February 17, 2012

Absent and The Father Wound

An engaged and loving father is the most powerful man-making force on the planet. The opposite is also true. When fathers are absent, physically or emotionally, the wound that results is profound. It touches a man to his core and forever leaves him with the question, “Am I good enough as a person and a man?" All men long to hear the biblical pronouncement from a father, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” The truth is that too many men and young males did not and do not hear it, and we are all paying the price as a result.

In my research for the Man-Making book, countless men offered up clear statements of their sense of masculine insufficiency as one of the barriers keeping them from being involved with and supporting young males. Too many men said they had been poorly prepared for manhood, their fathers had been unavailable, and as a result, they felt, as men, they didn’t have anything to offer boys. In the most tragic stories, some men felt such low masculine-esteem they believed their involvement with a boy would be damaging or hurtful to the young man. You can be certain that behind many of those stories is an invisible but still-open father wound.

In the Rite of Passage and group-mentoring work men are now doing with young males, an all too common story is about pathologically disengaged or abusive fathers or dads who were simply never part of a boy's life. In the emotionally safe and supportive place that's created, if it's time, young males have the emotional room and permission to give up their deeply shielded and buried grief about their father wound. Often this shows up as powerful anger or deep sobbing. The tears in the eyes of so many of the men who hear these boy-stories are damp testimony to the pervasiveness of this father wound, and the core emptiness of the men that carry it. I have my own story about a present, but unavailable, shaming and emotionally terrorizing, alcoholic father.
Nearly every gang member I’ve dealt with had inadequate or no fathering
and little or no elder male mentoring.
Michael Gurian in the book The Wonder of Boys

Fathers Unite is an organization dedicated to equal rights for both parents in divorce, and fighting to keep fathers involved with their children. On their website you can find a description of the personal and social costs of fatherlessness. Here is a very small sample. Children from fatherless homes are:
  • 5 times more likely to commit suicide
  • 32 times more likely to run away
  • 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
  • 14 times more likely to commit rape
  • 9 times more likely to drop out of high school
  • 20 times more likely to end up in prison

Into this masculine reality comes Justin Hunt with his film Absent. Justin already has built a solid reputation from his previous documentary, American Meth, a heart-wrenching tale of the impact of the methamphetamine epidemic in the United States. In Absent, his approach is just as potent. Justin says, “The father wound is so deep and so all-pervasive in so many parts of the world that its healing could well be the most radical social reform conceivable.” With Absent, Justin intends to start that healing.

Absent is winning rave reviews because of the honest and intimate way it talks about this painful issue and resulting damage to the collective male psyche. In the film, Hunt interviews prominent figures from the world of men’s work, and conducts brutally honest and emotionally charged exchanges with prostitutes, homeless people, and a world champion boxer. There is one especially moving conversation with James Hetfield of the legendary heavy metal band, Metallica. If you REALLY want a sample of what a father wound sounds like, read a few of the 175 letters to fathers that have been submitted to the Absent website. You can learn more about the film, order a DVD, contact Justin, or even schedule a screening at the Absent website.

Viewing this film (with a group of men friends) will stir your male psyche, greatly increase your male-literacy, and just possibly increase the likelihood you’d find the courage to become a man-maker in the life of a boy with a gaping father wound.

If the video doesn't show, you can view it at this link.

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  1. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Hello Earl,

    I want to thank you for sharing this post of yours along with posting this video.

    At the age of one I was without my father due to a divorce. My mother said he never wanted kids, I don't know for sure if this is completely true, for I myself did not hear him say these words. One thing I do know though is that he's a father I never really had the chance to know, and if I reflect back upon this, it brings tears to my eyes on how callused this heartless father of mine really was. I had no choice but to forgive him in my heart, because if I wouldn't have, the pain I've felt inside would have never left my side. Throughout much of my life the scars have imbedded in so deep into this mind that I'm carrying around that I thought these thoughts would never mend. Many of times I have contemplated suicide due to the fact that I thought I was worthless and of no use to anyone including myself which has caused me much pain. These thoughts are no longer relevant to me now though, for now I just try my best to focus my attention on the present moment I'm in. I changed my life around and became a Buddhist, which has helped my way of thinking to a great extent, even though I'm not a perfect one at that.

  2. Bill M.5:31 PM

    I received you Man Making email today. Fabulous. I wasn't
    aware of Justin Hunt's film.


    Keep up the great work Earl.

  3. Carol Henderson, Stamford, CT6:46 PM

    Kudos for Absent and The Father Wound!

  4. Bill H.10:05 PM

    Thanks for all your hard work.


Your response to this blog post is appreciated and welcome.