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Caribbean masculinity – work in progress

Q: Archbishop J, what is happening to our men?

Every Caribbean man who shows up consistently to father all his children is a special man. If he is married to the mother of all his children and turns up every day as a spouse and father, he is honourable.

If, with his wife, they are willing to submit to God’s will in big and little things, he is a hero. For this is the true nature of mature masculinity and fatherhood. Taking responsibility, turning up for all your children, a mutual relationship with your spouse where both of you submit to God’s will.

Our reality

Caribbean masculinity is a work in progress. The model of the older generation is patriarchy. The boy does no chores in the house and is treated like a little prince, while the father is treated like a king.

In the younger generation, there is a mixed bag; machismo is one dominant trend where the logic is in conquest and irresponsibility.

One young man said in despair, “We have plenty fathers, but not enough daddies.” This translates: “We have enough sperm donors, but not enough daddies who commit emotionally, financially, spiritually, and physically to their children.”

Some have made the commitment to be daddies, but it has been tough because many of them never had daddies themselves. Some of those whose fathers lived in the same house, found he was emotionally unavailable.

They are inventing fatherhood, as it were, by the seat of their pants. They are becoming hands-on dads who are spiritually, emotionally, and physically available to their children and in union with their spouse.

The father wound

Caribbean civilisation is a mixed bag of pain and dismantling of the family. The African ancestors were brought by force, plunged into slavery, and their family structure systematically disassembled.

It was the owners’ right to have sex with the slaves, and often, alliances between slaves were broken very early because a man with a family was dangerous. Female-headed households became the norm during and certainly after the abolition of slavery.

Then, after slavery, men went either to sea or to other countries to work for long periods, sending remittance home.

The matrifocal family and the absent father have been a social structure in the African household for over 400 years; it will not easily be redeemed in a generation or two. This culture was intact long before the sexual revolution or television or the current madness that is imported from the northern countries.

The East Indian community may have fared a bit better, since they came with all the elements of their culture intact. Yet, even here, the struggle for self-possession, for “arrival”, for wholeness is also a sad tale.

VS Naipaul, in his classic work, A House for Mr Biswas, chronicles the deep struggle of one East Indian father in his quest for arrival.

Speaking to his dog, Tarzan, Mr Biswas says, “You are an animal and think that because I have a head and hands and look as I did yesterday, I am a man. I am deceiving you. I am not whole.”

For an understanding of the drama of fatherhood in an East Indian Trinidadian family, the text is very rich.

Psychologists say that Mum gives the “fluid”—the stuff of soul, imagination, energy, passion—and Dad gives the “container” to the young person.

Without the container—sacred boundaries—the young person spirals into addiction, self-absorption, anger, and the dark emotions. There is a sense of a permanent hole in the soul.

For more on this, see Bill Jarema’s Fathering the Next Generation. The greed, the violence of our society, the violence towards women, the self-interest, and the inability of our leaders to move the society forward all speak to the “father wound”.

Until not too long ago, a young man would have had an uncle, a coach, a teacher, or scout leader who would act as mentor or second chance father. Today, men have receded from many of these roles.

It is more common for a boy to grow up without a meaningful relationship with an adult male. This has serious consequences for the young man and the civilisation.

Healing the father wound

Healing only happens when younger men meet older men who have done the work. The tradition called this a “second-chance father” or “Godfather”. Every young man needs a flesh-and-blood daddy to initiate him into conscious mature masculinity. The boy receives masculinity by osmosis—a physical, spiritual, psychological connection with an older man. If you have had this, in part or whole, consider yourself lucky.

The literature also tells us that every man, to become fully mature, needs a second-chance father—a spiritual father.

In the myth of Parsifal, this is conveyed by the young man going into combat with the sword which breaks. Commenting on the myth of Parsifal, psychologist Robert Johnson says:

“…the masculine equipment he carries with him, largely imitation of the father-teachers around him, will not hold up when he tries to use it by himself. Every youth has to go through the humiliation of finding that his imitation masculinity will not hold up. And more, only the father who gave him his sword can repair the broken instrument.

“…A Godfather is a very valuable ally just at this moment. To have a Godfather who will repair what was transmitted from the father, but did not hold up well, is an extremely valuable asset.” (He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Robert A Johnson)

This role of the spiritual father is core to priestly identity and mature masculinity—meeting men, young and old, with imitation masculinity that was shattered. A spiritual father is always needed to assist in the patient task of putting things back together, this time not as imitation, but as an integral connection between the man and his soul.

When the older men are themselves working with impaired masculinity, there is a need for fatherhood on a different level, a fatherhood that transcends both the younger and older men.

It is here that I see St Joseph as the archetype of fatherhood: a father for both fathers and sons. After all, God thought that he was special enough to be father of His Son.


Key Message:

Mature masculinity requires taking responsibility, turning up for all your children, a mutual relationship with your spouse where you’ll submit to God’s will.

Action Step:

Make a list of your second-chance fathers and pray for them and thank them. Have you been a second chance father? Reflect on the experience.

Scripture Reading:

Mt 1:18–25