A Father’s Love: Dealing with the pain of separation

What is a father’s love?

From my personal perspective, fatherhood is intense. It is all-consuming, pervasive, wrenching and total. It is a visceral, genetic connection that has no equal in life. Its expression can vary, dependent upon circumstance, but it is fundamental and consumptive of the entirety of my being.

Men change their lives after they become fathers. Their thought processes transform. For some men, everything they do after childbirth becomes about that child, those children. The thoughts they think, the words they say, the actions they take, the paths they follow. All of it shifts perceptibly as their desires and goals widen to become the cares and concerns of a family unit, rather than an individual or a couple. This transformation is exhilarating and freeing as one is released from the egocentric concerns of the self and expands conceptually to encompass the needs of others for whom he is then responsible for and whom he loves fiercely, without reservation.

Every person is different. Not every father is capable of feeling the same depth of love or of expressing it. Some men shift and don’t even realize it as capacities for the communication of love vary across the gamut of human experience. The variables include cultural, familial and psychological factors that affect individual expression. Because cultures are diverse, what is considered to be appropriate forms of fatherly behavior vary. Because families express different internal dynamics, how affection is displayed by fathers differs. Because people are individuals, no two alike, our individual thought processes pertaining to fatherhood are as diverse as sands on a beach.

And yet, love is love. Is it not? Love is the fundamental cohering force of Creation, the love of God for all of humanity is the love of a father for his children, the love of Creator for that created, separate from but integrally connected to, eternally, infinitely unconditional with no true qualifications. And while science has not yet discovered and documented an energetic form they can label and measure and call love, its symptoms are recognizable beyond societal codes. No matter the nation, the ethnicity, the orientation, love looks and feels the same.

For a father who is present in his child’s life, nothing is more important than being there for every aspect of their development. From changing diapers to potty-training, from teaching them to speak to teaching them to read, every single facet of their being is a joy to behold, but more importantly, to participate in. To shape and to mold and to bear witness to their child’s growth and evolution is a sublime joy and produces a contentment so total and so much an underlying part of all thought processes, words and actions as to be nigh unrecognizable as being a separate aspect of the sum totality of fatherhood.

To be able to watch a child grow from infancy to young adulthood and to be present for every aspect of their growth is, therefore, a gift. A gift that should be appreciated and acknowledged by total attention and commitment to their children’s greater well-being. Life being what it is though, and people being what they are, this is not always the case. The vagaries of life and love produce such a wide range of potentialities that any outcome is probable and for those fathers who are able to be present for their children in all ways and at all times, there is no greater blessing. But for many in these modern days, this is, sadly, not possible.

When separation between a father and his children occurs – for whatever reason – it is devastating. For any and every father who loves – no matter how the situation looks to those observing from outside and no matter what they may think he is going through – he has lost his primary reason for being and is hurting in one of the deepest ways possible for a man to hurt. He has lost his reason for being. His life purpose. All that father has been about is suddenly gone; he has lost it through his own failures or it has been taken away by circumstance. The physical presence of the children in his daily life has ended. If he is able to remain in close physical proximity, the separation remains painful but is moderated by their nearness. If he must live and work far away, then there is no mediating presence and the loss can become all-consuming.

Relations between the father and mother then become paramount. If the relationship is good, then the separation does not have to be as painful and he can still interact with them and contribute to their lives in a positive and productive manner. But if that relationship is violent and/or recriminatory, the relationship with the children can suffer as a result. The distance and the ugliness contribute to the opening of a bottomless, black gulf of loneliness and pain within him that threatens to overwhelm that father if he gazes too deeply into the void. As a result, many fathers slam that trap door shut as soon as it opens. They do not dare to look too long for fear of being overcome, engulfed by the despair, the depression that would negate their agency and result in a corresponding lack of effectiveness in their desired goal of continuing to care for their children despite their physical absence from his life.

Some father’s respond to this absence by shutting down as completely as they can. By closing and locking the trap door to this painful abyss and thereby shutting out their emotional connection to their children. Of course, this coping mechanism is seen by others as unfeeling and uncaring. And, perhaps, these fathers also come to feel this way about themselves. Perhaps they even tell themselves – in order to sooth the pain – that they no longer care, no longer feel for their children the way that they once did. They curse and rail against God and fate, the children’s mother and themselves. Maybe, if their pain is intense enough, they even rail against the children and descend invariably into the space of mind and experience that such thoughts must eventually manifest in their lives. Drugs and alcohol then become the primary manner by which they dull the emotions that continuously seep through the locked but buckling trap doors of their minds, constant reminders that they do, in fact, still care, still feel deeply for their children, the despairing realization of which then dictates even more encompassing inebriation, continuing the cycle unto utter psychological dissolution.

Individual psychology and personal, spiritual evolution become paramount at a certain point. Working through one’s psychological shortcomings becomes mandatory in order to reveal the barriers within one’s self against unconditional, selfless love. Barriers erected against real introspection and the necessity of accepting full responsibility for one’s actions and outcomes, as well as seeing clearly and honestly the repercussions of the actions of others that have resulted in the current situation. For those fathers who do indeed seek to drown their grief at the loss of their children, there eventually comes a time when it must be faced or else that grief debilitates them mentally and physically and a premature death is the inevitable result. Emotions must be reconciled, or else they lead to stress and physical ailments from different forms of disease to substance abuse of whatever kind or kinds.

But for those fathers who do not seek the easy way out – or who pass through this period more or less emotionally coherent – learning to deal with the pain of separation can be a path to a higher understanding of life and love. Engaging life in the moment requires a constant vigilance, a continuous examination of intent, motivation and the thought processes in order to integrate and process emotions that could otherwise block a father in his attempt to do the right thing for himself and his children. It is necessary to overcome the propensity to hide from personal failures, to deal with the engulfing depression that results from the loss of the physical reminder of greater purpose as expressed in a life: the presence, support and care of children.

This process can take years. Or even a lifetime. It can take a descent into the depths of a personal hell, from which, at the time, it seems as if there is no way out. It may take immersion within the world of the senses, the inebriation of the mind and body in a seemingly selfish, wallowing process of denial, anger and self-pity in order to finally see through the pain upon reaching the bottom of the barrel and looking within to the dark night of the soul, there to bear witness to the void yawning, pulling, its obsidian-clawed tentacles grasping remorselessly, seeking final dissolution. To feel death’s welcoming embrace, to yearn for it, to call for it and to desire nothing more than to rise into its cold, dry and whispering totality calling and beckoning for a return to the place beyond space where the pain is done, the hard, desperate days and long, empty nights over is not an unfamiliar vision to those called to this experience.

But love beckons, ever. The children are the future. The physical continuation of those who came before them. Immortality in manifest physical form. The bright light that shines through innocent eyes, the voices that call from beyond the span of distance and time and that can reach into hearts cold with loss and despair and warm spirits lost in their own frozen versions of self-imposed isolation and recrimination. The promise of their being can dissipate the pain, can cause the higher aspects of unconditional love to banish the darkness of hellish thoughts and behaviors. The realization of the infinite and eternal nature of love and the potentiality of living life despite loss becomes a considered possibility and, more than that, a promise for the future.

It is possible for fathers to love their children and mediate the pain. To transform it and allow that energy to galvanize and work in service of a higher cause. To know that, despite their loss and distance, in truth, there is no loss, there is no distance. That love knows no boundaries of time nor space. That they are present, ever. It is not necessary to drown sorrows, to attempt to ignore feelings, to take on the veneer of machismo in order to present a false front for family, friends and the world.

This passage through the dark night of the soul and exit upon the other side into the light of self-realization and dynamic growth can be the path for all who undergo the pain, the trials and tribulations of separation and divorce. Yes, the pangs of physical distance can still open up a wound, but the pathway to self-acceptance opens the door to transformation in more than just psychological space. The universe and creation itself conspire to manifest dreams and bring back together that which was previously torn asunder. Joy and peace, laughter and happiness can return and must, as dark days don’t last and the sun must come out from behind the clouds eventually.

A father’s love for his children – like a mother’s love – is one of the most powerful energies in creation. A gift and blessing of the highest order, as immortality lies in the eyes of innocence, gazing back into yours and mine, the love we feel reflected in fractalized representations, forever and ever, Amen.

McGhee Sextuplets

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