I remember hearing a story about a young boy who witnessed the World Trade Towers being hit on 9/11. He saw it from his classroom window and, after his father picked him up, they walked home and the boy drew a picture of what he witnessed. His picture resembled the horror, as well as adding elements (to the drawing) that could save the people from dying. This need to freely express himself, as well as showing compassion for others, says a lot about the living and familial conditions, that influenced his instinctive response, even if in his imagination.
I love how this story provides a glimpse into their relationship with only one moment in time. I imagine if the boy were with his mother, she would have her own unique presence to allow for her child to be safe. But in this story, the father picked him up from school and physically walked home with the child, providing a sense of safety, protection, and care that allowed the child to process the trauma immediately when he got home. I imagine this boy sees his dad today, not perfect, but as his hero.
What happens to the many children that don’t have the paternal presence and consistency that is so essential in early development? Joseph Chilton Pearce says the very biology of transcendence, that moves one towards meaningfulness, is that between the ages of 15-18 years old, if a young person is not presented with some great people or great vision, what sets in is a massive cynicism – because when not presented with a “big picture” then it is a massive dying off of brain cells and (without) this guidance the direction turns backwards.
Parental incompleteness is complicated and often intergenerational, but many of those stories go untold. When families share their stories, and talk about family histories with one another, it can allow for an opening, an understanding of the absence, brokenness, hardness, and distance that influences the “father wound,” so many children and adults suffer from - shaping worthlessness, longing for acceptance, and feeling insecure.
Pearce’s words resonate with me personally, as well as what I’ve witnessed with families I’ve worked with over the years. Seeing both the presence and absence of fathers being able to provide the big picture, in life, has such significant consequences, and (however present or absent the father) is likely a result of their own relationship with their father, or possible father wound.
There’s a powerful story in Dr Meg Meeker’s book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, where she says that “my father spoke a single sentence that changed my life.” Although, she said, it wasn’t his words, it was “his tone, inflection, and confidence,” when she overheard her dad talking on the phone (to his friend) about her. “My father believed something about me that I couldn’t believe in myself. He gave me a belief in myself and always made sure that I knew that he loved me.”
I imagine Dr Meeker sees her dad today, not perfect, but as her hero.