April 4, 2016

Boys, Men and the Father Wound

One element of the school support circles training for men is to invite them to revisit their own teen years. There are activities to help them remember and reconnect with the bittersweet, painful, and often confusing time in a man's life. Doing this increases a man's connection to the energy, feelings, and stories of today's young males.

While the clothing, music, and language has changed, the boys in our circles really are simply younger versions of the men. With a few exceptions, the boys bring the same challenges, hungers, fears, pain, confusion, and hopes for their future the men experienced in their teen years. When a man is clear about his own teen history, it’s easier for him to keep his unfinished business separate from those of the young guys across the circle. It creates a more compassionate, empathetic, and caring mentor.

One important aspect of the training is to look at the relationship between the man and his father. This relationship, for better and worse, is at the core of the man a boy will become. As the men share their experiences, the whole range of possible relationships with fathers is revealed. We hear about present and loving dads, ghost dads, who are there but in all ways unavailable, and the angry, damaging, addicted, demeaning and destructive fathers. There are stories about the unknown fathers, men who abandoned the young man and family early in the boy's life. These kinds of tough stories are what I call the father wound.

In the school data from The Boys to Men Mentoring Network in San Diego, 73% of the boys in the program do not have a father active in their life. In addition to fatherlessness, it's common that the young guys in our circles don't have any positive or durable adult male relationship for support. This is what I often refer to as the epidemic of under-male-nourished boys.

. . . 73% of the boys in the program
do not have a father active in their life.

In preparing for a recent training, I came across some powerful words about the confusion and complexity surrounding a man's relationship to his father and his father wound. They come from the 1999 movie, Smoke Signals. The film tells the story of the relationship between a father, Arnold Joseph, and his son Victor. The story unfolds after Arnold has died, and Victor and another young man from the reservation, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, set off to collect Arnold's pick-up truck and ashes.

Victor remembers his father leaving him as a child, and that he was an alcoholic and abusive father. He just drove off one day and never came back. On the road trip, the two men remember Victor’s father, but their memories about Arnold are very different. Victor learns many new and even some positive things about his father during this journey. In the end, he begins to better understand, forgive, and grieve his father's loss. Here are the questions he speaks in the final scene of the film as he tries to find his way through the complicated feelings of his father wound.

How do we forgive our fathers -- maybe in a dream?

Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often - or forever - when we were little?

Or maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage?

Or making us nervous because there didn't seem to be any rage at all?

Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?

Or for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth -- or coldness?

Shall we forgive them for pushing -- or leaning?

For shutting doors or speaking through walls,

Or never speaking

Or never being silent?

Do we forgive our fathers in our age or theirs?

Or in their deaths, saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

The poignant statements above accurately describe the complexity and confusion many adult men are still carrying about their fathers. In the training, some men surprise themselves with the depth and variety of feelings that come up during these conversations. I remind men the young guys are sitting in this same emotional confusion. The difference is the boys don't have the maturity, emotional vocabulary, or even permission to touch their father wound.

In the training, from a place of shared understanding and compassion, as a group we make a commitment to support all “our” boys in our circles. We want them to know they are heard, understood, cared for, and honored for standing strong in the face of their considerable challenges. We want them to know, without question, they have our support.

When a man holds this kind of attitude for the boys in our circles, it opens a door for healing his father wound, and it can be a life-giving gift for each boy he encounters.

I believe you wouldn't be reading this far if you weren't interested in this work in some way. You can go to this link to learn more about a school mentor's job description or you can send me a note and we can talk about what the next possible steps for you might be! I know you're the right man for the work and I'm just as sure the boys are waiting.

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