The Father Wound Epidemic
There have been books and conferences on the "father wound" and many of us probably have an idea of what the term is all about. But how do we learn more and what should we do if we have this wound?
Fathers for Good spoke with Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a Catholic psychiatrist who heads the Institute for Marital Healing, who says there's an epidemic of "father wounds".
Fathers for Good: Is “father wound” a clinical term or a descriptive term that covers many psychological issues?
Dr. Fitzgibbons: While the term “father wound” is not an officially recognized clinical term, it is used by many mental health professionals in identifying the origin of numerous emotional and behavioral conflicts in spouses, singles and children. These difficulties can be the result of failing to have a strong, loving and supportive relationship with a responsible father, or as a result of modeling after and then repeating significant weaknesses of the father such as selfishness, excessive anger, emotionally distant behaviors or indifference to the faith.
Fortunately, many men have experienced a relationship with a father who was a strong, firm, reliable and trustworthy and was a protector of their emotional and spiritual lives.
FFG: What are some of the difficulties seen in those with the “father wound”?
Dr. Fitzgibbons: The failure to experience affection and praise from a father results in sadness, anger, weaknesses in confidence and anxiety or mistrust that can emerge at any life stage. For example, married couples can experience unhappiness because the childhood sadness has never been resolved and is unconsciously misdirected with anger at one’s spouse. This conflict has contributed to the present divorce culture.
FFG: With 40 percent of families without a resident father, would you call the “father wound” an epidemic?
Dr. Fitzgibbons: Yes, the “father wound” is a major epidemic in children and young adults in this culture due to the divorce plague and the explosion of children born out of wedlock that now accounts for 40% of births in this country. It is important to understand that many scholars have identified clearly the direct relationship between the contraceptive mentality and divorce and out of wedlock births.
The contraceptive mentality has undermined marital trust, generosity, self-denial and love and has played a major role in the epidemic of selfishness described in the new book, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement. This selfishness driven by the contraceptive mentality has weakened Catholic fatherhood with men no longer having the faith to raise a family of four and five children.
In the young, growing up without a father contributes to serious problems with excessive anger in the home, school and community, poor academic performance, sexual acting-out, difficulties in trusting, substance abuse and depressive and anxiety disorders.
FFG: Clinically, how do you deal with someone who shows anger, hostility or some other negative emotions regarding his father?
Dr. Fitzgibbons: We encourage people to try to see first the goodness in their fathers and to be loyal to that goodness. Then, we recommend trying to understand the different stresses in a father’s life and to think about forgiving him for his weaknesses. Without forgiveness, in John Paul II’s words, one remains a prisoner of one’s past. Also, a man cannot harbor resentment toward his father and have healthy male confidence because every man has modeled after his father. In addition, unresolved anger with a father increases the likelihood of repeating his weaknesses but not his strengths.
Weaknesses in male confidence and sadness can be resolved by growth in faith with an appreciation that one’s male gifts are God-given first and that one has always had another loving father at every life stage in God the Father and the image of his love, St. Joseph.
FFG: On a non-clinical basis, for the average guy, how would you advise someone to deal with negative attitude toward father?
Dr. Fitzgibbons: Again, forgiving our fathers for past hurts is helpful as well as correcting him if he’s doing something in the present that is painful. For example, some younger fathers have discussed with their fathers how disappointed they are with them for giving into cafeteria Catholicism. At the same time it can be beneficial to ask a father for forgiveness for times when one may have hurt him.
Negative attitudes toward a father can also decrease by being thankful for a father’s many God-given gifts, character strengths and abilities.
FFG: How does the “crisis in fatherhood” affect marriages, male-female relationships and children (the next generation)?
Dr. Fitzgibbons: The crisis in fatherhood, particularly in the children of divorce, has led to severe problems in our culture. That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to divorce as a plague. We are witnessing a growing mistrust of the sacrament of marriage coupled with the epidemic of selfishness which has resulted in approximately 80% of young Catholic couples cohabitating before marriage. This fact is truly a crisis because we know that 75% of those who cohabitate will divorce.
The prayer, Ite ad Joseph, “Go to (St.) Joseph”, can help Catholic fathers during this challenging time of intense economic stress and worry, of the collapse of morality and of growing hostility toward the Catholic faith and all that is sacred through the growing dictatorship of relativism.
New pastoral programs are needed in the Church to help Catholic men in their roles as fathers so that they can protect the sacrament of marriage, families, children and strengthen other men as St. Paul recommends…”you in your turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
Here is the text of “Go to Joseph”
To thee, O blessed Joseph, do we have recourse in our tribulation, and having implored the help of thy thrice-holy spouse, we confidently invoke thy patronage also. By that charity wherewith thou wast united to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly affection with which thou didst embrace the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray, that thou wouldst look graciously upon the inheritance which Jesus Christ hath purchased by His Blood, and assist us in our needs by thy power and strength.
Most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, protect the chosen people of Jesus Christ; keep far from us, most loving father, all blight of error and corruption; mercifully assist us from Heaven, most mighty defender, in this our conflict with the powers of darkness; and, even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the supreme peril of His life, so now defend God's holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity; keep us one and all under thy continual protection, that, supported by thine example and thine assistance, we may be enabled to lead a holy life, die a happy death and come at last to the possession of everlasting blessedness in heaven. Amen.