I wanted to do something sweet and endearing about fathers today because, of course, it is Father’s Day. But when I started to think about it, I realized that fathers cause us a lot of trouble. There is something so primal and so deeply seated in us concerning “the father” that we often spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. My work often takes me into those deep underground wells where the father energy flows (or doesn’t flow).
One time I was doing an open introduction to family constellation work at a Native American center. It was an open group and nobody had ever heard of this work before. I introduced the basic process and then asked if there was somebody in the group that would be willing to do a constellation to demonstrate it.
An older Lakota man stepped up. He was probably in his mid-sixties and had a solid, almost tough-guy demeanor about him. I asked the normal questions about the family history and details about what had happened within his family. He told me in a steady voice that his father had died when he was two years old and he had never gotten to know him. Constellation work uses members from the group to “represent” missing or living family members, and so I just selected somebody to represent his father. I stood the representative up in the center of the circle and then led the man to stand in front of his “father” for a moment. The tough Lakota man stood and looked at the other man and suddenly his whole demeanor changed. His body softened, his eyes filled with tears, and then he started sobbing almost uncontrollably. Buried within his body was a deep, almost primal grief and longing for his father. The man who was representing the father was amazing. He gently took the old man in his arms and just held him and let him cry. Nearly everybody in the circle cried with him–many experiencing or recognizing a similar grief and loss within their own souls.
When his grief was spent, the two men sat down again. I could tell that the older man was a little embarrassed at his “outburst.” I could tell that he was stunned at the power of the emotion that had been buried inside of him.The group was amazing–we did a circle and each person thanked him deeply for being willing to share this moment with them.
As a facilitator, this isn’t always what you want to happen in a basic intro to the work, but it is what came forward, and I just gently and respectfully dealt with it.
In reality, constellation work has taught me over the 17 years of studying it and doing it, that no matter what story we tell ourselves about how the father was a bad man, a sad man, a mean man, an absent man, a working man, an unknown man there is still some very young and vulnerable part within us that yearns for the love of a father and grieves deeply when he is absent in any way.
My constellation teacher, Bert Hellinger, saw that early in his work. Both parents are primal energies that bring life into being. It is spiritual, it is physical, it is psychological–and it is complicated.
I remember one time many years after my own father had passed away, I was attending the funeral of another distant family member when I looked up and sitting in the church a few pews away from me was my father’s brother, my uncle, and his son and grandson. This particular uncle looked a lot like my dad and suddenly I saw in all three profiles my father at different ages. It was like being stabbed–the grief came up so quickly and powerfully. I started sobbing but it wasn’t for the deceased–it was longing for my father.
I’m one of the lucky ones–especially today. I grew up with a strong relationship with my father. I knew that he loved me. I knew that he didn’t always like what I was doing, but he loved me. Somehow this strengthens the earth beneath my feet, a bit of bedrock even. I’m so sad for all the people I have met and worked with that have not been as fortunate. I see their grief even when they have distorted it into anger, busyness, addiction, depression . . . I see the small child behind it all that simply wants his or her father to see them. And behind a mean, bad, angry dad, I also see that small child behind him who simply wants the love and connection to his father.
Like I said, fathers are complicated.
What seems to work best both in constellation and even for me personally in life, is to consider the “father” not as a physical being but as an energy or spiritual force that rests behind you and connects you through eons of time to the father and grandfather energies. This puts the bedrock beneath our feet. Hellinger once spoke eloquently about the difference between the “blind love of a child” and the “enlightened love” of an adult. As long as we stay locked in blind love, we can’t see that a parent was, himself or herself, once a child and damaged by the very forces that may have damaged us. Instead we see them only through child eyes filled with pain, longing, and loss.
Once we stand firm in our adulthood and see the parent as the child he or she was, we grow compassion and respect–and are able to fill in the longing with a bigger energy, one that becomes a resource rather than an empty reservoir. I have seen people create strong links that bring strength and energy when they can stand in the long line of ancestral energy and realize that this lineage cannot be broken ever–not by adoption, addiction, death . . . it is ours. It is not easy to accept or recognize this when our personal negative narratives have developed over many years, but it is the path to healing.
Yes, I was going to do something sweet with words that read like a father’s day card, but there you are. Instead this could be a book!
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And happy Father’s Day.
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