Sean Harland Stats:
June 16, 2002
Father's Day Revisited
from Father’s Day June 2001...
What is it we want from a father? Is it different over time? I know exactly what we want from a mother. We want a mother’s love. It is as simple as that. Her love. Motherly love. There is nothing else like it and nothing can be substituted. Some people seek a mother’s love in a bottle or a pill, sex with strangers and a million other ways. Through the centuries great and mediocre artists alike have sculpted, painted, paper-mached and otherwise assembled the image of Madonna and Child and the pieta (Madonna holding the dying Christ) in an effort to convey the importance of motherly love.
From a mother we want never ending support and encouragement. We want to be wept for, worried about, obsessed over and nagged to death. Just like mother Mary, we want our own mother to think that we are as special as the baby jesus and as spotless as the crucified messiah.
From the father we need something else.
Sticking with the biblical analogy, what did jesus get from his father? God put him to the task. He asked jesus to become the greatest sensation in the world and then let him be put to death. Somehow this sounds pretty par for the course when it comes to dear old dad. Sounds a little like the Joseph Jackson or Murray Wilson (Beach Boys) approach to parenting.
I think their respective prodigies, Michael Jackson and Brian Wilson, would agree, what we need from a father is approval. We want an endorsement from our father that our choices are rock solid.
Some of the most successful and yet unhappiest women and men I know are simply waiting for a father figure to slap them on the back and say, “Well done!” They may be waiting a long time.
Most addiction, self-mutilation, abuse and all those other, terrible things we do to ourselves (and those around us) can be traced back to the basic needs of love and approval. They are separate yet linked. You can have all the mother’s love in the world, but without someone to give you the push you need to get out of the womb and into the world you might just as well stay there.
In college I constantly found myself among people with missing fathers. Studying in a coffeehouse one afternoon with five other students, someone casually mentioned that his father had died when he was young. The table went silent and one by one we discovered that all of us had lost our fathers. We decided to create a “Dead Dads” club, as you can probably guess that was our first and last actual meeting. We all acknowledged that our loss had created a gaping hole in our life. Where this person should have been was an enormous black hole, a giant question mark.
It is not that a mother’s approval is guaranteed or easily won, or even that is not important. It is secondary to that of a father in the same way that the need for his love is secondary. Her love is primal. From birth, a baby instinctively cries for its mother’s arms because she is the source of nourishment, of comfort, of understanding. Next it seeks a father’s eyes for confirmation. These roles are not gender specific; these roles are not created by the mass media or a patriarchal society. This is basic primary and secondary caregiver studies thought up by the likes of Freud and Jung.
And what’s a young person to do with no father and no chance of clouds parting to reveal a big thumbs up to let her know she is doing okay? A brief session of therapy just after college led me to a ridiculously simple conclusion. You have to give it to yourself. And how many times have I seen The Wizard of Oz? I had to learn how to stop looking for it and just give myself permission to make huge decisions, to accomplish great things, to fail miserably and to find the time to acknowledge myself for doing all of these things. Susan, my wonderful though brief analyst, asked me point blank, “What are you waiting for?” To which I had no reply. “Well, if you are waiting for someone to tell you to get on with your life, to buy yourself a car, to change jobs or to do whatever you need to do next. I’m telling you right now, it all sounds good to me. So, get a move on.”