Father Wounds

The following post, written by Sylvia Klauser,  is a profound and elegant reminder about the impact of fathers, and I pulled it from the Mennonite Weekly Review.

I read about Whitney Houston’s death while at a conference in Washington, D.C. A friend and I had been at dinner and heard that famous I wanna dance with somebody. Today I have the time to sit and watch the tribute morning shows, listening to song after favorite song. I will always love you stands out for its message of a love that transcends racial boundaries and fears of the others. Even more tragic is that Whitney Houston died on the eve of the Grammy awards — a singer’s celebration of their greatest achievement.

Born with an incredible talent, she came to fame by way of the church. An instant, well-meaning audience provided her with a training ground for that incredible voice. It certainly helps to have the Godmother of soul as your real Godmother. However, talent is a free gift that can easily be squandered.

It is so sad to hear about Whitney’s struggle with drugs and alcohol. Is it a result of the fame, or a cause of it? While I listen to song after song, it seems that they all have a common theme. Who will love me? How will I know that you are honest? I will always love you. I’m every woman. Can I trust you, and so on. The themes are the same: Whitney felt empty without love. She, like every woman (and man) in this world, feels incomplete without the other. But what kind of love are we looking for? And what happens to us when that hole is not filled?

In his book From Wild Man to Wise Man, Richard Rohr writes about the “father hunger” that becomes a “father wound” for those of us who have never been touched and trusted by our fathers. It seems that the father wound oozes from each of Whitney’s songs. Rohr writes, “we lack self-confidence, the ability to do, to carry through, to trust ourselves, because we were never trusted and touched by him.” Whitney’s life is marked by “earned worth,” a constant striving to get more in order to fill this hole where Dad’s trust and touch is missing.

What fills the hole? Well, the story is out all over the tabloids now. It’s not only Whitney or other famous folk who died of this father wound lately. Drugs, alcohol, mind and sense numbing substances only increase feelings of worthlessness and loneliness when the high wears off. I am saddened by Whitney’s line where she names herself the devil in a 2002 Dianne Sawyer interview; but she is dead-on with her assessment. It is our own responsibility to figure out the father wound and then work on fixing it — whether we can meet with our fathers and attempt reconciliation, or whether we have to learn to live with the hole for the rest of our lives.

To heal the father wound is our most intimate, personal and spiritual work, maybe the only work of our lifetimes. No one can do it for us, not fame or drugs or even world-class therapists. We must reconcile with the fact that even our fathers have father wounds. They tried the best they knew how, but the lack of trust and touch is an evil root that stealthily hurts us until we root it out. May peace be with Whitney.

I was born in the same year as Whitney, and I too, sang in church. I was touched deeply by her songs of searching, wanting and needing. I also have to do my own father work so that the rest of my life is not a running after all the things that fall short of that primal need to be loved and trusted and touched.

Sylvia Klauser works in the education and spiritual care department of The Methodist Hospital System in Houston.

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