I am writing a piece about my father this week, to honor him for his 75th birthday this Wednesday. I kept thinking about an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett. It was a conversation with Franciscan Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (Albuquerque) in which they explored the concept of “father hunger” in so many men.
Rohr referred to his experience as a jail chaplain in which he found that the universal commonality he found among the people he encountered in jail was that it was rare, if ever, to find someone who had a good father. Many had alcoholic, emotionally unavailable or abusive fathers. He explains that the rage that results from this early experience moves out toward all of society, a mistrust of all authority figures, policemen, etc.
It creates an interesting bind when we think of God as “the heavenly Father,” a masculine figure. For someone who has never experienced a loving male in their lives to hear that “God, the Father, loves you” does not have any connection or sense of truth in it, given the lived experience.
I wonder sometimes if our need to see god as a father figure just reflects our lack of father presence in our lives. My personal view of god(dess) is that she may be female, and more likely gender-less or gender-full. Certainly beyond our understanding when it comes to gender. If I look at god as creator, I believe there are elements of the divine feminine and divine masculine contained within.
The dynamic quality of nature, and the complementary elements we encounter in our explorations of science make that abundantly clear to me.
This is where I think the patriarchy fails us in terms of validating and reinforcing the role of fathers in giving care and attention to children. Mother is seen as the primary care-giver. And while there is no doubt mother gets “stuck” with the care of children and perhaps many mothers viscerally relate to that, men also have a critical role.
A friend of mine recently reflected on her career choices and on the fact that when she and her husband had children they decided that the person earning more money would work, and the other one would stay home with the children. They had two boys, and now the second is about to enter school. Her husband is now going back into the workforce about about 5 years at home being the primary care-giver to their sons.
She reflected on how grateful she felt for his willingness to stay home with them, and the wonderful relationship and closeness her sons now have with their father. As a Mom working a fair number of hours and increasing in her leadership at work, she no doubt had moments of conflict about having to spend time away from her children. Knowing they had a good care-giver, their own father, I am sure put her concerns to rest much of the time.
I believe that time invested by fathers in knowing their children and having some time with them pays dividends in terms of the long-term well-being of children. It reminds me of times when my own father would take me to the movies on a weekend, just the two of us when I was about 5 years old. Mom was home with my younger sister when she was a baby, and we would go to see something like Pinocchio or a cartoon playing in our local small-town theater.
Sometimes we would stay for more than one showing! Back in those days (late 70’s/early 80’s) nobody cared about that, and we both loved these movies. There was usually a long feature, maybe one or two short ones and then they would plan the long one again. Perhaps this is where my love for mythical frameworks and stories comes from. I remember these early memories of having quality time with my Dad.
Before I started kindergarten my Dad had already taught me to read, and both he and my Mom read me many books and stories when I was young. They were teachers and they valued reading and books. I remember loving the time before bed when we typically had time to be read a story. It was probably Mom doing this most of the time, but I recall Dad doing this as well.
I wonder how our world might be different if we appreciated and honored the ways in which fathers play a role in caring for young people, and nurturing them in different ways. I absolutely honor and respect the work mothers do in nurturing children and caring for them. And I believe we have missing pieces if our fathers are not part of that story also. Many fathers do what is necessary to earn money, support their families and dole out the discipline (anyone else recognize: “Just WAIT until your father gets home!”).
But they must provide more than discipline and order to make a positive impact on a child’s life. They must provide love, acceptance, support and care. They are not a “bonus” parent, they are a necessary part of a child’s life. They shape the view that children absorb about how the world works. They help instill self-discipline sometimes, another value I learned from my own father.
Both daughters and sons benefit from this presence of a father, grandfather or some male parental figure or mentor us in our early growth and development. Sadly, the way the patriarchy casts and distorts masculinity, many of us are without these images of loving protection. Men are not supposed to be vulnerable or weak, and this affects how they interact with children. Modern and enlightened men realize that this ability to be vulnerable, especially with their loved ones and children, is what we often need and want in order to truly connect.
But when we lack these examples and images, all we are left with is father hunger. If we adopt a more inclusive view, along with valuing the contributions of both men and women to family life, I believe we can transform our culture.
Given our environmental and societal needs for healing and transformation, women and men working together are indeed what is needed. Fathers, mothers, aunties, uncles, child-free women like myself and all of the good people in the world that realize the nature of our problems as one planet. We should hunger for peace and for unity, not for the fathers we may not have had in our lives.