Fathers can support children – and anyone else – to become confident in the world through healthy challenge, as the father fox, rather brutally, forces his cubs out of the den. It’s impossible to become a healthy individual without access to the healthy father archetype. Indigenous cultures have always known there needs to be a bridge between the mother archetype – the feelings-led realm that can spill into emotional enmeshment and victimhood – and the father archetype’s realm of facts, accountability, and independence.
Why is there a crisis in mental health among men? Because we are at war with the father archetype. How do we break the cycle? Understand the goodness in masculinity and remind men that aggression and power are not shameful. They are gifts to use in service of their families, communities, and environments.
Neither is vulnerability shameful. It takes courage to be vulnerable, and to do so in the company of men – and witness their wounds in return, is a powerful experience that’s new to most men and, at the same time, familiar, because it’s what they have been longing for their whole lives.
A positive way to do this is in a regular men’s circle, where there are rules about confidentiality and non-judgement. Men I know who have joined one, including myself, have changed for the better, growing in self-awareness, self-compassion, and compassion for others. A corollary seems to be a greater authenticity and a desire to serve others. This is a natural expression of the father archetype. You can find men’s circles online and face-to-face all over the place. They are blossoming. My favourite organisation that does this in the UK is A Band of Brothers because we mentor young men involved in the criminal justice system.
Men are taught to fear their power and authenticity. The submissiveness of men during lockdowns proved how effective this message has been. Identifying with the father archetype is prohibited in mainstream culture, hence the tidal wave of gaming and porn that is crippling a generation of isolated young men. They learn that aggression, risk-taking, emotional detachment, and the instinct to provide and protect – these are shameful.
Actually, these are healthy instincts; only they require tempering via initiation with male mentors. A female teacher, therapist, or parent will be able to help you in many ways; but not with this. You need to see it modelled by a mature man in command of his own power. Most fathers have missed out on this since the Industrial Revolution, when men were removed from their children’s lives. It’s not too late. Join a men’s circle. Find a male-friendly therapist.
The father archetype is tens of thousands years old. It defined Western civilisation and bestowed a moral code that valued rationality, logic, responsibility, service, and strength. If Western civilisation was a man, today he would be self-harming, thinking of suicide. The thing he loathes about himself the most is the father archetype. We’ve come to believe that shadow behaviours of the father archetype run everything; the so called patriarchy that we’re told is corrupt, violent and oppressive. Yes, this happens, but it’s not the rule.
There is light and shadow in the masculine and the feminine archetypes. We need both. On Father’s Day let’s model the healthy versions to our children and heal the divisions between men and women. Cultivating mature masculinity via psychotherapy, group work, mentoring. Talk to me.
An earlier version of this article was publised on Zack Fine’s personal website.