The crisis of the father figure in contemporary society is well known . His parental function makes him the principal creator of limits for his sons and daughters. Violence, which is precisely the lack of consideration for limits, has increased among youth in schools and society, as a result of this eclipse.
The weakening of the father figure has destabilized the family. Divorce has grown to such an extent that a true society of divorced families has appeared. Not only has the role of the father been eclipsed, but we are also seeing the social death of the father.
The absence of the father is, in any event, unacceptable. It affects the children, changing the direction of their lives, and weakening their will to undertake a project and make an autonomous life.
It is urgent that we reinvent the father figure on another, different, basis. To that end, it is of fundamental importance in the first place to distinguish between the models of father, and the anthropologic principle of father. This distinction, not often considered, even in scientific discussions, helps us to avoid misunderstandings and to rescue the inalienable and permanent value of the father figure.
The psychoanalytic tradition made it clear that the father is responsible for the initial, and necessary, interruption of the intimate mother-son/daughter bond, and for the introduction of the child into the broader world, the transpersonal relations with brothers and sisters, grandparents, families, and other members of society.
In the transpersonal and social world, the prevalence of order, discipline, right, duty, authority and limits between one group and another must be valued. Here people work, enter into conflicts and realize life projects. For this reason, children must show security, courage, and willingness to make sacrifices, either to overcome difficulties or to accomplish certain objectives.
The father is the archetype and the symbolic incarnation of these attitudes. He is the bridge to the social and transpersonal world. The child, on entering this new world, must be guided by somebody. The child who lacks this point of reference, is insecure, lost, without initiative.
It is in this moment that a process is established of fundamental importance for the child’s psyche, which has lifelong consequences: the recognition of authority and the acceptance of limits, that are acquired through the father figure.
The child comes from the experience of the mother, from the lap, from the satisfaction of all needs, from the warmth of intimacy where everything is secure, in a kind of original paradise. Now, the child must learn something new: that this new world does not simply extend the world of the mother; that in this new world there are conflicts and limits. Is the father who guides the child to recognize this dimension. With his life and his example, the father appears as the carrier of authority. capable of setting limits and establishing responsibilities.
It behooves the father to teach the child the importance of these limits and the value of authority, without which their entry into society would be traumatic. In this period, the child moves away from the mother, and even may want not to obey her anymore, and come closer to the father: s/he seeks to be loved by him, and looks for his guidance. It is the father’s task to help overcome this tension with the mother and re-establish harmony with her.
Handling this true pedagogy is uncomfortable. A father’s failure to assume it can greatly harm his son or daughter, perhaps permanently.
What happens when the father is absent from the family, or a family is a purely maternal one? The children appear crippled, seem insecure and incapable of defining a project of life. They have difficulty accepting the principle of authority and the existence of limits. This anthropologic principle of the father, a permanent structure, is fundamental to the process of individuation of each person. This personalizing function is not condemned to disappear. It will continue to be internalized by the children through the entire cycle of life, as a matrix in the formation of a healthy personality. They demand it.
The social-historical models that embody the anthropological principle of the father are different. These models are always changing, varying with the historical time and in different cultures. They pass.
For instance, there is the form of the patriarchal father of the rural world, with strong machista traits. The father in the urban and bourgeoisie culture, who behaves more like a friend than as a father, and does not set limits, is different.
The process is not lineal. It is tense and objectively difficult, but indispensable. Parents must be coordinated, each with his/her unique mission, to act correctly. They must know that there can be advances and setbacks, these are part of the human condition and are normal.
It is also important to recognize that everywhere there appear concrete figures of fathers who successfully confront these crises, live with dignity, work, fulfill their duties and show responsibility and determination; thus they fulfill the archetypical and symbolic function for their sons and daughters. It is an indispensable function, if the children are to mature and enter life without trauma, until they themselves become fathers and mothers. That is maturity.
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.