Reclaiming Father

‘James lost his father as a small boy. A creative man, he has a tendency to drift and cannot seem to settle down. Daniel is a poet struggling with his sexual identity, whilst Isabel is a woman in love who despairs about her relationships. Georgina falls for one Peter Pan after the other and Mark is still searching for his ideal woman’.

So read the press release of Reclaiming Father, back in 2004. When I wrote this book I was concerned with examining the role of the father in an age where he was largely neglected. Drawing on my work and experience as a Jungian psychotherapist and birth teacher my aim was also to reveal the wounds that could result from ‘absent fathering’.

Seven years later, the collective ‘father hunger’ was still evident from a conference I presented at titled Healing the Father Wound. It is safe to say that today many people continue to suffer from problems related to their relationship (or lack of relationship) with a father.

Even if not physically absent, father’s presence may not be adequately experienced resulting in a weak masculine image in both men and women. To understand what this means, we need to look at father’s role in the psychological development of his child. All of us have been fathered. But we must not only think of the personal father, but also the greater influence on the psyche of the masculine and the archetype of father. The impact of the father on the psyche is as deeply archetypal as the mother. There are several archetypes of the masculine such as Wise Man, King, Warrior, Lover, and how each of these will be constellated in our psyche will depend on how our own fathers humanized the archetype for us - in other words, how we experienced him.

If your father was a remote figure then you may have a hunger for him or for his energy as an inner force in your psyche (men and women share a need for the energy of the masculine as well as the feminine in order to feel whole). Our relationship with our mothers and fathers in early life lays down the template for all future relationships. And just as our mothers and fathers humanize the archetypes of mother and father for us, so their image remains in our soul and go on to form our Anima and Animus, architects of our love relationships. Father mediates the inner masculine and mother the inner feminine and it is the balance of both these energies that go to form the inner marriage and the way we are in love relationships.

So what does a father bring to his child that is different to the mother? Father is responsible for helping the child negotiate the world. This means that father is necessary to break the primary relationship with mother so that the child can move away and begin to negotiate the world as a separate individual. Father also brings protection and boundaries. We usually think of the mother as the person who provides protection for the child, but the father’s protection is of a different quality. Take the analogy of a bird’s nest - the nest has a double container, one inside the other, mother represents the inner layer, soft and nurturing and the father represents the outer edges of the nest, connected to both the inner sanctum and the outer world. A child grows and develops in the womb and is protected there from the demands of being in the world. After birth the child still needs the protection of the mother while he or she gradually develops sufficient resources to stand-alone. At that point the father comes in as a helper. He helps the child loosen his ties with the mother and begin to take his own steps in the world.

It has been said that father’s love is more ‘conditional’ than the mother’s or harder if you will, something that is necessary to help the child grow up and not remain infantile. All evidence shows that boys in particular who do not grow up with the active presence of a father tend to remain ‘mother bound’. Remaining emotionally tied to mother can make it difficult for a man to form a strong relationship with a woman going forwards. And for girls, father helps us with the formation of our boundaries so that we will be able to ‘hold our own’ in relationships. Without a strong father we may remain trapped in the mother complex. Father is also connected with strength, self-belief and confidence, and again, studies indicate that boys in particular who have not been adequately fathered will have difficulty setting goals and tend to be disorganized. Such men often fear the feminine because they don’t feel strong enough to stand next to her as an equal but rather ‘fall into her’. This fear and a frail inner masculine may be at the root of a misogynistic mindset where all things feminine must be kept at bay for fear of being engulfed. Additionally, the Christian tradition we have inherited tends to spiritualize the masculine as ‘God the Father’, perhaps perpetuating the myth that the feminine is somehow inferior. The spiritualized masculine is one end of a polarization and divorce of feminine from masculine, and matter from consciousness, which has been and still is harmful to our society and lives.

Father is also equated with the development of consciousness, in that a discriminating factor is necessary to help us break out or differentiate from matter (mother). Jungian analyst and author ML Von Franz reminds us that a woman’s primary psychological task is to relate to her animus, and a man’s his anima. Father gives us a sense of perspective and the ability to see the bigger picture. A certain amount of ‘father energy’ makes it easier for us not to be overwhelmed by our emotions. This does not mean that father is not about heart, he is, but it is a different type of energy that is complementary to the feminine/mother. He is the inner King in a child’s psyche and for a boy the anticipation of his own masculinity. Looking to him for guidance, the boy sees in his father the man he will become. This is why unfathered boys have more difficulty embodying their masculinity. And since father also represents order and structure, unfathered boys/men have been shown to have a tendency to be disorganised, unstructured and have a poor ability to focus towards a goal.

Father represents the world of moral commandments and prohibition. He is invested with authority  and stimulates in the child a desire to fight, to conquer, to strive. Internalised he represents our strength and self-belief. If he is wounded or disempowered, or if he is subservient to a domineering wife/mother, then the child will be more likely to have a wounded masculine or animus.

Father also represents difference and ‘otherness’; he is the ‘third’ apart from the original two (mother and child). And it is very important to the healthy emotional development of a child to know that he/she is not the central person in his/her mother’s life- father is there.  Father is a teacher in the world of things, thoughts, the outer world. He helps the child find his way out of the forest and into the world. A good internalised father gives a sense of having wings and the ability to fly-symbolic of our spiritual natures. It is said that father’s energy gives us focus, clarity and insight so we can see the ‘bigger picture’.
If the guidance of the father archetype is missing the result is confusion. Father hungry adults have a tendency to be confused and have difficulty ordering their inner and outer lives (and saying ‘no’).

For the boy, father activates sameness and gender identity since the father archetype is the archetype of masculine initiation. Additionally, it is from his father that a boy will learn how to love a woman and since all children have a tendency to live out the ‘unlived lives of their parents’, a child may carry his father’s shadow. Father’s relationship with his Anima will influence the emotional development of the boy and his future capacity to have intimate relationships with women.

It is important to realise that the father archetype has an inherent polarity – Jung characterised this with the dichotomy of the archetypes Senex / Puer. One end of this embodies the Senex (Old Man) energy giving strength and endurance. At the other end is the Puer (Eternal Boy / Peter Pan) energy, which embodies freedom from restriction and the ability to break out of the mould. Unfathered men often have a strong Puer energy because there is no strong internal father to temper it. Puers often prefer to ‘play’, remaining boys at heart they do not want to grow up.

Puers are strangely attractive to women but inclined to break their hearts since they are also frequently mother-bound and have a reluctance to commit. A man with a strong Puer and weak Senex energy will often have a complicated relationship to the feminine. He may idealise her but lacking strong internal boundaries, when he is in love he may fear losing himself to his lover.
Love will frequently be equated with danger and with pain-on both sides since for women who love ‘unfathered’ men, their lover is almost destined to disappoint them, precisely because we project our father complex onto the men in our life. We dress our lovers in the robes of a King and then wonder why he doesn’t fill them! When we suffer from a father hunger it gnaws at our soul and is given life in our relationships, and the fact that it can be so powerful is precisely why it warrants more investigation.

About the author: 

Benig Mauger is a Jungian psychotherapist, writer and speaker in private practice in Ireland. Author of Songs from the Womb, Reclaiming Father, and Love in a Time of Broken Heart-Healing from Within, she is a pioneer in human consciousness and travels internationally to lecture and run workshops. She has featured on TV and radio and she is published in Germany, U.S.A., Greece, Russia, and Britain. Her work is featured on her website