05: Fatherhood cont’d

with one comment

All of these elements suggest that fathering boys is about raising a particular type of individual who thinks and speaks in a certain kind of way. Alluding to our exploration in the previous chapter, for example, James and Thomas mobilize John Gray’s Mars and Venus metaphor to describe the “nature” of boys, which is distilled into three bullet points. “On the whole,” write James and Thomas, “boys tend to be:

  • spatial instead of relational (they understand the lay of the land instead of how things are interconnected)
  • aware of objects instead of faces (they’re more attracted to balls than they are to people)
  • action oriented, as opposed to process oriented (they’re oriented towards movement instead of toward emotions).”

Naturally enough, in order to nurture this essence of boyhood, James and Thomas articulate how men must be present as fathers, citing a number of statistics about how homes lacking fathers are more likely to: be thrust into poverty; diagnosed with asthma; suffer physical and emotional neglect; not excel at school; suffer suicide and behavioral disorders. Much like the mythopoetic men’s movement championed by Robert Bly and his popular book Iron John (which I’ll discuss in the Archetypes chapter), James and Thomas provide “a brief history of Daddydom” which shows how since the industrial revolution men have been progressively drawn away from their home and sons to ever more abstract forms of work, thus creating absent fathers even when families are ostensibly intact. This is what is known as the “father wound” that must be avoided, and recognized by fathers not just in respect to their sons, but also themselves, as identifying and reconciling with their own father wounds is an invaluable part of fathering.

Also akin to Bly’s vision of the men’s movement is James and Thomas’ appeal to the initiation of boys as part of responsible fathering. They state that for initiation to be valuable, it must be costly: “think of a young man joining the Marine Corps. Once he makes it through boot camp, he will always be a Marine.” They cite Richard Rohr’s essay entitled “Boys to Men: Rediscovering Rites of Passage for Our Time,” which claims that initiation must communicate to a young man that: life is hard; you are going to die; you are not that important; you are not in control; and your life is not about you. Such initiation, according to James and Thomas, “shows a boy what is wonderful and beautiful about life.”



Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm

One Response

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  1. Avoiding the father wound = indoctrinating a different sort of “narcissistic” wound: ” your life is not about you”.?
    I can already foresee your further complaints with this doctrine. What about sensitive boys who’d rather play with playdoh for two hours at a stretch at age 2? My son was that boy, and today he is the boy that would rather do techie stuff with techie dad because the two of them are…well, techie individuals. My son is exposed to all sorts of man roles including successful homosexual techie intellectuals. I don’t have an agenda for his outcome, save that he is free of illness and has a wide array of options and security to choose his own path in life, whatever that may be. I was an afficionado of the What To Expect books for early childhood development parenting, and I have extensive professional training and experience working with adolescents. I just don’t see the parameters of “masculinity” being more in force in the healthy shaping of boys’ lives than basic humanistic concerns, and I appreciate your highlighting of other ways of parenting that are maybe not as personally validating.


    July 11, 2013 at 7:07 pm

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