Jul 21, 2009

The Absence Of Father Figures

I was writing a Happy B-day message to Harley Couper and found the following extract on his facebook page:

“I learned a great deal about myself while watching a documentary a few years ago about elephants in a wildlife trust in Africa. There were twenty-five elephants, all of them orphans, and they had been brought to the trust twenty years before. They were becoming teenagers– in elephant years.

The narrator in the documentary said the elephant musth cycle beings in adolescence, and normally lasts only a few days. But among these orphans, the musth cycle was disrupted and had become unusually long. These elephants were taking out their aggression on rhinos that bathed at a local mud pool. An elephant would slowly lumber down to the pool, enter near a rhino, then spear it through the side with his tusks. The elephant would then lean his gargantuan forehead into the head of the rhino, holding the beast underwater until it drowned. The filmmakers followed these orphan elephants who were always on their own, staggering about the wildlife refuge, fueled by a pent-up aggression they couldn’t understand. They weren’t acting like elephants– they didn’t know what an elephant was supposed to do with all his energy, all his muscle.

I have never killed a rhino, or much of anything for that matter, but there have been times in my life when I didn’t know exactly how to be. I mean, there were feelings, sometimes anger, sometimes depression, sometimes raging lust, and I was never sure what any of it was about. I just felt like killing somebody, or sleeping with some girl, or decking a guy in a bar, and I didn’t know what to do with any of these feelings. Life was a confusing series of emotions rubbing against events. I wasn’t sure how to manage myself, how to talk to a woman, how to build a career, how to– well, be a man.

To me, life was something you had to stumble through alone. It wasn’t something you enjoyed or conquered, it was something that happened to you, and you didn’t have a whole lot of say about the way it turned out. You just acted out your feelings and hoped you never got caught.

Watching television that night, however, the narrator began to speak of a kind of hope for these elephants. Elephant development, apparently, begins very early. Female elephants are only capable of having children once every two years, and during those two years between babies, the young are cared for obsessively by their mothers. They are fed, sheltered, loved, and guided in their learning of basic survival.

It is only at the first musth cycle that a young male elephant leaves his mother and enters into the African wild, searching for a mentor, a guide. The green pus running down his hind leg and his smell like fresh-cut grass alerts an older, fully mature male, that this is a young elephant in need of guidance. Upon finding a mentor, the young elephant’s musth cycle ends. The older and younger begin to travel together, to find food together, to protect each other– the older one teaching the younger what elephant strength is for, and how to use it for the benefit of himself and the tribe.

Watching television that night, I wondered if humans aren’t like that, too. I began to wonder if we guys were designed to have a father, whose very presence would cause us to understand more accurately what our muscle is for, what we are supposed to do with our energy.

You have to wonder, don’t you? Some statistics state as many as 85 percent of the guys in prison grew up without a dad. This is sobering to me.

And so watching the documentary, I began to wonder if those of us without dads aren’t making mistakes in our lives we wouldn’t make if we had a father to guide us. I wondered if there isn’t a better paradigm for our existence– a way of being men, a way each of us could truly embrace if it were instilled in us by a man who spoke with altruism and authority. I wondered if people who grow up with great fathers don’t walk around with a subconscious sense they are wanted on this planet, that they belong, and the world needs them. And I wondered this: Is there practical information we are supposed to know about work, women, decisions, authority, leadership, marriage, and family that we would have learned if there were a guide around to help us navigate our journey? I wondered if some of the confusing emotions I was feeling weren’t a kind of suspended adolescence from which the presence of an older man might have delivered me.

– Excerpt from To Own A Dragon, by Donald Miller (pp 31-34)

Leave a comment and let us know what your thoughts are on this topic.
Godspeed & Kaizan

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Big brother programmes can help fill the gap and provide a male mentor but the difficulty faced by such organisations is a shortage of male volunteers for the role. They are so needed - come on guys!