Friday, July 31, 2009

The Father Spirit: At the Turning Point

an article by Bud Harris, Ph.D.

A Guide for Rediscovering and Renewing
the Foundations of Fatherhood


The Father Spirit at the Turning Point

As I was reflecting on Fathers' Day this year and developing the material I'm going to use in a Fall lecture and workshop, "The Father Quest: A Guide for Rediscovering and Renewing the Foundations of Fatherhood," I was moved to write the following article. I titled it "The Father Spirit at the Turning Point." Good friends who publish Western North Carolina Woman magazine included it in their June issue; every year their June issue is "Honoring the Y Chromosome." Because of the enthusiastic response to the article, I've decided to share it with you. I hope that you will find it inspiring and enriching.

A few mornings after Christmas my wife and I were sitting at the breakfast table with my daughter. While I slowly sipped my tea, she was explaining how the slump in the economy had impacted their holidays. As a family of five with three children, finding their income reduced substantially had ushered in a holiday stress that was new to them. When she finished talking she sighed and added, "I've given up any hope that we can leave our children any better off than we were."
The Father Quest: Rediscovering An Elemental Force
I was shocked by the discouragement in her voice. Leaving our children better off than we were when we started adult life has been a major part of the American Dream for as long as I can remember. I don't know how old that part of our dream is but I'm sure my father, who lived through the Great Depression, devoted much of his life to it. For his age-group, being sure your children went to college was considered a guarantee for the chance at a better life. My father's generation came out of the depression, World War II and the atomic age with a colossal yearning to create a healthy, sound world. They wanted their children to have lives that were smooth and prosperous. As we lived into the nineteen fifties our society and our families tried to make problems taboo. We wanted to have certainties. Or, rather, our parents wanted to have them for us even as the world was spiraling into the chaos of the nineteen sixties. I don't blame them for their longings because I know they were born out of the fear and traumas they endured and their desire to create a safer world for themselves and their children. Yet, this longing eventually became the root of their problems as it narrowed their perspective on life and now it has become the root of our problems as we have concretized the symbols of well-being onto financial success and material abundance.

I can easily remember that in the nineteen seventies our societal goal was to have more leisure time for our families and recreation. But, as we moved into the recession and energy shortage of the early nineteen eighties our old economic terrors began to re-emerge and we refocused on becoming workaholics; the trend-setting movie of that decade was Wall Street, famous for the speech in it that "greed is good." Instead of being a warning, this movie forecast the future.

The fear, anxiety and profound challenges that had caused a generation of men to become our "greatest generation" left them so wounded that they were unable to train and mentor their sons to be capable of meeting new challenges. My father and my coaches and teachers were more concerned that we be able to get "good" jobs than they were with teaching courage and the importance of character. They had lost track of the fact that the world is always spinning into a future of new challenges that we can rarely predict. This kind of a world can only be met effectively when we have learned something about the importance of having character, which includes love, openness, courage, integrity, and the respect for creativity. The dream of our Founding Fathers was to create a country where individuals could experience freedom, dignity, respect, equal protection under the law, the right to a representative government, the right to worship according to our own conscience and the pursuit of happiness. While this vision was imperfectly implemented it was the most profound social vision in history.

Let us remember now that the reason we call these men the Founding Fathers is no accident. In archetypal terms it is the positive, inspiring Father Spirit that calls for transformation, a renaissance of the spirit of the times in the culture or in each of us. From the perspective of Jungian psychology it is the positive Father Spirit that has called me to transform myself and grow through and beyond the crises in my life, and it is the positive Father Principle (both coming from the same archetype) that demands I must give a personal response to new life and a protective field for it to grow in. This is an important part of the definition of father love whether it is to mother and child or to the concerns of culture. It is the responsibility of father love to build a place for new life to thrive in.

Let us remember also that every archetypal image has a negative, destructive side as well as a positive, nurturing one. There is a negative destructive Father Spirit that we must watch out for. We have seen this image pictured in stories and movies. Darth Vader may be the one that is best known, or the father whose son committed suicide in Dead Poets' Society. Of course, some of us have experienced personifications of the destructive father spirit personally if our father was abusive or supported the Great Santini approach to sports, confrontation or aggression. The negative father spirit is also one that is fearful, afraid of being overwhelmed by life, and is therefore afraid of change, new life, and creative potentials. When we are possessed by this spirit we live in the illusionary hope that the way we did it in the past will be the best way to do it in the future.

These descriptions of the negative father spirit remind me of the experiences of an old college friend. We went to Georgia Tech and he majored in industrial engineering. His father owned a plant that produced concrete blocks. My friend looked forward to the day he could join his father and uncles in the family business. After his graduation his father said he wanted to teach him the business from the ground up and he started him at a low-paying, nasty, back-breaking job in the plant. In reality, my friend learned to hate the business and the true nature of his father that he discovered in the process. He realized his father had no respect for his intelligence or achievements in a tough university, and little respect for his desire to be close to him. And he was unable to nurture his son's ability to bring a new spirit of creativity into the business. His father's interest in maintaining his power and superiority was more important to him than his love for his son.

When my daughter spoke to me a few days after Christmas, I was too surprised to answer her very well. But after thinking about what she said I realized that we are at a turning point in history. I believe that we can leave our children and our grandchildren better off than when we entered adult life. But I also believe that our quest today is to leave them better off spiritually than we were. We can teach them more about reality than we were taught. We can help them learn while they are still in the safety of our love that life is full of uncertainty and anxiety, faith and nagging doubts, profound emotions, health and sickness, love, despair and grandeur. Our goal should not be to help them search for security but for competence in adult endeavors and for meaning along with the kind of passion that is soul deep rather than settling for the good life based on materialism. We must also teach by example or our efforts will be without substance.

If we are going to leave them better off spiritually than we were, we must be living a life supported by a spiritual purpose that is more profound than appearances, the security of fundamentalism, practices that help us avoid looking into our own souls, or the naïve answers of groups immersed in positive thinking. We should be able to show by how we live that we are aware of our ability to confront our deepest fears and hopes, our joys and sorrows, our wounds of love and how we've failed our own ideals at times. And, as our children mature we must be able to share some of what we've learned from these experiences.

The new president we've elected symbolizes a turning point. So far, he is facing our many problems with foresight and intelligence. I'm impressed that he doesn't see war as the solution to every problem ranging from cancer to terrorism. It is about time we learned, or relearned the lesson from our Founding Fathers, that masculine strength, wisdom and courage, when used in support of life's greatest principles, can overcome the efforts of mighty empires whose major focus is on power and commerce.

Our new president is a symbol of the new potential that has been aroused in our country. But, he is not a savior and he knows it. We must answer our own call to transform our model of living into one that isn't based on the fear of losing our never-ending material growth. The Father Spirit at its best calls us to look for balance and depth, for spiritual growth to balance our material growth and spiritual depth to provide the meaning that can give purpose and support to our lives-because neither the material alone nor the spiritual alone can give us the needed fullness of life.

We are also in a dangerous time. When great new potentials are born, the forces of the old order are threatened and fight back. Just as King Herod slaughtered the innocents, all of the new creative potentials he could get his hands on, the voices of conventional wisdom, of fear and the status quo, will fight viciously to retain their power and control. But, this is an era for men to live with new courage, creativity and love-in the support of life. I am looking forward to seeing my grandsons live into this world, and I want to do everything I can to help prepare them for it and it for them.

The Father Quest: Rediscovering An Elemental ForceThe Father Quest: Rediscovering An Elemental Force
by Bud Harris
ISBN 978-0-9810344-9-2
Available from your local bookstore, a host of online booksellers, and directly from Fisher King Press by phoning 1-800-228-9316.

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