It is said that “Any man can father a child, but it takes a real man to be a dad.” To be a dad, as opposed to being just a father, means to be in a healthy and life-giving relationship with one’s offspring. Siring children is an easily accomplished biological function, but raising children and having a sound relationship with them is quite a feat of human endeavour.
Some of the reasons why men fail to be fathers include immaturity, irresponsibility, lack of personal drive and motivation to face up to the consequences of one’s sexual activities. Other men fail to be dads because they are in jail, are in a difficult labour situation or lack resources. Historical factors such as slavery, colonialism and apartheid have militated against fatherhood.
Those whose fathers were helpfully present tend to do better in all aspects of their development. Those whose fathers were not present and/or abusive and manipulative, tend to be prone to a multitude of dysfunctions in their lives.
The quality presence of a father is critically important in the psychosexual development of both boys and girls. Boys learn from their father how to be a “man” and how to relate in a healthy manner to other men and to women. Girls learn from their father how to relate to men in a healthy way, to distinguish between “good” and “bad” touching from a positive experience of being touched in a loving, but non-sexual manner by their father. A girl whose father modelled good bodily contact will be able to know, fairly quickly, when contact with a male begins to encroach sensitive boundaries.
Boys who were abused by their fathers and saw their fathers abuse their mothers and other women, will most likely turn out to be abusers themselves. Girls whose fathers were not helpfully present and or abusive, may develop a proneness to abusive relationships with males.
Today psychologists talk about the “father-wound” – the sum total of the negative experiences that individuals accumulate from the relationship, or lack thereof, with their father. Even if the father has been present and caring, there is a wounded-ness that comes from relating with one’s father. The father wound is testimony to the fundamental truth that fatherhood is not easy, and fathers are not perfect. No matter how hard a man may try to be a good father, there is a wound that he inflicts on his children. If men who try hard to be dads, still inflict the father wound, what more those who are negligent of this important human duty?
So, we all carry deep in our hearts a wound inflicted on us by our father. This wound affects the quality of our relationships with people of the opposite sex and with our children. It also affects our physical health and mental wellbeing.
Men become fathers in their own right while this wound is still unhealed or unacknowledged. Across generations, there has been a successive handing down of the unhealed father-wound – resulting in an ever diminishing confidence and esteem in fatherhood.
Fortunately, the father wound can be healed by a healthy fathering experience – even of children who are not necessarily one’s biological progeny. Any healthy relationship with a father, or a child, is good for your father-wound. Even if your own biological father is dead, and if you do not have biological children of your own, you can still have therapeutic relationships with father figures and child figures, which will heal your father-wound.
We can all begin our healing one heart at a time by opening our hearts to a father or a child figure, with whom we will begin to relate in a nurturing and life-giving manner. We were wounded by our father whose touch hurt, so a father, whose touch soothes can heal us. If we have wounded our own child by neglecting, abandoning or abusing them, we can be healed of that hurt by caring, nurturing and safeguarding the many children around that remain vulnerable and needy. – Father William Guri is a Catholic Priest based in Harare, involved in leadership and pastoral ministry. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.Post published in: Faith