What do I mean by the term fathering yourself?
Many men grow up with absent fathers. Some dads are physically absent, and others are emotionally so, are distracted from their child by work, their own grief, rage or substance misuse, and spend little real quality time with them, and when they do, still spend time on their phone or other distractions from intimacy, rather than actually engaging emotionally or listening to their child.
Many men and boys have experienced absentee fathers on different levels, and this can lead to a sense of loss, of wounded-ness, and of an aching grief for a more fundamental connection, soulful guidance and deep wisdom that simply was not there.
Many men therefore understandably turn to women for their emotional support, programmed as we are from an early age to see women as reliable, present, emotional, nurturing (even when many… are not).
But what many will still feel the lack of is what our father’s couldn’t or wouldn’t impart.
One way to begin to fill that void is to ask ourselves what those things were, and go and both outsource them, and also give them to ourselves.
We might come up with a “shopping” list… “What I really, really wanted from my dad was… listening, affection and cuddles, quality time, wisdom, good information, company with an elder, the simple comforting sound of a deep male voice, story and lore, words of encouragement, affirmation and support.”
Some of these we can give ourselves.
Daily writing and speaking affirmations are a wonderfully powerful way to give ourselves words of encouragement and support. The power of positive affirmation can never be overestimated. Thinking about what you wished your father had said to you, (e.g. I love you; You’re a wonderful son; I’m so proud of you ; I’m so glad you’re in my life; You have beautiful eyes; You are Beautiful… And many many more you can think of) and saying, writing them to yourself, regularly, 15 mins daily perhaps… is a super-strong reminder that, now, the person we most need to love ourselves is ourselves, our inner father. We must become our own really best and most loving dad.
We can also give ourselves a good degree of listening, again sometimes through writing and journalling;
Affection through non-sexual self touch, bathing and pampering, leisurely hair brushing, slow conscious and sensual (not sexual) dressing and undressing, enjoying one’s bed and the feel of fabrics or water on our skin.
Quality time and company: Just taking time to be with ourselves alone, going for a walk, or a date, the cinema, a meal…. with ourselves! Knowing that you’re OK to be with. Your own company is good.
Story and being read to: Well, of course reading to ourselves is a great way to access an endless supply not just of wonderful and inspiring stories, but also of men who have written them, great wise and insightful male characters within them and, with stories that are older, the all important sense of connection down the ages to our ancestors. Going to storytelling workshops or performances or even festivals is a also great experience, something you can give… to yourself. Film and theatre are of course additional user friendly story-times.
Food and being fed? Eating really well and looking after your body is a very tangible and real way we can look after & parent ourselves. Eating crap and misusing substances is a great way to extend a sense of loss, grievance and self pity. Having an inner father who demonstrates the will and self discipline to make sure you eat your veg and fruit and look after your wonderfully beautiful body is a very grounding and physical way to know someone (you!) is really on your side. Your brain chemistry will also be bathed in nutrients rather than toxins and your morale and mental health will be hugely boosted as a result.
Other aspects will need to be outsourced perhaps, but never by manipulation. Always as an exchange, so that we know we are giving it, cleanly, to ourselves and more importantly have the power to do so. So rather than unconsciously or consciously manipulating another person to become our surrogate father figure…..If we seek a father figure for words of wisdom, or advice… we can pay to go on workshops with great male teachers, attend the myriad of men’s conferences or festivals.
If we need loving contact and touch, we can seek and pay for therapeutic massage.
If we seek, daily in the home, the wonderful honey-flowing sounds of a wise male voice, we can pay for and listen to audio CD’s of Robert Bly or other men’s movement speakers, or men who speak and teach brilliantly about those things that matter to us (from car maintenance to Mozart, from woodworking to dance, from acting to architecture).
If we need even more listening, and who can say they don’t, then paying for therapy is one very powerful way to give it to yourself.
We can also seek to attend male mentoring programmes (if we fit the bill) created by organisations such as A Band of Brothers. And we can find and attend a men’s group or set one up.
Of course we can still get (and give) hugs from friends (male and female), still chat and have company with them, still ask them to listen to some of your “stuff”, and still enjoy the informal company of older men, elders and friends. As long as we don’t ever expect them, or subtly demand them, to fill any voids.
In the end, we have a choice… an empowering choice… to let go of needing our fathers to be what they simply couldn’t and will never be, and to then decide what to do next. The next best option (or even the best option) is to go self sufficient and to be the very, very best dad you can ever be…. to yourself!
By Jonathan Brown