It is indeed a truism to say that one can choose one's friends but one cannot choose one's family. Another truism is that we are trained and educated to do most things in our lives while there is little or no training in parenting. We learn to relate to others in a hit and miss fashion, by trial and error. Likewise we learn to bring up our children for the most part without any courses of preparation. It seems that in such personal matters we prefer to "play it by ear" as it were. Granted, in these more sophisticated days, there are psychological "gurus" like Dr. Phil who even has his own show on TV and, needless to say, his own web page offering all kinds of practical advice to harassed parents and equally harassed children. See this link here: Dr Phil. Getting a handle on relationships has since the beginning of the twentieth century been an American preoccupation. The United States is the home of the now world-wide Self-Help and Popular Psychology movement.
In today's post I wish to explore a little the notion of the quest for father which a lot of us feel we need to make in life as part of our pursuit for our own identity. Let me explain further. This academic year I will be redefining myself at the age of fifty as I am going into resource education after twenty eight years of teaching academic subjects and will be starting out on a four year course to train as a psychotherapist. As one of my own favourite psychiatrists, Dr.Carl Jung has said, for the first half of our lives we set about achieving as much as we can and then we begin to question ourselves, what we have achieved and where we are going - essentially what is the meaning of life as we have made it for ourselves. This quest is a quest for identity which can be broken down into smaller quests like - the quest for Mother, the quest for Father, the quest for Self, the quest for the Puer or Puella within us. We find as we grow older that we have to begin to "parent" or "re-parent" ourselves, to nurture the little boy or the little girl within us. The sentence before last contains in bolded italicised script what Carl Gustave Jung calls the archetypes which live within the collective unconscious. I shan't attempt to define these terms here as they will distract from my main intention, namely an exploration of our individual quest for father.
I'll begin with a short quotation. In a wonderful book entitled Reclaiming Father by Benig Mauger (Soul Connections, Dublin, 2004) we read these clear wise words:
As a Jungian psychotherapist, I see father as an archetypal masculine force, which, like the the archetypal feminine, is present in us all, and is not gender related. My 'animus' therefore could be described as my inner man [Benig obviously is a woman - according to Jungian categories the man has a female soul element called the 'anima' while the woman has a male soul element called the 'animus']. He will have been formed through my experience of my father, and to a lesser extent my brothers and all the males in my extended family. My image of the masculine or the father will act as a soul model. In this respect, the book looks in detail at the masculine spirit in women as well as men. And since this masculine is handed down to us through our fathers, it is necessary to look at the formative influence a father has on his children. (Op.cit., 10)
I will write a review of this book later in these posts. What put this particular post "Quest for Father" to the front of my mind was my recent reading of the two memoirs by Hugo Hamilton, both of which I have reviewed recently in these pages. Essentially both those memoirs were his attempt to come to terms with his relationship with his dead father. Also at school I have dealt with young adults who have had and still have conflicted relationships with their father. Often, I have found some few angry young men who railed openly against the absent father. I remember one young lad saying to me: "If I met my father now I'd kill the fucker!" This father had abandoned his wife and son very early in the marriage. Another boy who was adopted and who had caring adoptive parents still wondered did his parents love him and who his biological father was. Over nearly thirty years in a classroom I find the numbers of pupils from broken homes growing. Another boy, whose father is separated from his mother, told me simply, "I don't like my father!" Then, there are boys who have lost their fathers to death. This is so hard on them - grief is never easy. Fathers can be absent in many ways - through death, through separation, through indifference, through alcoholism, through mental problems etc.
In the next post I'll attempt a character sketch of Hugo's father as delineated in his wonderful two memoirs. I'll attempt also to analyse my own quest for the father archetype. This double journey will be good for me as a writer and as a would-be psychotherapist or "soul healer" or "soul maker" to use John Keats wonderful phrase. Alla prossima volta!
Above I have iploaded a picture of my father taken in 1930 when he was only seventeen.