Saturday, April 2, 2016

Hand in Hand

In bright, early spring sun--the kind of day that reassures you, when you live in Canada, that we've all survived another winter--as I coasted my bike up to the door of my office building, just ahead of me, a family of four was walking south: mom and daughter in front, father and nine-year-old son behind, hand in hand, the son a step behind his dad but not, it seemed, in any reluctance at this public show of affection. It caught me in the throat, in the chest, in the gut, as such scenes so often do. I was riveted, and I lingered on the steps for another minute, watching them as they continued on down the street.

I wondered how many months--or perhaps a year at most?--before the invisible wall will most likely start to rise--before it will seem uncool to the boy to do something so childish as hold his father's hand; before it will feel to the father that it's time for his son to man up.

The depth of my reaction had everything to do with my own history, with my own wounds around an emotionally crippled father incapable of reaching out, let alone making it count in a way that I in turn could hold onto. Such a history means that a scene like the one I witnessed yesterday morning sticks to me emotionally, spiritually, and erotically like velcro. It triggers a longing for paternal connection, for receiving nurture from other men and, just as importantly, giving them nurture. It energizes the satisfaction I find in mentoring my graduate students. It goes a long way to explaining why I find it so fulfilling to hold space for another man (or woman) to explore his /her interior life more deeply--and often find it easier than having such a space held for me by someone else. (To borrow a term from our lesbian sisters, you might describe me as a spiritual "soft butch.") It's bound up with my desire to find intentional community among men.  (As when I was mesmerized, and incredibly turned on, at the age of seventeen, watching a documentary about--wait for it--Episcopalian monks in Michigan. Monks. Episcopalian monks. In Michigan.)

There’s an odd way in which I can access the depth of the wound around my father’s unavailability only through the strength of the longings stirred in me by a scene like yesterday morning’s. Someone reminded me earlier this week that somewhere, Freud says something like this: that what cannot be endured is sexualized. Perhaps it’s fair to say as well that what’s too painful to acknowledge consciously is spiritualized. To say that isn’t to undermine the legitimacy of either our spiritual or our erotic longings. But it is an invitation to know ourselves more fully, and to turn our wounds into gifts--as we must, if we’re to live out our calling to the repair of the self and the healing of the world.


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  2. This is a beautiful realization of the search that so many of us are engaged in, the search for union with our lost father. I'm no psychoanalyst, but might it be that our fathers were so intent on playing the breadwinner, the aggressive hunter, the defending warrior, and so determinedly invested in their armour that they found it necessary to repress and deny their own feminine side? So that when they saw us as sensitive boys they were horrified by what we mirrored, and felt it necessary to repress such vulnerability within themselves, and to discredit our very essence? We saw the disappointment that they clearly felt in us, and the guilt that this instilled in us propelled us into a life of soul-searching and introspection, which eventually leads us to the painful sense of separation from our father and a conscious search to reconnect with him. Ultimately though perhaps this is our destiny, and a good one at that, as might it not be that the union all of us - men and women both - truly seek is with that male ("yang") energy from which we sprang, AKA God, the Father of all. As we become conscious of this journey, and accept all the wounded sides of ourselves, may we become more self-loving, self-affirming and at peace, and may these qualities flow naturally through us to others. I think (though I may be wrong) that wounded gay men are better placed to undertake this journey than those who tread a more conventional road. In our yearning is our blessing.

    1. I hear what you're saying about some fathers rejecting in their sons the softness and vulnerability they've repressed in themselves. When that's the case, I'm convinced that it's likely to be the result of their own wounding, whether in boyhood or through later trauma. One point on which I see things differently is that I don't consider the Divine as being any more identifiable with male energy than with female. I'd say that our need to assign gender to God at all is about the conditions of our own embodiment, and we have to be careful not to turn such conceptions into a patriarchal idolatry. The Ground of our Being can never be comprehended in the metaphors we draw from the experience of our own flesh--and yet we go on using those metaphors, as we must, because they're all we have.

    2. Thank you,Andrew, for this thoughtful response!

  3. Fully accept your point about the non-gender-specific nature of the Divine... and anyway I think my theory (linking longing for lost connection with Dad with a yearning for God) was an over-simplification! (Though there are those who suggest that all longing for the elusive "Other" is, deep down, a longing for God - however one defines God.)