Through a Jungian Lens

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Absence of Fathers and Life Scripts

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On the Mekong River at Phnom Penh in late afternoon

A different river scene for today as I continue on with river photos. This photo was taken in February, 2011 while I was in IndoChina for a month. I was entranced by the light on the water as it created a “crystal” effect.  In the photo, the family of mother and her four children appear so small though they are at the centre of the image. Theirs is a life on the river which feeds them. Where is the father? One can only imagine that the father has some sort of employment that allows the family something more than a subsistence living. In this image he is absent.

Men, as fathers, are often absent in the lives of their children, and that has a powerful affect on the children. A good father in today’s world will find that he gets to be fully present for a couple of hours each day once travel to and from work as well as the hours spent at work are removed from the hours that children are awake. This presents a problem for children. Boys don’t learn enough about how to be a man in the world with the absence of the father, especially if most of the waking hours are spent in the presence of women such as mother and teachers. In the case of fathers who do not take an active presence in the lives of the children, both male and female children suffer wounds of abandonment. Boys suffer more than girls as girls still have the model of mother to show them the pathway to womanhood.

But almost more important than the absence of father is the absence of modelling of relationship, intimate relationship between husband and wife. Both male and female children suffer the same lack modelling behaviour.  What they learn is that “mother” is self-sufficient and can do the role of parenting alone, that a man is not needed, perhaps even superfluous. What they learn is that “father” is untrustworthy, undependable, selfish, uncaring. Of course, there is more to a relationship between a man and a woman that the children do not see, do not experience. Children, with their ego-centric thinking and experiencing of the world with the delusion that they, believe they are responsible for all things going wrong in the world around them because of something they did, thought or failed to do = magical thinking of a child. And so they build in small strategies to keep fear at bay, to control the world (adults) around them in order to somehow stay safe. These little strategies become life scripts which influence their life and relationship patterns once they become adults. The more effort needed to feel safe as a child, the greater the dysfunction will be in adulthood.

As a parent, one must guard against overwhelming a child with “too much” or “too little” as both will result in a child being “overwhelmed” and thus feeling unsafe as though drowning in affect. I know, it is easier said and than done.


2 Responses

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  1. Compelling essay, Robert…makes me think, though, of how much better some of us would have been with the intentional absence of the fathers we had. I understand abandonment and the necessity of a good father in our sons’ and daughters’ lives…but I wonder still. Thank you.


    March 27, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    • The danger in the absence of father is that the male child is overwhelmed with the feminine and cannot learn how to be a man based on the modelling of the present father good or bad as we make choices to be either like or different from our fathers. It is a hard thing to weigh . . .


      April 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm

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