Father’s Day blindsided me this year. I read a blog post which offers some reflections about cultural depictions and archetypes of fatherhood (available here: Taking Fathers Seriously) and initially, only got as far as the commercial examples the post offers. I watched the two ads, felt the brighter part of my emotional life land in some new, exciting, eager, soft/warm place; knew undoubtably that a response to the post had already been born, fully rendered, into my consciousness and it was only a matter of time before I lined up with it and could put it into the sometimes clumsy and inadequate work of words.
And then spent the next few weeks feeling cognitively paralyzed on the subject—utterly helpless to wrap my mind around it or even go back and revisit the whole post, as chunk by chunk, clusters of pent-up thought-feeling-belief worked their way like hairballs into my currents of life experience for processing. But I had the visual and emotional experience of the two commercials to hold on to, and a whole lot more besides. Just recently, I finally went back and read the whole thing, ready to play.
What I’d like to do is build a bridge, a bond, between the two father-concepts as Fruhling distinguishes them, in two polarized archetypes. The first he describes as the “lovable goofball . . . essentially big kids themselves, horsing around and acting as childish as their kids, and arguably just as much still in need of parenting.” The second is what he and Carl Jung both describe as the “Wise Man” archetype, one of four archetypes (two masculine, two feminine) Jung claims make up a “marriage quaternio” — the personal integration of which allows an individual to experience essential wholeness: “the self . . . is a God-image, or at least cannot be distinguished from one” (from The Principle Archetypes). A person with a harmoniously intact “marriage quaternio” psychic structure becomes what Nietzsche refers to as an übermensch. Just to demystify that concept, a bit.
At every age, playing— while alone and together, bonding both internal and external, is essentially what we are all born on this planet to do. Particularly around the onset of puberty, society at large adamantly disrupts, discourages, even disdains “childish” playfulness and innocence at a time when healthy, challenging, novel, more various and complex forms of playful outlet become vitally imperative for nourishing the developing brain, body, and spirit. I’d argue too that a broader social distaste for child’s play begins much earlier than puberty even where this distaste is masked by nostalgia.
Play is spontaneous, uniquely informed, and evolutionarily driven, connected to the present moment, rising from the quantum field out of the unknown, the undetermined, the unuttered. Play is valuable.
That feels like an understatement.
In our culture, normal human drives for play are moralistically curtailed. An obvious example is in the model of compulsory education, which intentionally mirrors the ethos of the modern workplace; “you can play after your schoolwork and your homework are done.” It was a neat way to circumvent child labor laws, too—rather than being sent to work for piddling pay, children were now obligated to report for (unpaid) work-training. Our compulsory model of educating even the youngest children doesn’t recognize pleasure and play as necessary, intrinsically valuable parts of human growth and development—though it does recognize them as useful tools for manipulation—not nearly so much as it values hierarchical domination, self-sacrifice, and discipline. Even before they are born, children are being prepped for and slotted into the workplaces and economic identities that already exist, or those that branch off from them.
Hm. I hadn’t intended to diatribe about public education.
As both society and the school system, which plays a vital role in child-rearing in addition to parents, require children to “grow up” and behave like adults in the work place at increasingly younger and younger ages, real play is too often channeled, especially in adolescence (and then on into adulthood) into various joy-stripped competitive routes for external validation and self-destructive risky behaviors—with premature hypersexuality and drug use being some classically obvious, unsubtle adolescent examples.
What might it be like if instead we allowed play to be what shapes the future of our workplaces?
“We don’t need no education….”
You have no idea how much I enjoy seeing this silk-screened on the t-shirts of school children.
All of which is to say, even where society pretends (or even really truly wants) to value play, it actually values the work of cultural assimilation. Many adults cannot tolerate children’s natural play for very long, and even less so the natural, uninhibited play of teenagers, for reasons mostly (entirely?) linked to the ways in which their own play was/is undervalued and interrupted. Resultingly, the social economic value of children’s play is largely in its ability to stimulate either escapist avoidance and/or nostalgic projection in adults, allowing for the maintenance of an aesthetic sentimentality couched in the imagined inevitable loss of innocence that accompanies it.
The aesthetic of sentimentalism—which has a parasitic attachment to depictions of childhood and parenting—and its role in economic exploitation is at least part of what Fruhling was sensitive to, whether consciously or not, as distasteful about the commercial ads he describes and samples with the post.
But that isn’t the whole story. It isn’t even half. Which is why I could watch them and have a completely different experience and interpretation than he did.
Human development is uniquely sensitive to its external environment around the age of 11, where a stage of more interpersonal and introspective growth known as a cocooning phase naturally precedes and prepares the individual for the massive transformation of self that puberty is. While sexuality remains temporarily latent, poised on the cusp of emergence, both rich opportunities for childish playful innocence and a reliable connection to the greater perspectives of adult wisdom are crucial at this pivotal stage of human personal growth. In our culture, neither are readily available to the majority of children. The second of these two, adult experiential wisdom, Fruhling ardently and rightfully acknowledges though he misses the first.
And even if a family is able to provide both for their child, most 11 year olds in our society are sent to junior high/middle school, where large numbers of this actually very tender, expansive age are concentrated together in ruthlessly close proximity.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t hope, even in such conditions.
“Life finds a way,” this wise and sort of goofy pop-culture icon, who turns out in a sequel to be a father, poignantly reminds us.
Character Ian Malcom, played by Jeff Goldblum in the 1993 film Jurassic Park—a classic depiction of the epic rekindling of long-lost childhood innocence, awe, and wonder which, subjected to adult dysfunction, becomes terrorizing and lethal. This film’s climax features a thematic cooperation between four figures:that represent an operative projection for the intact marriage quaternio structure, allowing a sublime resolution of the film’s action.
What Fruhling describes in his post is a basic binary split in the archetype of the father, a product of both historical patriarchy, and domination. He correspondingly assigns hierarchical value to the Wise Man figure and subordinates the figure he names an archetype of the “lovable goofball . . . adorable perhaps with their children but hardly able to be taken seriously.”
This split exists as a wound—a proverbial Achilles’ heel—in the patriarchal structures possessed equally in the psyches of both males and females. It represents the loss of integrity that occurred as a natural result of the early evolution of human consciousness, perhaps triggered by environmental or sociological traumas of one kind or another that catalyzed humanity into the higher-order cognitions that facilitated the evolution of civilization as we know it to have unfolded.
Essentially, human consciousness was necessarily fragmented in order to allow for its adaptive expansion, but in so doing, humans forgot (forgetting or memory loss being an adaptation favorable in the presence of trauma) how to recognize themselves as intrinsically whole.
Remembering is precisely in the forgetting.
The Wise Man who can forget himself as such and remember himself as a boy child: playful, curious, innocent—a native genius of the spirit—can gain the ability to remember himself as both simultaneously, thus forgetting the illusion that he has ever been divided.
It is a process of experience, acceptance, integration, and focused attention that unfolds gradually. Moment by moment, choice by choice.
What happens to any person, but perhaps with more estrangement in our culture for males than for females—a bigger gap to bridge, so to speak—when they hold their own offspring in their arms and gaze with it mutually is an activation of a whole new set of operative projections: the most sensitive and vulnerable that any human can possess, because it gives us the power to begin remembering (and so transcending) what might have been traumatically forgotten in our own birth and infancy. It’s powerfully transformative, and we live in a society that has been historically structured in ways that prevent most of its individuals, male and female alike, from experiencing it.
Never fail to take this adorable father seriously:
Most of us just can’t handle that level of the feels—it’s a big gap for most people to bridge, so much of the experience and the transformation it offers bounces off unintegrated and is lost.
So parents adapt and cope the best they can to whatever level of feels they are capable of adjusting to, in the various ages at which those feels are activated by subjective resonance with their children’s playful or defiant expressions of creative innocence and vitality: their own absolute knowing, absolute spirit (à la Hegel).
Le non/le nom du père is a psychological concept originally articulated by Jacques Lacan, here articulated by me: it is the forgetting of fragmentation (le non, which disallows objective dependence), the remembering, the recognition of integrity (le nom, grants subjective interdependence)—a restoration of intact psychic structures which, properly boundaried with integral subjectivity, are allowed to resonate, balance, and blend.
Child’s play is pure wisdom flowing through unadulterated channels. Mammals know this. So do the wisest of men, who understand all their own wisdom derives from play.
The wisest of men have their own integral access to these channels, and know how to play with children as a natural matter of course. They know how to play with others, and how to lead, without losing themselves or their connection with personal desire or with joy. And they understand that, like children, we grow into such things not by placing ourselves or any other on a pedestal, but through the sometimes bumbling trials and humilities of real, lived experience. Scraped knees and all.
It’s a pretty rare thing, but I’ve witnessed it around in hints and glimpses, here and there: a scent on the wind I follow with some primally attuned internal nose. It’s worth discovering, worth cultivating, worth nurturing and drawing out to its fullest expression. This wholly intact, internally balanced and harmonious patriarchal expression is the healing our society is clamoring for, whatever causes people may think they’re clamoring for (and there’s a lot of clamoring going on these days, isn’t there?).
We don’t need to smash the patriarchy, we need to let it heal, restore it to its primal and innate innocence, so it can fully mature and move society safely forward in all the exciting ways it’s eager to grow.
Fruhling asks, “whatever the reason, I can’t imagine that most women truthfully find the archetype of father-as-lovable-goofball very attractive or appealing in the long run. Who, after all, wants to be in a relationship with what is essentially a barely-grown-up man-child?”
überwenches, that’s who.
we like to have our cake and eat it too.