I am using paternity instead of fatherhood because, for me, paternity has a distance living in it. It’s not a cuddly word smelling of aftershave. It doesn’t make me think of being tucked into bed or watching the Thanksgiving turkey being carved. I don’t get sentimental over paternity. I get sober and mature and inquiring.
This is not a sentimental Father’s Day post about Daddy, it is a post to inspire you to look into yourself and find the parts of you that have paternal roots. I suggest four areas to contemplate: inheritance, connection, blessings and problems.
Notice that you are thinking of yourself in your formative years – the first 21 years. As an adult we only need inner fathering.
I share some of my own paternal roots in part to inspire and to model, but also to be transparent and real.
Paternal Inheritance: Biologically, how are you your father’s child? Do you look like your father? Or your father’s father? Did you inherit his digestive system, his ears, his musical ability?
I looked like my father. I sang like my father (danced like my mother). Ate like my father. I suspect my cerebral cortex is like my father’s because my capacity for thinking and questioning, looking at things from unusual perspectives is like his.
I am using the past tense because I have become more myself and less his child even in my biology. The form and functions of my body parts are surprisingly shaped at my current age more by me and less by my genetic roots.
Paternal Connection: How connected were you to your father? Did you have a special affinity with him? How did it shape your sense of relationship to men? Did you trust him? Could you confide in him? Did he respect you?
I was deeply connected to my father. I felt I belonged to him and with him. He understood me because I was like him. (I felt little connection to my mother.)
Yes, I look for my father’s gifts in men. I have found them, but I have also found his difficulties and problems.
Paternal Blessings: What parts of you did your father see, cultivate, appreciate, honor? Did his life choices provide a model for your personal choices? Did he protect you?
My father didn’t actively see me or cultivate, appreciate or honor my talents. He adored me, but I never asked him why or what? He wasn’t around from age 10-17 to bless me because my parents divorced and he lived 1300 miles away from me, rarely wrote or called. He neglected me and our relationship…there is still a hole in my psyche.
I found my father magical in his sense of language, his desire to imagine a better world, and his ability to not let his demons defeat him. His courage helped me find mine.
The dream of him and the connection I felt to him protected me from my very unhappy reality. I was a lost princess holding on to the protective memories of my father’s kingdom.
Paternal Problems: Too much or not enough paternal presence? Too rigid or too indulging? Did his personal challenges and sufferings undermine his paternal responsibilities?
My father wasn’t around to father me when I started to step into the world as an adolescent. He wasn’t present to help me shape my thinking, express and regulate my feelings, or engage my will with focus and success. I couldn’t rebel from any paternal constraints. I couldn’t seek paternal guidance, direction, and discipline.
My father was marginalized and marginalizing and could not find community or social connection. He spoke and wrote articulating his dream of a better world, but never found others to help manifest his vision in any practical way.
I encourage you to imagine your relationship to your father, describe your paternal roots, even briefly, you will find much self-awareness in the effort. Don’t be afraid to let go of sentimentality (or rage) and name the blessings and the problems. Do this with compassion for your father and compassion for yourself.
Dear Reader, When you read my posts you are meeting my father in small ways: my language, my imagination all sparkle with his blessing. I also suspect that my focus on leading others to a vital and mature imagination of self, confident that a new self, self-imagined, will then imagine and manifest the better world and future, stems from seeing his failure to imagine himself in freedom (he could only defend himself and cling to grandiose identities.)