In his book From Wild Man To Wise Man, the author Richard Rohr writes about the Father Wound – the wound that results from not having a father, whether it is because the father died or left the family or whose work or life kept him away from the family for most or all of the time.
Sometimes, the Father Wound is triggered by an aloof father or a cruel or abusive one.
Psychologists believe that the result of these conditions can result in a deep heart, a deprivation that corrodes a child’s own center and well-being, destroys boundaries. Children who suffer from Father Wound become, say the shrinks, an adult whose mind is often disconnected from his own body and emotions, a life, writes Rohr, “often lived with the passivity of an unlit fire.”
Prison officials have often written that they believe most of the men in jail are there because they have no father. They were not orphans, but most said they had never been fathered.
I have experienced Father Wound. My father was a remote and almost ghostly man who was home only to eat dinner two or three times a week. If he was ever home beyond that, I never saw him or knew he was there.
I was fortunate, I think my Father Wound did not leave me passive, but angry and full of determination to prove him wrong. He didn’t know me, I said, even then knowing what a terrible thing that was to say about a father.
In all of my life with him, my father never once had breakfast with the family, or with me, he left my mother without bothering to get divorced. It just wasn’t done then, and my mother never mustered the courage to leave.
My father was much-loved by everyone but us, and isn’t that a familiar story.
Once or twice he took me to a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, those handful of games were the only time I ever remember spending with him, and even there, we never spoke.
I was furious with him, even to the point of firing my brothers’ hunting rifle out of the window of my bedroom once to get his attention. I set fire to trash cans and ran away from home.
It didn’t work. He didn’t really care.
When I was eleven, he took me outside to demand that I learn to play baseball and other sports, he hit me in the forehead with his best fastball, knocking me down and nearly out.
When I woke up, he called me a sissy, and I walked off the field and barely spoke to him again until he lay died at age 88 in a Rhode Island Hospital.
I knew, even at age eleven, that I needed to stay away from him and his corrosive view of me if I was to grow and survive. And so, we never much spoke again, except in terse formalities at holiday dinners, and I think that was just fine with him. I was in a rage around him.
As he lay dying so many years, we shook hands and said goodbye, we each said we wished we could have done better by one another. But we both knew the truth. I wasn’t the son he wanted, he wasn’t the father I needed.
But there was no turning back that clock. I learn the most from the darkness, not the light.
Reading Rohr’s book, I shivered and thought about the burden a child has trying to deal with Father Wound. It was just as hard on my sister, who my father denigrated and revived almost daily.
When you don’t have a loving father, you almost automatically become insecure, because no one you trust ever taught you how to be secure. Since we can never reach the deep and strong masculine with us, we look to get Father Energy from other men, or even from our peers.
Father Wound is a deep wound, and I have come to see it never heals. We can forgive our fathers, and I have, but we can never fully heal from the wounds the inflict upon us, boys and girls alike.
St. Francis was utterly rejected by his harsh father, a hurt he recognized and acknowledged and bore all of his life. He turned to animals and the poor for love, and found so much of it in them both.
St. Francis, just like me, created rituals of healing for himself, and forgave his father. He often wrote that this underlying hurt drove him to a passionate search for God, which he understood was a kind of ultimate father. Mine drives me to search for ways to do good, for me as much as it is for them.
It’s odd, but once I read about Father Wound, I began seeing it in other men all the time, especially in political leaders, many of whom spend their lives trying to be the man their father demanded that they be, but that they could never be.
They make quite a mess of the world.
St Francis thus worshipped a perfect and loving, and always accepting Father, the literal and biological opposite of his own.
His desire for a perfect God became a sacred wound, wrote Rohr, even if most people never saw it as a wound at all.
I want to choose the path of St. Francis, who took his wound out into the world and transformed it into love and compassion, for people and animals. If that is not always where I am – I am surely no Saint – then it is where I hope to be.
Life is a process, an I am in it. Protect your soul.