International: Healing the “father-wound”

Date: June 15, 2012
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Johannesburg, 15 June – Father’s Day, celebrated on the Sunday of the third week of June annually is a counterbalance to the already popular Mothers’ Day. However, it has its own special importance which society needs to reflect upon. It presents to the reflective mind and discerning heart an opportunity to take stock of fatherhood, father-craft and the whole masculine gamut of experiences that come with the procreation and raring of one’s children.

We have often heard that, “Any man can father a child, and it takes a real man to be a dad.” To be a dad, as opposed to being just a father, is being in a healthy and life-giving relationship with one’s offspring. Siring children is an easily accomplished biological function, but raising children and having a sound relationship with them is quite a feat of human endeavour. Some men manage to father a child but it cannot be taken for granted that they will go on to become a dad.

Some of the reasons why men fail to be fathers include immaturity, irresponsibility, lack of personal drive and motivation to face up to the consequences of one’s sexual activities. Other men fail to be dads because they are in jail, are in a difficult labour situation or lack resources. Historical factors such as slavery, colonialism and apartheid have militated against present men’s ability to be dads.

However, having a relationship with one’s father is a critical component of child-development from the onset. Individuals whose fathers were helpfully present will tend to be better adjusted to reality and to fare well in life, in terms of their psychosexual and spiritual development.Individuals, whose fathers were not present and/ or were present but abusive and manipulative, will tend to have a proneness to a multitude of dysfunctions in their lives.

Therefore quality of presence of a father is critically important in the psychosexual development for both boys and girls. Boys learn from their father how to be a “man” and how to relate in a healthy manner to other men and to women. Girls learn from their father how to relate to men in a healthy way, to distinguish between “good” and “bad” touching from a positive experience of being touched in a loving, but non-sexual manner by their father. A girl whose father modelled good bodily contact will be able to know, fairly quickly, when contact with a male begins to encroach sensitive boundaries.

The poor quality of presence of a father does have a negative impact on both boys and girls in their psychosexual development. Boys who were abused by their fathers and saw their fathers abuse their mothers and other women, will most likely turn out to be abusers themselves. Girls, whose fathers were not helpfully present and or abusive, will not have a good basis for comparing between healthy and unhealthy contact with a male. They develop a proneness to abusive partnerships and relationships with males.

Today psychologists of the spiritual life talk about the “father-wound,” which is the sum total of the negative experiences that individuals accumulate from the relationship, or lack thereof, with their father. Even if the father has been present and caring, there is a wounded-ness that comes from relating with one’s father. The father wound is testimony to the fundamental truth that fatherhood is not easy, and fathers are not perfect. No matter how hard a man may try to be a good father, there is a wound that he inflicts on his children. If men who try hard to be dads, still inflict the father wound, what more those who are negligent of this important human duty?

So, we all carry deep in our hearts a wound inflicted on us by our father. This wound affects the quality of our relationships with people of the opposite sex and with our children. This wound affects our physical health and mental wellbeing. There is a place deep inside us that hurts because it was never touched, or was badly touched, or never sufficiently touched, by our father.

Men come to become fathers in their own right while this wound is till unhealed or unacknowledged. Across generations, there has been a successive handing down of the unhealed father-wound from father to son to grandson. With the handing down of the father-wound has also been a passing down of an ever diminishing sense, or lack of confidence and esteem in fatherhood.

However, there are some remedies for a diminished or emasculated fatherhood. Men can heal their father-wound by beginning to be good fathers or dads. Fortunately, the father wound can be healed by a healthy fathering experience of children who are not necessarily one’s biological progeny.

The great resiliency that people whose fathers were not present is, to a large extent, due to the positive fathering experiences they had with people who were neither their biological fathers nor children. That is the good news: any healthy relationship with a father, or a child, is good for your father-wound. Even if your own biological father is dead, and if you do not have biological children of your own, you can still have therapeutic relationships with father figures and child figures, which will ameliorate and remediate your father-wound.

Fathers’ Day can be a wonderful opportunity for affirming and cherishing healthy fatherhood. The notion of good fatherhood is itself psychologically significant in the imagination and quest for a healed and integrated father experience. Since all of us, men and women, carry a father-wound, we can use this day to begin the journey towards our healing.

We can begin it one heart at a time by opening our hearts to a father or a child figure, with whom we will begin to relate in a nurturing and life-giving manner. We were wounded by our father whose touch hurt, so a father, whose touch soothes can heal us. If we have wounded our own child by neglecting, abandoning or abusing them, we can be healed of that hurt by caring, nurturing and safeguarding the many children around that remain vulnerable and needy.

Fathers’ day is a good starting point, for the father-wound to be healed.

Father William Guri, C.Ss.R, is a Catholic Priest based in Harare, Zimbabwe, where he is involved in leadership and pastoral ministry. Fr Guri studied theology and psychology and has a great interest in the integration of psychology and spirituality. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news!


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