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since June 19, 2001


Mythopoetics — Fatherlessness and Robert Bly 

From: Dean Hughson <dean@primenet.com>
Date: Monday, July 06, 1998 6:45 PM
Subject: Re: [MENTION] Journal of Men's Studies - Forthcoming Issues

Lou, what is happening with Robert Bly these days?  Haven't read much about him.  Where does he stand on fathers and children involvement?

Dean in Vegas
Lou replied:


Bly's latest efforts can be reviewed at http://www.vix.com/menmag/ . The mythopoetics have always been involved in men's inner work but I think the Men's Movement needs that. [See also what others have to say about mythopoetics. WHS]

I would like to tell you a story about my son, Nate and myself. When my son was a kid we did everything together, we  hiked  the Porcupine Mts, and the obscure back trails of  Michigan's Upper Peninsula and we drove west to trek across wilderness in Montana and Idaho. From the time he was 5 until he was about 13 we were great pals.

When my son entered his teens it seemed like a gulf grew between us, all sort of tensions expectations and disappointments and I felt like my son was slipping away from me. It depressed me and I didn't understand what was happening and then I began reading Bly. He wrote about how fathers and sons grow apart and then reform their relationship as men.

That was exactly what happened to us. The good seeds I planted when he was young blossomed when he became a man. He is now 27, married and established in his career. We are close friends and getting closer all the time.

On Father's day I received a card which said,  in part: "Dad, hardly a day goes by that I don't  realize in some way how proud I am to be your son......." The card was easy to find, I've  got it on my desk and I think I'll keep it for a while. It was Bly who made me understand that everything was going to be ok.

I think of Bly as a seminal  Mythopoetic writer, who passed the torch to others like Sam Keen,  "Fire in the Belly," Robert Moore , "King , Warrior, Magician, Lover;"   Keith Tompson ," To Be a Man";  James Hillman and many others..

I think under all our politics there has to something more than a struggle for power, and the line by Joseph Jastrab says it  best:   "The world needs a man's heart".

These were the responses:

Bill Fetzner wrote:

  Lou ~ Suppose you were not able to hike and otherwise share precious moments with your son because the mother, the courts and the law prevented it? Would Bly be enough then? Is the power of inner work an adequate substitute for liberty?  ~ Bill


Robert Bly, bang the drums and write a poem for fathers

By Dean Hughson, Tue, 07 Jul 1998 06:18:28 -0700

I don't know much about Robert Bly.  I have seen a few of the documentaries on television showing men out in the forest having discussions and drumming to bring the right spirit to the festivity.  While it isn't something I want to do at this age I have done similar things at an earlier time in my life. I once lived in the trees of S. Missouri for a week at a training session run by former Green Beret instructors. I see it as a positive thing though--there are some people who haven't found their way yet and it helps to have a tool to do it.

I got to thinking though. Those who follow the writings/poetry/thoughts of Robert Bly shouldn't waste the drum noise though.  They could help other men if they would invoke some positive things to happen to some men I have met on the road of life so far.  Let me give you an example.

I met a man via the internet who lives in Sydney Australia. He had fallen in love with a German woman and married her. Shortly after they had a son.  She decided she didn't want to be married anymore and went back to Germany and filed for divorce. The German divorce court awarded him normal visitation -- 1 Saturday afternoon a month.  So this poor bastard gets on a plane every other month and flies Sydney to Frankfurt Germany and spends 4 hours with his son -- she refuses to give him anymore time.
   He spends it at the airport mostly with his son. They talk, play, kiss, and then the man flies home.
-- Bang the drum slowly for this injustice and yet for the spirit this man is showing in keeping in his child's life.

I met another man who is a young physician who has 2 small children. His wife started making threats of divorce and he tried everyway to make her happy. Whatever she complained about he agreed to work on. They went to counseling and she couldn't verbalize what was wrong with the relationship.
  Finally she just filed for divorce. The young man was desperate to stay involved in the lives of his 2 young children and she fought him completely through the divorce trying to minimize his time with his kids.  The court has given him every other weekend, certain holidays and some time in the summer. What did this dedicated father do to deserve such treatment?
-- Bang the drum slowly to honor his spirit in fighting to keep with his kids.

I met a grandfather who knew that his son and daughter-in-law were sort of deadheads and not too good of parents to his grandchildren.  However, he did what he could to be supportive of his grandkids and helped get the parents out of trouble constantly. Finally the daughter-in-law filed for divorce and won custody of the kids.  She now refuses to allow the grandfather to see the kids and in his state grandparents have no rights.
He misses his grandchildren a lot.
-- Bang the drum slowly to honor this honorable man who at an age he should be fishing and enjoying himself is instead fighting to keep in the life of his grandchildren.

Another man I met had 3 small children and a divorce.  His ex-wife moved 550 miles away from him--in her state there is no law to prevent this. So every other weekend this guy drives 12 hours, sleeping for an hour or so in his car on the way, and picks up his kids. He takes them to the zoo, to church, to art museums, McDonalds, and then drives home 12 hours on Sunday afternoon, arriving home with 1 or 2 hours of sleep and goes back to work. He has to have a chaotic life but he does it knowing that his children need it.
-- Bang the drum slowly and honor this guy who didn't allow a disaster in his kids lives.

A young man came home from the Gulf War with the announcement from his wife that she had decided she was gay and wanted a divorce. Their small child would live with her and her new lover and he would get to see the child every other weekend. There was only one problem -- she had decided to move 3000 miles away.  There was little money to pay for travel so he must now see his child only in the summer and fly out to California, pick up the child, and fly back to his home in Florida and then do the same at the end of the 4 week visitation.  His child support payment takes most of his money so he lives on little money so that he can afford to see his child in the summer. His car is falling apart and he has no health insurance.  But he doesn't grumble and does what is needed.
-- Bang the drum slowly and say a positive poem for this guy who is going the extra mile in life to be sure his child knows what a father is.

I could go on for pages and pages to show the spirit that some divorced fathers have shown.   Yet, the newspapers and even made-for-television documentaries only seem to show negatives of men-----those very very few men [about 6% of divorced or separated fathers] who could pay child support but don't, or men who have hit women.  Where are the positive stories like those above?  Instead of calling on ancient legends in the drumming ceremonies I think we should honor men who are doing what is needed to prevent fatherless children--even when the system is almost making it impossible for them to father.

Robert Bly hasn't written anything I know about, concerning divorced men, but he and other elders in the men's movement should publicize the positive contributions that these men and others make everyday to our society. Instead of theoretical models to emulate, men should emulate those who go the extra mile to help their families and our society.  These men's lives are poems in spirit.

Dean Hughson <dean@primenet.com>

The Image of the Father

By Walter H. Schneider

To my knowledge, Robert Bly never did write anything about the relationship of fathers with their kidnapped children or children who became the victims of parental alienation (brainwashing children to bias them against the other parent — almost exclusively fathers).  Perhaps he never experienced anything along those lines.  Can a poet write about what he has not seen and can't imagine?

The following is from a letter that I sent not too long ago to Ruth's and my children [June 6, 1998].  It speaks of the type of father-son relationship that Bill seems to have in mind and Robert Bly doesn't mention.

     Son, I hate to pick you as an example, seeing that it is so easy for you to go flying off the handle -- ever since you were about two years old -- but I have to pick on someone for an example.  You may not believe this, but you have a genetic trait for that.  If ever we get to spend a few hours together, I'll mention a few names and give you examples.  However, that only explains why you don't like to lose at games or why you like to have and possess things.  It doesn't explain why you can maintain anger against someone you don't know.
    Son, you don't know me!  In the last twenty years we only spent about two hours face-to-face speaking to each other, and we never had a serious exchange of opinions in any other way — no exchanges in fact.  Aside from your early childhood memories, you know nothing of me.  I'm a stranger to you!  You can't hate a stranger!  You can only hate someone or something you know.
    In the case of your anger against me, that anger isn't anger against me, that anger is against an image of me that you carry in your mind.  Now, I don't doubt at all that you are sufficiently familiar with that image to be able to hate it.  It is even quite rational to hate that image.
    However, that image isn't your father.  I'm your father, a stranger to you.  It is irrational to confuse your image of me with reality and to hate me.  But, it may make you feel better to hear this: your real father doesn't hate you.  He misses you, ever since you disappeared without a trace from his life about twenty years ago.
    I'm sorry that I only know you as the young boy you were at the time, that I never could be part of your life and attempt to guide you in yours.  You and I had a good relationship when we still lived in the same house more than twenty years ago.  Do you know how old you were on the day that you left the home that we slept in the last time as a complete family?
    I can tell you exactly to the day how old you were then.  I can tell you also that there was absolutely nothing in your and my life that should cause you to hate me or to be angry at me.  I suggest that you take a closer look at what it is that you are hating.
    Roughly half of you are angry at someone in the family.  Ruth and I would very much like to see that all of you take a good look at what you are angry with.

I frequently called that son of mine (one of four) on the phone, but mostly got the answering machine.  Those calls were never returned.  When I did get through, I felt like I was making an unsolicited call.  When I write to him, I get no replies.  Once he came and visited for a few minutes.  He didn't have much time to stay longer (they were going to be late for a party), but he said that he liked the farm and would like to come for fourteen days to stay and help.  At the time of this writing, the last time we met, and actually the last time we spoke as of then, was in 1998.

Ruth and I went to British Columbia at the end of May in 1998, to visit the three of my children who lived there then.  That is a  fourteen-hour drive.  My son is my youngest child.  He didn't have time to see me.

Before our family's break-up in 1976, all of my children and I spent much time together hiking, camping, fishing, in cubs, working and playing, and doing home-work together.  The oldest of my sons lives 24 miles from here now.  My relationship with him is much the same as that with the youngest son I wrote about here.  The last time I saw him and his family — he has two children as far as I know — was in 1984.

Those are some of the realities of father-son relationships after divorce; of the ones Robert Bly does not write about; the ones affecting almost 40% of the sons in the U.S., in Canada, and in other developed nations.  If only Robert Bly would be able to write about such relationships.  Maybe he would have ideas on how to live with them.  I have few, but by now they work for me, even though they don't work well for me as a father.

Update 2007: In July 2007 my youngest son and I finally got to meet.  We spent a good part of two days together.  He and his wife are doing well.  They have three children, and it was great to be able to spend some time with all of them. 
   We met as strangers and parted as family members who know very little about one another.  I put together the photos I took and sent them on a CD after Ruth and I got back home.  I have not heard back from my son and have no idea why not, but by the time the next 13 years are up before another meeting may happen I will most likely be six-feet-under.  If instead I were still to be alive, I would then be 84 years old.
   The relationship between a son and his father under such circumstances is much like two ships passing at night on the ocean of life.

2001 02 05 (format changes)
2007 10 11 (added update 2007)