Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Integrator

Wouldn’t it be cool to start seeing films with a title like that rather than “The Terminator?”  Don’t we need some broader images of father in film and TV land than the bumbling, inept, clueless, insensitive and irrelevant?  I remember when “Home Alone” was the hit—and how much I hated the portrayal of the parents.  “Father of the Bride” was the ultimate in stereotypical father-slam.  
The Bill Cosby Show was popular, and I was a fan—it represented a stable and accomplished African American family for the first time, and set the bar for quality.  But did you notice the sometimes demeaning treatment Dr. Huxtable received as the foil for his polished and accomplished wife and/or their children?  In spite of the underplayed, undermined role of the ob/gyn he played, Dr. Huxtable's glam wife far outshone him.  And although Cosby became a pop spokesman for fathers, I think he missed the mark; the show perpetuated the '80's subtle but definite diminishment of the father.  Let's bump the bar back up a bit.   
Most of what I’m going to quote here is from that book I mentioned earlier, The Forgotten Father: 
A father is “something of an integrator, a factor making for wholeness in the development of [his children’s] interests and gifts…the young hopeful learns what it means to be involved in what somebody else cares about, and to bow to what somebody else, who as a right to command, decides is to be done.”  (pg. 11)
It was certainly fun to bow to my father’s plans to build a boat.  It added a dimension to our lives that few kids in our neighborhood got to experience. 
“Mothers tend to promote the fulfillment of their sons from behind; fathers tend to require the obedience of their sons from above.  The first kind of love ministers to the needs of the beloved; the second kind dethrones the one it loves and presses him into its own service.  An only son in his mother’s house can easily become first and central; in his father’s house he is more likely to be kept second and subsidiary.  He will have not only a helper behind him, but a normal corrective, a protector over him.  He will know the safety of being second, of not being the one round whom everything revolves, but of begin dependent on somebody else who is ‘greater than I.’” (pg. 12)
The safety of being second…how’s that for a counter-cultural, politically incorrect statement?!  Here’s another gem from TheSearch for the Real Self:
“Like the world of toys and the other mysterious rooms of the house, the father is someone to practice on.  He is different and stands for nonmother experience.  Exploring realty through him has a special quality of exuberance…Father, coming from the outside world or reality rather than the fused symbiotic state, does not trigger symbiotic fears.  When father is firmly established as both an exhilarating adventure into worldly reality and a safe haven where the child can test his intrapsychic perceptions about that reality…the real self will emerge with confidence.”  (pg. 33)
Anyone want to try filming that?! 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Go ahead! Jump!"

I could cite a bunch of miserable statistics about the effects of fatherlessness on children, but I won’t. Statistics can be manipulated.  But pick your favorite site, and the news isn't good. 

If father is a good thing, vital for the emotional development and well-being of the family, what do we lose when we don’t get that?  What are the spiritual implications of father/no father?  What does father bring to the table in a family, besides the bacon?

I was fascinated to learn many years ago from the depth psychologists how a newborn is wired to receive certain signals from the father.  Voice, touch, presence—the infant needed to receive certain things, and at precise stages of its development.  A missed developmental goal could create all sorts of havoc; not a fatality, but an increased risk.    

At later stages of development, the child listens for the father’s voice telling him “Yeah, go ahead and jump off that roof, I’ll catch you,” while mother’s voice cries out, “Get down from there!  It’s dangerous!” 

More generalizations but here’s a classic scenario: the child falls and scrapes a knee.  Mom comes running to the rescue, with band-aid and hugs, soothing and comforting and making sure the child doesn’t need stitches.  Dad, assuming he notices, says, “You’re fine – get up!” 

Mom wants to keep Child home, safe in the nest.  Dad kicks the child out, to discover the big wide world out there, and charges the child to go, explore, discover, overcome.  Then Dad can relax and enjoy his empty nest, while Mom texts hourly to make sure Child is okay.    

It was Dad who took us for driving lessons each summer, before we were legally allowed, finding the right back roads where we wouldn’t be disturbed, and couldn’t hit much more than a broken clamshell.  Mom was terrified to drive with us even when we were of age!  

When I first discussed moving off the island, Mom blanched; Dad lit up and suggested I try the West Coast—jobs were plentiful out there!

Generalizations I know—but 1 in 3 kids in America today will never get the driving lessons, the boot out, or the invitation to jump off a roof.  What else will he or she miss?