Part 2: Fatherlessness and the Longing for Connection and Affirmation
In an earlier post, I mentioned as a key vulnerability point “Fatherlessness that leaves ‘holes in the soul’ and a longing for connection with a father figure — which a charismatic authoritarian man will gladly step in to act as and act out as. I suspect the dynamics here often lead to learned passivity, learned helplessness, learned devaluation of personal worth — and a false elevation of authority systems, masculinity, and patriarchy.”
About three years ago, I commented on the history of various men’s movements when TWW posted an article on the movie *Courageous* and the “Resolution for Men” that was being promoted with it. See: Comment 1 on general background about men’s movements over the past 50 years, Comment 2 on Promise Keepers and Christian publishing during that era, Comment 3 on core issues in gender roles, and Comment 4 on some specific streams in the secular men’s movement of the 1980s and ’90s.
Because I was involved with recovery ministries for men starting back in the mid-1980s, I read many of the secular books dealing with men’s issues. (It would still be 5+ years until Promise Keepers started, and with it, the floodgates of Christian publishing on materials for men opened … with just as much debris in that flood as life rafts.)
Poet and storyteller Robert Bly was one of the more popular writers for men in the 1980s and early ’90s. His book Iron John was a bestseller, but I found his follow-up book on The Sibling Society even more helpful on the historical roots of the mess that men often found themselves in. In it, he addressed issues of fatherlessness and the imprint of generational dynamics left on Boomer men by fathers who came of age during the Depression and World War 2, and who came home as fathers who were typically physically present but emotionally absent.
The key idea in The Sibling Society is that when the older generations are not people that younger generations want to emulate, then the younger ones create connections with their peers as the influential “others” in their life. This action cuts them off from those who could/should call them forth into being adults, which in turn sets them up to extend adolescence and delay maturity. (It can also lead to “Lord of the Flies” type situations where influence by dominant peers leads others into conformity and, ultimately, evil.)
As it turns out, Robert Bly had written the foreword to a revised and updated edition of the monumental research work by Alexander Mitscherlich: Society without the Father: A Contribution to Social Psychology. (If I remember right, this was originally published in the early 1960s in German — my copy is currently hiding in a box somewhere.) Mitscherlich had studied the fallout of the Industrial Revolution, where fathers increasingly abandoned the home, and especially the specific dynamics of what happened in his native Germany after the loss of so many men during two world wars. What had happened to the children of the WW2 years, when a generation of fathers and grandfathers in families — and in society — did not return home? Continue reading