Hero to Zero?

When our children are little, they usually hold their fathers in a state of awe. They admire our strength, our power and authority, and want to spend as much time with us as they can. They are excited when we come home from work and they enjoy the different type of play we engage in when compared to their mother. They see us as a hero figure.

Fast forward a few years, and especially if you find yourself divorced, all of this may turn on its head. Demonisation by the mother, coupled with exclusion from input, guidance and disciplinary involvement inexorably leads to soft choices on their behalf and a lack of accountability that even further marginalises the role of the father- which, in the mythologist Joseph Campbell’s opinion is to challenge the child to maturity. So the divorced dad very quickly seems to fall from being a hero, to a zero.

Both Campbell and the psychologist Carl Jung (and more recently, Jordan Peterson) contend that the role of the father in challenging the young person to transcend the comforts and ease of childhood into adult, responsible maturity is crucial, otherwise they remain in a naïve, Peter Pan type of mentality, not able to rise effectively to the great challenges of life.

And yet, there is also the father to consider – who himself needs to grapple with the realisation that he is no longer the hero he used to be, nor has he had the satisfaction of challenging and molding the child into an enlightened and competent hero in and of themselves, by sharing in the benefit of his experience and wisdom. Many fathers suffer from depression, despondency and hopelessness at having no further influence beyond the transactional demands placed on them for economic support. Something that they previously carried with pride and dignity as providers, but now are relegated to nothing more than an exploitable resource.

Joseph Campbell comforts us by reminding us that a critical point on the developmental journey of an individual is the “atonement with the father”, which is unavoidable if there is to be growth and maturity. Unfortunately for many modern fathers, this junction point may take years, or decades before the child realises they must face that transition.

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