Kevin B. Burk, author of The Relationship Handbook: How to
Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life.
One of the differences between modern astrology
and classical astrology is which parent is associated with which
house. In modern astrology, the mother is associated with the
4th house, while the father is associated with the 10th house.
In classical astrology, the reverse is true. In classical astrology,
the father is associated with the 4th house, which represents
our foundation, our connection to our past and our ancestors,
and how we are anchored in the world. The mother is linked to
the 10th house of our life path, and how we express ourselves
as individuals in society.
Iím so drawn to classical astrology because
it gets so many things right. The father belongs in the 4th house.
In our culture, in our society, our fathers are the ones that
show us how to live in the world. Our fathers give us our foundation
and provide us with support. Our mothers teach us how to be in
society; our fathers teach us how to be in the world.
To many of you, this may seem terribly politically
incorrect. But the truth is that most of us are hard-coded with
our beliefs about the roles our parents were meant to play. I
know I am. Much as I do believe in equality for all humans, much
as I know that gender roles are largely irrelevant, this truth
stops short of my parents. Weíre no longer talking about men and
women, weíre talking about Mom and Dad.
We may, in fact, be dealing with archetypes: The
Mother and The Father. No matter what roles society has created
for Dad, whether he goes to work to support the family or stays
home to support the family, he embodies the Father archetype for
us. He is the protector and the provider. He is the hero, the
king, the God. He takes on a powerful, mythological role, and
whether or not he is able to embody that role, his destiny is
linked to it. He must eventually suffer the same fate of every
hero, king and God. We build up our idols only to tear them down
again in the end. When we understand this, we can begin to appreciate
the triumph and the tragedy inherent in fatherhood.
The more I explore the question of fatherhood and
our relationships with our fathers, the less objective I become.
My intention when I write is to connect with as many individuals
as I can by addressing bigger concepts and sharing my personal
perspective on them. Iím usually able to stay close to universal,
spiritual and metaphysical principles that I know to be true,
and when I explore an idea or observation that may only apply
to me, I generally identify it as such.
I donít have that perspective here. I canít talk
about our relationships with our fathers objectively, because
all I know is my relationship with my father. My relationship
with my father is without question, the most significant relationship
in my life. Itís definitely been the most complex and challenging
relationship for me (and Iím sure it hasnít been a walk in the
park for my father, either). This particular relationship is so
inexorably linked with my relationship with myself, with who I
believe I am, with how I am in the world, that I find it very
difficult to use it to explore relationships with our fathers
Be warned then, that my thoughts, ideas and ramblings
are entirely biased and lack perspective. They are unable to escape
the gravitational pull of my own relationship with my father.
And, if Iím to be perfectly honest, they represent an attempt
to make sense of this relationship, to place it in a larger perspective;
to heal it a bit, perhaps. I hope that my sharing my personal
experiences with this relationship may provide insight or support
to others in strengthening their relationships with their fathers.
But mainly, I hope that in some way, this article helps me to
understand my father on a deeper level, and perhaps helps him
to understand me on a deeper level as well.
One challenge I anticipate is that this article
will not connect with women in the way that it will connect with
men. Boys have an entirely different relationship with their fathers
than girls do. I think this is much less the case with mothers.
Mothers teach their children the same things regardless of their
gender. Fathers, however, teach different lessons to their sons
than they do to their daughters. These lessons have little to
do with gender, and everything to do with archetypes. Fathers,
remember, teach us how to be in the world. Our fathers teach us,
consciously and unconsciously, what it means to be a Man and what
it means to be a Woman. (Mothers teach their daughters how
to be a woman, but Fathers teach their daughters what being a
woman in the world means.)
Itís often said that a girlís relationship with
her father is the single most influential factor in her adult
romantic relationships with men. I canít speak to this personally,
for obvious reasons, although Iíve had many straight women friends
discuss this theory at length. I wonder, however, how this relationship
influences women who are not interested in a romantic relationship
with a man. Do beliefs that ďall men leaveĒ or ďmen are responsible
for protecting and providing for usĒ cross gender roles and influence
our romantic relationships regardless of the gender of our partner?
Iím not even qualified to hazard a guess.
The fact remains that girls have very different
relationships with their fathers than boys do. Girls love and
idolize their fathers in different ways and for different reasons.
Every son initially idolizes his father. His father
is his hero, his protector, his role model. His father is what
he will become one day. A son only sees the perfection in his
father. To the son, the father is God. A sonís love for his father
is pure, and trusting, and this is very intoxicating. When a father
basks in his sonís love, he almost becomes the hero his son believes
him to be. He can believe that he is good, and powerful, and most
importantly, he can keep his son safe from harm. To the son, the
father is infallible and invincible, and capable of amazing feats
This may last for three years, or five, or seven,
but at some point things will change. At some point, every son
discovers his father is flawed, human, and fallible. At some point,
every son realizes that his father might not, in fact, be able
to beat up your father. Sometimes this shock is mild, and other
times it is truly traumatic. But it is inevitable, and once it
occurs, the relationship will never be the same. Itís not that
the relationship will necessarily become strained or difficult;
only that the quality of the relationship will change. The innocence
is lost and the magic is gone.
Hard as this moment is for the son, I believe that
itís even harder for the father. In fact, the fear of the devastating
pain of this moment may be so great that it causes many fathers
to push their sons away from them, to limit and filter their sonsí
love so that when the quality of that love inevitably changes,
it will not be so painful.
I donít know when this moment occurred for me.
My father probably knows, on some level, but I donít think I could
ever ask him about it. I donít remember much about my early relationship
with my father, although I can see it in family photographsóone
in particular, of my father and I at the beach, where my love
and admiration for him is so tangible it almost casts a shadow
in the photo. I remember him singing to me at night (ďWaltzing
MathildaĒ and ďJimmy Crack CornĒ), with me on his lap in an old
rocking chair. But these are the only memories I have of the time
when he was still my hero.
I have no idea how old I was when my father failed
to live up to my expectations of him (or, for that matter, when
I first failed to live up to my fatherís expectations of me).
The timing is largely irrelevant; what matters is that from that
point on, our expectations of each other got in the way of us
enjoying the kind of open, accepting, loving relationship that
we each desperately wanted.
I believe this to be a universal truth. We each
expect that our personal father will successfully embody the archetypal
Father. We expect that our fathers will be all-powerful and all-knowing;
that they will always be able to protect us, that they will automatically
know exactly how to support us. We expect them to know when we
need discipline and when we need a friend; when we need boundaries
and when we need to be indulged.
We hold our fathers to an impossible standard,
and then blame them when they fail. As children, and even as adults,
we fail to appreciate the burden of fatherhood. The archetypal
myths of fatherhood always involve tragedy and loss; the father
is always defeated, always reduced, often by the son. Often, the
tragic flaw in the father hero is not even his own; often, the
flaw is something he inherited from his father.
What makes this burden even heavier is that our
fathers are meant to be the heroes in our story, not theirs.
When a man becomes a father, he steps out of his own story and
into the story of his son. He is responsible for clearing the
path, for introducing his son to the heroís journey, and there
is magic and power and joy in this task. But there is also a price:
When a man becomes a father and paves the way for his sonís journey,
he is prevented from completing his own journey. His son will
take over the story, and the father may never know how it ends.
And whatís even worse is that the sonís journey may be so different
from the fatherís that the father despairs of his sacrifice. If
the son doesnít complete what the father started, what was the
point of the fatherís journey in the first place?
I donít want to paint too bleak of a picture of
my relationship with my father. There have always been parts of
the relationship that have been spectacular. My father has an
incredible sense of humor, and my own sense of humor was nurtured
and developed by himósomething for which I am eternally grateful.
My father encouraged and shared my love of the theatre, and was
completely supportive of my educational goals. And, if my father
was not my father and I met him socially, I would very much enjoy
his company. On the whole, Iím incredibly fortunate that my father
is my father. Iíve never once wished it were otherwise, no matter
how angry or frustrated I was at him. Itís just that our relationship
has always beenÖcomplicated.
And perhaps thatís the pointÖperhaps ďcomplicatedĒ
describes everyoneís relationship with his (or her) father. Our
parents are some of our most powerful teachers in life, which
frequently creates periods of ďcomplicationsĒ in our relationships
with them. This could well be a universal truth; however, I experience
it on such a personal level that I lack the perspective to know.
I believe that fathers long for sons because raising
a son gives them the chance to parent the little boy inside them.
They want to be the father to their son that they wish their father
had been to them. I believe this to be true for others, because
it has always been true for me. I simply have the courage to admit
itóand it takes considerable courage, because there is a great
deal of emotion, much of it painful, tied up in this desire.
For as long as I can remember, Iíve wanted to be
a parent. Specifically, I want to raise a son. This desire is
somewhat complicated by a number of factors in my life, not the
least of which is that Iím very attached to the idea of a biological
child. Iím not interested in adopting or becoming a foster parent.
At the present time, raising a child would be impractical for
me (and thatís putting it very mildly), so I simply hold this
intention for my future. But I also have to acknowledge whatís
behind this desire and recognize how insidious of a trap it is.
If I had a son, and set out to be the father to
him that I wanted my father to be to me, I would be screwing up
at least two relationships (my relationship with my son and my
relationship with my father), and ensuring that this cycle of
frustration continued for yet another generation. When I do have
a son, I intend to do my level best to be the father to him that
he needs me to be, not the father that I needed my father to be
to me. (I fully accept that Iíll still fall short of my sonís
expectationsóthatís part of what being a father is about. Even
so, I believe itís a more healing and supportive intention.) In
the meantime, itís my own responsibility to be the father I wanted
to my inner child, and to forgive my own father for not living
up to my expectations of what he should have been.
My father was the best father he knew how to be
(and still is). Iíve never questioned his love or support. The
issue is, and has always been, that the ways in which he supports
me are not always the ways in which I want or need to be supported.
In any number of important areas, he and I do not speak the same
Iíve tried to understand my father as a man. My
grandfather (my fatherís father) died before I was born, so I
never new him. The last time I was in town visiting my family,
I asked my father to tell me about my grandfather, and his relationship
with him. I wanted to try to understand my father more; to appreciate
why he made some of the choices he made in his life. It was a
nice conversation, but on some level, I was disappointed by it.
I suppose I was expecting some revelation, some story that would
put my entire life, my entire relationship with my father into
sharp relief. I was hoping for an answer, even though Iím not
sure I could articulate the nature of the question.
Part of the challenge was that I didnít feel that
I could be up front with my father about my motives for that conversation.
I couldnít tell him that I was, and am, working on healing our
relationship as part of my own spiritual growth, and that I wanted
to understand him better. I suspect he knew that then (and he
certainly knows it now), but this just felt like another area
where he and I donít share a common language. I know that we both
experience our emotions very deeply; however, I process my emotions
externally and need to express them, while he processes his emotions
internally and rarely expresses his. This has been a source of
frustration for me (and for my mother, who, like me, processes
her emotions externally). I respect that this is how my father
is, and love him for it. Even so, it makes forming new connections
with himóparticularly after all this timeórather challenging.
Byron Katie, in her truly outstanding book, Loving
What Is, describes a process that allows us to investigate
our attachments and beliefs that are at odds with reality, and
therefore create large amounts of optional suffering in our lives.
For me, one of the most powerful beliefs that Iíve had to question
and release is that belief that my father should understand me.
This belief has caused me tremendous pain and suffering over the
course of my life, and releasing it (which is an ongoing process
for me right now) has been a powerful and life-altering experience.
When I let go of these expectations, and accept
that itís okay if my father doesnít understand me (not to mention
the fact that I canít absolutely know for certain that he doesnít
understand me, because he just might), Iím free to simply love
my father for who he is. I do know that there are parts of my
life that he does not want to know about, and I still hold expectations
and judgments about this that create a certain amount of suffering
in my life; however, I also know that I can release these expectations
whenever I choose to.
I am who I am, in ways I canít even begin to understand
or appreciate, because of my father. My values, my integrity,
my sense of duty and responsibility, not to mention my sense of
humor, all come from him. I am the man I am today because of my
father. Many of the lessons were unconscious and even unintentional,
but they were learned nonetheless. My father continues to teach
me how to be in the world. For this, and for so many other things,
he has my gratitude, my respect, and my love.
This article was prompted by Fatherís Day, and
in some strange way, I mean it to be a gift to my father. I have
no idea how heíll receive it, or how much of what I hope to convey
will be conveyed. After all, Iím writing this in my language and
heíll be reading it in his. I guess Iíd like him to know that
I love him, and that no matter how complicated our relationship
got, I never once regretted that he is my father.
I want him to know that, at least on some level,
I understand what he had to give up in order to become a father.
I know how seriously he takes his responsibilities to his family,
and even as I know the joy he receives from his family, I also
have a sense of the price he paid for it. Iím sorry that I didnít
live out his dreams for him; however, my heroís journey is different
than his. Iím sorry that I havenít been able to give him the sense
of completion of his own journey that he wanted. I hope someday
he will appreciate my own journey, and know that it is because
of him that I am able to do the work that I do. Even though he
may not understand the whys and wherefores of what I do, Iíd like
him to know that my life is dedicated to making the world a better
place to live for everyone, and that I succeed at this, to whatever
extent I do, because of him.
Iíd like him to know that when I consider my life,
and his life, and our relationship from this perspective, that
he is still my hero, and I love him very much.
Anything else I could say would pretty much
boil down to that.
Kevin B. Burk is the author of
Relationship Handbook: How to Understand and Improve Every
Relationship in Your Life.
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