Catholic commentary on culture, media, and politics.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

How to be a manly man

Some years ago, I asked a conference of 350 Christian fathers, "When you became a father for the first time, did your own dad reach out to you--maybe send you a letter, call or visit you--to give you some comfort, support, encouragement, or advice?" Only five raised their hands.

At another conference, I asked 150 men, "When you were around 12 or 13, did your father ever talk to you helpfully about sex?" Only two raised their hands.

In over ten years of speaking at men's conferences and retreats in the US, Canada, and England, those percentages have rarely changed.

Men today haven't been fathered for generations. This father-wound has become an epidemic in our time. In fact, it's destructive effects were clearly prophesied in the last two verses of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5,6).

There's no shortage of junk on the market about "male spirituality." It's usually peddled, in the Catholic version, by a well-meaning priest who's never seen the underbelly of a Ford and who always gets out of the shower to pee (not that there's anything wrong with that). The ideal male in this version is a cross between Leo Buscaglia and TV's Barney. Then there's the secular version, which entails men's nature retreats, drums, chest-painting, and letting the Inner Warrior grunt at dawn on the forest floor.

Gordon Dalbey has found the golden mean. The United Church of Christ minister says it's attained by first recognizing that what he calls the "father wound" is as real as it is widespread in Western life; and second, by looking to Jesus Christ as the living model and exemplar of the masculine. Reverend Dalbey wastes no words in getting at the roots of this culture-wide epidemic. I'm going to revisit this theme because it's important, and more common than you think. The reality of the father wound affects mens' relationships with their wives, children, friends, bosses and employees. Unfathered men sometimes grow up to be priests where they are shepherded (sic) by unfathered bishops, both of whom are supposed to embody fatherhood. And yes, it also affects daughters as well. And Rev. Dalbey writes insightfully about that, too. In the meantime....



Blogger Patrick said...

I don't know. All this "father wound" stuff sounds earily like the inner child stuff.

12:02 AM

Blogger Patrick said...

Like any legimitate insight, it can get crowded out or muddied with pop psych babble, usually by people hocking a book. To me, the phrase "inner child" makes sense, but its not an end in itself. It means that the self who experienced something in the past -- if that "something" caused pain or trauma -- remains in some way alive within the adult that the child grew up to become. (The term buried alive says it best.) I think most people are able to remember being a kid, and in the act of remembering you feel like that kid momentarily.

So if one's father was not adequately present, or too distant or too abusive or too drunk most of the time, then one is the very person who most profoundly images God the Father.

Lucky for us the heavenly Father isn't an idiot. In Christ Jesus, He knows all about what it's like for the innocent to suffer great pain. Being the only true Father, even for people who had great earthly dads, He can "fill in" that wound, so to speak and can guide us to father substitutes and strong male friends. Therapy can be good, too.

But the tool God uses most exquisitely for the healing of all wounds is reading this blog.

Hardy har.

1:44 PM


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