SHARING SPACE 13,3
Publication Date:March 1999
I. Fathers Are an Essential Part of the Human Environment
I always knew I'd be a father. I don't know how I knew, but as far back as I can recall, I knew that I would grow up and have children. I remember the day that my wife told me that she was definitely pregnant. We were sitting outside on a hot August day. I remember the green grass, the leaves on the bushes, the breeze, and the agitation in my body. I remember sitting back-this I remember best of alland feeling that the axis of the universe had shifted; I was almost dizzy from it. From that moment on nothing was the same. I was a new man. The concerns of the old man were irrelevant-important in their day, but that day was done. Everything I would do I would now do as a father, as a man responsible for bringing a new world to birth. I felt a powerful need for some kind of purification ritual, something that symbolized the end of the old universe and the beginning of the new. But there is no such ritual. Being a father, being a parent, is considered a private act.
It's almost eleven years since then, and I am now a father three times. I was right that day. The universe did shift on its axis, everything was new, the old world was gone, and a new one born.
My experiences are what most fathers experience: the unparalleled joy of holding your new child; the terrible certainty that you will make mistakes; the longing to protect; the regret of missed opportunities; the shameful pain of admitting to failure-again; the desperate fear that your sick child might die; the wonder of realizing that your bond with your wife will not only last as long as you both live, but beyond.
Being a father has been the greatest, most challenging, most exciting experience of my life. It has transformed me and made me. I can think of no other calling that could be as deeply satisfying to a man.
But I fear for the generation growing up. I feel anxious for my own two sons. What will fatherhood mean to them? What messages are they hearing about being a father? Will they want to be fathers?
The answers are not reassuring, because fatherhood, indeed parenthood, is in crisis. Although most fathers, Re me, are struggling to do their best in a society in which human connections and solidarity are increasingly tenuous and frayed, the public face of fatherhood has become sadly disfigured.
When was the last time that you read or heard of fathering discussed as a noble or valuable task? If you are a father, can you recall the last time that what you do was presented or talked about in a way that made you feel supported rather than undermined?
There seem to be two images of fathers today. The first is of a bumbling fool, a man less mature than his children, patronized by his wife, incompetent in anything that matters. This caricature can be found on television, in movies, on radio and in advertising The epitome of this father is Ed Bundy, Married With Children, though his imitators are legion.
The second image is that of an indifferent, irresponsible, selfish brute, a virtual psychopath seeking with low cunning for the opportunity to abuse his wife and children. These are the fathers portrayed in countless newspaper and magazine articles, in popular movie-of-the-week television shows, in novels and films.
I know that some fathers abuse or abandon their wives and children; I know that some fathers are not mature or very responsible. But these are examples of fatherhood gone wrong. They reveal the pathology of fatherhood, not its nature. Yet the pathology is, I fear, fast becoming the norm in the public mind. Social policy debates either exclude fathers (mothers are not treated much better) or consider them a harmful influence. Women now seriously contemplate having a child without the child having a father, as though the only effect of this will be a slightly heavier burden of child care and domestic maintenance.
Humans live in families like fish live in water. It is the environment that surrounds and nourishes them. Acid rain, untreated sewage, human carelessness and indifference all pollute lakes and rivers and make them unfit for fish to live in. Yet no one would suggest that we should breed fish that can live in garbage or that we should remove fish from water and treat them as though they were mammals.
In the last half of the 20th century families have also become polluted; from the untreated sewage of a social and political system that treats people callously and cruelly; from the acid rain of cynicism and despair; and from human indifference and carelessness. Why do we then undermine and degrade further the world we are born into and must we live in if we are to thrive? Why do we not support this primary social nexus as it attempts its necessary task against overpowering odds?
Ironically, we seem to have awakened to the mysteriousness and fragility of the living habitats of animal species-except for one. Fathers are an essential part of the human environment. Without the charisma of fathering in our lives, all of us-men, women, and children are diminished. We will be incomplete.
Yet, I remain, if not optimistic, at least hopeful. Social forces are powerful, but not quite as powerful as a loving individual. I look around and see lots of men attempting sometimes successfully, sometimes not, sometimes with ease, sometimes with difficulty, to be good fathers. They are, for the most part, invisible, their efforts validated only by the response of their children, to whom the future belong.
Patrick Gallagher is a book editor in Toronto, Ontario and the father of three children. His article was first published in Catholic New Times. Reprinted by permission.
2. The Infant's Questions
The human mother was startled indeed when the large male angel appeared in her laundry room. \"What are you doing here?\"
\"You expected me in the kitchen?\" asked the angel.
\"No, I didn't expect you at all!\" the mother answered. \"Why are you here?\"
\"To grant your request,\" said the angel, as if it were a common thing to appear in a human's home.
\"I don't remember any request!\" exclaimed the mother. \"I hope I asked for something good and that you didn't just overhear me swearing. I say things all the time when I'm mad.\"
\"No, no,\" replied the angel. \"Remember when you were looking into the eyes of your son and murmured, If only we could talk to each other? Well, I'm here to arrange that. Tomorrow night when you go into your son's nursery, I will be there to allow you to speak to him, and he to you. You will have a brief time where he can speak to you with the intellect of an adult and the language of an adult. I'll tell you more when I see you then.\" And with that, the angel disappeared-slightly to the left of the dryer-and up a vent.
The mother was not frightened. After all, she believed in angels and had been to the local angel shop many times. She had no way of knowing that real angels don't like angel shops. All the popularity had taken the fun out of appearing before people. Some mothers even wanted to know where the angel got its costume-very insulting to a real live angel.
The mother didn't sleep much that night, and when she put her sixmonth-old infant to bed early in the evening, she looked deep into his eyes and said, \"Tomorrow, you and I will actually get to speak to each other!\" She was excited indeed. He drooled in response.
She carefully crafted what she would say to him. Where does one begin? How long would she have? Would she be able to communicate the difficult things of life? She started by thinking of all the things she wanted to tell a child just starting out in life-about how a stove is hot, and a pretty fire can hurt-but wait! The angel said the child would speak with an adult's mind. That would change everything! She would need to tell him how to handle girls, and how to treat a broken heart, and how not to trust everyone, and how not to drive too fast. Oh my! There is so much to tell him about being human, she thought.
The next evening, the time for the magic discussion slowly approached. She waited with her infant son at her side in the nursery until the appointed hour, when the angel appeared again.
\"Nice to see both of you,\" the angel quickly said. \"Here are the rules of the conversation. Mom, you can only answer. Son, you can only ask three questions. Then it's over.\" And with that, the angel again disappeared-this time down the furnace grate.
This changes everything, thought the mother in silence while looking at her son. Perhaps I am hallucinating. I'll bet my son simply goes to sleep now. Instead, the infant stood up!
\"Mother,\" said the infant, \"it's a magical day indeed that brings us together like this. What a joy to be able to speak to you at this point in my life!\"
The mother stood up at attention-with her mouth dropping in amazement. She even drooled a bit.
\"Only three questions can I ask,\" the boy continued from the crib. \"I want to know so much!\" The boy was thinking about his first question as his mother was taking it all in. This is real, she thought. My son is talking to me as if he were all grown up! What a miracle. What a gift. She could hardly contain herself waiting for her son's first question. Would it be about philosophy or religion? Perhaps he would want to know the best advice to guide him into a good career, or maybe he wanted to know how he should choose the best mate-one who would stick around longer than hers did. The boy looked into his mother's eyes and asked the first question.
\"Mother, I have laid outside this house on my back and was amazed at the sky. Why is it blue?\"
It was all the mother could do not to shout: 'You wasted the first question! Who cares why the sky is blue!\" But the mother was so in love with her son that she patiently answered the question according to the rules. She explained how the atmosphere and oxygen molecules refract the light of the sun and turn it blue-at least that's what she believed. It sounded good, anyway. She anxiously waited for the next question. The next one has to be better, she thought. Perhaps he would like to know what he should do with his life in order not to end up homeless or with delinquent friends.
\"Mother, my second question is this. Although I have been here only six months, I notice that sometimes it is hot outside, and sometimes it is cold. Why is that?\"
The mother was appalled. Another question wasted on dumb stuff! How could this be, she wondered. Her son was innocent and alert. His question was important to him, and she treasured this magic time they could have together. Slowly, she tried to tell him about the Earth and the sun, and how the Earth tilts slightly as it orbits the sun, causing winter and summer, cold and hot. Finally, it was time for the last question. They had been at it for almost thirty minutes, and so little had actually been communicated.
\"Mother, I love you!\" exclaimed the son. \"But how do I know you are really my mother? Do you have some kind of proof?\"
What kind of a question was this? Where did that come from? Who else would be his mother? Hadn't she cared for him every day of his life? What a disappointment this session had been. She almost wanted to walk away and go back to the laundry room where this had all started. She thought of how she was going to shove the angel in the dryer the next time she saw him. Her son, his innocent eyes wide open and alert, was waiting for a reply.
She started crying, but held out her hands and said, \"Look at my fingers; they are just like yours. My feet and my face look like yours. My expressions of joy and love are just like yours. I am truly your mother. We have the same eyes and mouth-look!\" With that, the child was satisfied, and he slowly laid himself down on his mat and went to sleep.
That was it? This miracle of communication had come and gone, and the mother had not had a meaningful conversation with her beautiful son. What happened? What went wrong? She spent a great deal of time thinking about it all, and she mourned the passing of such an event without anything substantive being transferred.
Then the angel appeared again-up through the bathroom drain.
\"Go away,\" the mother said before the angel could say anything. \"What a disappointment you turned out to be.\"
\"I gave you the time,\" the angel said kindly. \"I did not design the questions.\"
\"What good was it? Why didn't my son ask anything important? You told me he would have the mind of an adult, but he asked the questions of a child. You have tricked me with your so-called miracle.\"
\"Dear one,\" the angel replied, \"although your son was given the language and the intellect of an adult, he had only the wisdom and experience of the six months he had been on Earth. His questions were therefore the most meaningful ones he could think of, and you answered them all. Even the last one, which was postured in fear, you answered correctly. In addition, you transmitted your love to him while you were together, and you were not impatient with him. He did his best and was honest. What more could you ask?\"
The mother sat down. She hadn't thought ofthat. Her son had mustered up the best questions he could come up with. How could he know what to ask if he didn't have the wisdom she had? And if he had somehow been given that wisdom, he would not have had to ask anything! Without any more communication, the angel left for the final time-this time out the window.
The mother returned to the crib and spent a long time looking at her precious son. \"You did your best, my son,\" she said in a quiet voice. \"It was good that we had time for a talk.\"
From The Parables of Kryon by Lee Carroll (1996). Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Lee Carroll and Hay House.
3. The First Cesarean Birth
Jane English, Ph.D.
In a cave part way up the side of a valley a small group of people sit around an open fire. It is early spring at the end of a long hard winter. Several members of this small band of people have died during the winter. The others are weak but glad to see the beginnings of spring.
Until this night they had also been happy about the imminent birth of a child to one of the women. But the mood is somber as they sit around the fire. For the woman lying on some furs is near death after a long hard labor. The child has not been born. It seems that not only is there not to be a birth but that there will be one more death. The band is getting so small it may not survive.
Across the fire from where the young woman lies is an older woman whose hair is beginning to gray. She is the keeper of the knowledge of herbs for this band and is consulted in all health matters. She suddenly sits up straighter and peers intently at the younger woman lying there. She can see no movement of breathing; perhaps death has already come.
Reaching into her leather pouch for an obsidian stone she uses for cutting leather, she stands and silently walks toward the young woman. Telepathically she communicates to the young woman not to be afraid. She sees that the woman's soul has indeed left the body and is hovering there above the fire.
Gently the older woman pulls aside the furs and leather dress covering the young woman's belly. Carefully she cuts open the belly a layer at a time, finds the head of the child, and lifts it out. By now other women have come to assist her as she delivers the child. All are awed, some are afraid, but they trust the older woman.
The child cries and breathes jerkily as the women clean him off and wrap him in soft furs. The older woman motions another young woman who is the mother of a one-year-old to take the newborn and nurse him.
The older woman puts herbs, maybe sage, into the wound and thanks the great earth-mother-goddess for this new life and for the vision of how to safely deliver the baby from its dead mother's body. Perhaps the older woman remembered seeing living baby rabbits come from the cut open belly of a pregnant rabbit whom the woman had killed with a rock from her sling.
This small band of people has lost yet another adult, but it has a new child. And it has new knowledge, a new way of giving birth.
Based on the shamanic journey experience of Jane English in 1984. The author's email address is:
4. Honoring Mother: A BlessingWay Ceremony
Jeannine Parvati Baker
The BlessingWay Ceremony, ancient yet still practiced today, is an organized tour, of great psychological import, through the mysteries of transition. It is the traditional Navajo way to honor a young woman entering fertility, a pregnant woman about to give birth, or for some other related celebration.
On October 10, 1998, I was inspired to conduct a modified BlessingWay Ceremony to honor the oldest female relative in the family, my mother. With the help of my sister, we gathered the extended family in Sherman Oaks, California for a different kind of reunion, one in which we all sat in a circle, joined by our stories of love and woven together as One by a ball of yarn wrapped around each wrist. But Fm getting ahead of myself. First I must recount where the inspiration came from. Before the actual Ceremony could come to be, there had to be a shift, an opening toward healing. Or as the natives say, whatever happens here on Earth must first be dreamed.
I had been talking on the telephone with my sister about our mother's health. She expressed her hope that something would shift as my sister was also having physical problems and found it challenging to care for our mother. As we spoke together, I had a vision. I saw our entire family seated together with our caring ties made apparent. We were enveloped in a circle of love, deep blood love and my mother was hearing those things ordinarily saved for funerals. I thought, why wait to eulogize? Why not hold a ceremony where the family could speak their accolades and personal stories to my mother while she was still alive? My sister didn't know about the Navajo BlessingWay format but she could relate to the intention of the Ceremony. So with her support, we invited family members to gather at my cousin's home in California one lovely Saturday afternoon.
My mother although suffering from problems with her heart and her eyes was in stable, if infirm, health. So there was no urgency to have this honoring ceremony; just my intuition that said better sooner than later. As it turned out, everyone in the extended family came save one nephew in a convalescent hospital and his mother, my mother's youngest and only living sister.
Four of the six of my wonderful children and my Granddaughter came to celebrate the BlessingWay for their beloved Grandmother. Family came from as far away as Utah and Texas. For my youngest three, it was only the idea of honoring Grandma that would coax them from their home after so much traveling this year. We had just returned from Europe then went back to the East Coast a few days before the long drive back to California. Our motivation was BlessingWay; the fuel: love for Grandma!
The Ceremony itself was introduced as having four parts: 1) Showing Up; 2) Focusing on What Has Heart & Meaning; 3) Telling the Truth; and 4) Being Open Yet Unattached to the Outcome. This was actualized as 1) Song; 2) Wrapping of Yarn/Ritual Grooming; 3) Introductions and Why We Are Here with Gifts; and 4) More Song and Feasting (Potluck).
My mother wanted to sing the lullaby song she used to sing to her babies. I sang it to mine and now her great grand daughter knows it. At the end of the Ceremony, it was my mother who again burst into song, this time show tunes with her brother and nephew, wearing the new T-shirt with the photo of her with her daughters taken 30 years ago.
At the beginning of the Ceremony, many spoke of their love for my mother and by the time it was her turn to wrap the \"power object\", the ball of yarn around her wrist, she was already weeping in gratitude for all she had heard and felt from our relations. Later my cousin said that this was the most healing day of his life. Indeed, it was over the top with love-all found that precious place of gratitude and a way to share it with each other during and after the ceremony. BlessingWay has the tendency to draw out the beauty in people.
My mother said it best: Though everyone brought gifts for her, each one's presence was \"the true gift.\" It is the Give Away which unites us with love, the ceremony of life.
My mother was called in by her doctor to receive the results of her annual medical exam. The week I wrote this commentary she was 77 years old. Her doctor said that it is rare that he can tell a patient such great news. The hole in her mitral valve had sealed on its own! He is astounded and doesn't know how it happened.
Jeannine Parvati Baker is internationally recognized as a midwife and healer. Her book Hygeia: A Woman's Herbal is noted as a classic in it's field.