Until I was fifty I thought I would never have children. I felt like the eternal boy who was happy never to grow up. I cherished my freedom and had no muscle in me that wanted to settle down. Then I met my wife Joan Hanley, who became a Sikh and changed her name to Hari Kirin. When I met her she was pregnant with Abraham, and I thought nothing could ever come of that meeting that stunned me. But somehow we got together and had a child, Siobhán, who also became a Sikh and changed her name to Ajeet. So I became the father of two beautiful children, who have grown up into truly remarkable young people.
At first it was not easy being a father, though I felt deep love for the children and enjoyed family life. I was too much a child myself to take on the role of parent easily. But I always kept in mind my own father, who told me once that he had trouble growing up. He was young in spirit until the day he died at one hundred, but he was also wise and protective.
My father taught me many things, like how to cut wood with a hand saw, how to catch a baseball, why water condenses on a car windshield, how sperm swim eagerly to eggs, how to be a good husband, how to treat the elderly with respect, how not to be racist and how death is part of life. He did not do this in passing but really took on the role of teacher. Once, when my mother was dying, he asked me and my brother to his house for a somewhat formal meeting on how to deal with medical issues as my mother’s condition deteriorated.
As a father he was a kind but firm leader. When other members of the extended family might be upset by an accident or a medical emergency or a death, he would come through, his emotions evident but not interferring, and deal with the problem. He liked to play: cards, golf, children’s games, volley ball, baseball.
So I had my father’s spirit to help me in the job I thought I would never have. I copied him, as best I could. I have always felt grateful to have had such a wonderful dad, and I’d give anything to be able to have a laugh with him this Father’s Day.
But I also think of Father’s Day as the commemoration of the Great Father, the fathering principle or archetype that holds the world together and that we need so badly today. When people, especially women, speak disparagingly of the patriarchy, I assume they are thinking of the absence of the real father spirit, usually replaced by an anxious, symptomatic, neurotic fathering that is overbearing, self-serving and aggressive. This is not the father spirit but rather the bent insanity that fills in when the genuine father spirit is lost.
As a psychotherapist I often see the struggles with life that derive from faulty fathering, and apparently there is a lot of it. Both young men and women suffer when the father is either absent or twisted, because we all need good fathering throughout our lives. I’ve been blessed to have several strong and effective father figures, men who have had the equanimity to offer paternal guidance when it was needed. For me it has made all the difference, and I celebrate those great father figures today.
I am also acutely aware that the world needs good fathering to keep it at peace and creative. Yet we lack that gift in so many places, and history is full of moments when the archetypal father has gone missing. It could be said that the planet itself is in distress and danger precisely because we the residents haven’t been able to find good fathers.
I still say a prayer I learned as a child that begins, in my own translation, “Our Father in the sky, may your name be held as holy.” Many spiritual traditions honor the archetypal father as a presence in the sky, a place where we behold our ideals and highest expectations. It is this fathering that I pray for today in a world sorely in need of it. If each of us fathers can find it in ourselves to embody this holy spirit of the Father, there is a good chance that we will survive. But this outcome is not a given. We need to feel how dire our situation really is and do everything possible to find some good fathering for the days ahead and for the children yet to be born. They deserve the best dads possible.