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...
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...
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.''
— Gordon Dalbey
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.''
(The Man Rules Podcast, Ep. 14)