father-wound.
Both types need to compensate and both are incomplete; neither have a deep and true sense of being good, powerful, and noble at heart…
But this does not mean they are not.
It seems to me that the truth about our inherent manhood – about all that is good and noble in any male born under the sun – is revealed to us through two simple facts; there are good and bad news about the plight of all men today:
The good news is that every single man has the manhood he has longed to have, ever since his childhood. We are all, deep down, brave, strong, loving, and good; we are the heroes we always wanted to be. If it were not so, little boys would not be obsessed with super-hero films and all the other things that speaks to them of heroism, nobility and courage; if it were not so, those same little boys would never be so sad, or frustrated and angry with themselves, each time they fail to be as strong, brave and heroic as they want to be, as if their very sense of self-worth depends on it – because it depends on it.
The bad news is that most of us do not actually possess this manhood; we have not received what is truly ours, and thus, we are deeply lacking, and remain thirsty, always looking for that inner strength, confidence, and the sense of being valuable and loved, which only the love of a father can bring.
I must clarify the second statement here, by sharing with you the concept of the Good Seed of Manhood...
I envision the true, unique masculinity of every one of us to be something like a seed, planted within us at our conception. This seed contains all that we need to be, and all that we would ever want to be.
It has within itself the strength and courage we searched and hoped for, as we read and watched the heroic stories that once stirred our young hearts; it has all the abilities each of us requires to learn the practical skills he that would one day help him make his way into the world and earn the self-respect that is so needed for true confidence to grow within; among many other things, inside this little seed are stored those impulses and signals – the genuine, authentic ways which ensure that all emotions are expressed rightly and unashamedly.
To me, they look something like pathways and channels – unique but always pure, serving to transfer light and clear energy of expression and response: there, the ability to show tenderness sits next to the courage to face adversity, the capacity for fierceness is found right alongside the power to hold another in warm embrace, and the manly tears of grief flow as freely as the deep, hearty laughter.
There is much goodness in that little seed, and much strength…
But it is rarely discovered, and hardly ever used fully.
For the seed of manhood cannot sprout without first being nurtured in the warm, secure environment of the masculine world; boys can only come into manhood through that world – there is no other way.
That world, the world of our fathers, is the environment in which the little seed was meant to be nourished into life and growth; there, and only there, it could germinate and grow into the strong three of manhood that the storms of life cannot shake.
Cut off from the masculine world, the seed cannot sprout; the process is aborted and the undeveloped masculine heart remains forever young, tender, unloved and void of strength.
Such is the power a father holds over his son.
Such is the power of the father-wound.
Yet, all is not lost...there is hope for each one of us.
With much respect,