Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day!

Unaccustomed as I am to being presumptuous, today I'm going to speak on behalf of all the fathers that fit within my imagination. On their behalf, and my own, I want to say Thank you! to all those who have made us fathers, especially the mothers of our children and the children themselves. In today's society, were it not for the pleasures and pains of fatherhood, too many men like me would be stuck in an extended period of, not childhood, but childishness, for all of the waking hours of life instead of just most of them.

mural, NE Minneapolis, You were wild once here, don't let them tame you
mural, NE Minneapolis, You were wild once here, don't let them tame you
Photo by J. Harrington

As I vaguely recall, childhood, given half a chance, is a time of wonder and awe and fascination with the world in which we live. It seems more and more these days that too many men are responsible for too many children having less than half a chance at childhood. How many women are active ISIL soldiers? Of today's political leaders in the "developed countries,", most of whom are men, how many are unwilling to accept, let alone welcome, refugee children? Do they really believe children should be used as pawns in political games? Didn't Dante create a special circle on Hell for those who abuse children? And how many of those same "political leaders" have delayed and dawdled before recognizing and beginning to respond to climate change, thereby condemning all earth's children to a childhood in a failing world.

Many years ago, at the time Robert Bly wrote Iron John, I read the media reports of men sitting in a circle, running through the woods and pounding on drums. I've since learned to be a little less trusting of the media's reports on most things. I've also read some of Bly's own words on what he was doing and why. Here's a sample:
The Center for Healing Arts in Los Angeles, the Jung Center in San Francisco, and others asked me to tell fairy stories to groups of men and women and relate them to ordinary life. The best stories for this purpose were from the Celtic clan, the Grimm Brothers, and the Russian collection by Afanasev. Two things became apparent. Women were much more willing to talk about their disasters and delights than the men. Most of the stories that we know—“Snow-White,” “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” “Rapunzel,” “The Goose-Girl,” “Thousandfurs,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Girl without Hands,” “The Goose-Girl at the Well,” “Maid Maleen,” and so on—were of great interest to women. Secondly, the men in these weekend seminars began to ask for a story that was specifically about the stages of masculine development.
When I read that men are the primary perpetrators of all but three of 129 recent mass shootings, I have to give Bly and those who participated with him in men's development exercises more credit than I have. Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong with the way both East and West raise the men who will become tomorrow's fathers. Too many have been, and are being, arrested in development at a sandbox level that believes "might makes right," which probably goes only too well along with "bigger is better," especially when it comes to explosions and mayhem and the size of firearms.

I think that poets like Bly, and writers like Richard Louv, are giving fathers and families the best kind of presence. They're opening doors so men and women, boys and girls, have solid reasons to spend  time together exploring real fields and glades and forests, plus those of fairy tales, so they, and we, can all grow  together and learn how to share failures and successes, joys and sorrows, a love for life, and a tolerance for "others."

Today's wonderful Poem-a-Day from the Academy of American Poets offers guidance to some of what I'm trying to say. It works for son's too. I learned this from my Dad.

Father’s Song

Gregory Orr, 1947

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.

My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.

Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk. 

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