We are of a time and a generation where many, both men and women, have lost their fathers. I have worked with a great number of these people – perhaps too many to count – over the past decade. They have included small children with fresh wounds, and older adults in their sixties carrying a lifetime’s worth of grief. I have seen teenagers who have lost their fathers just as the relationship was shifting, from simply father and child, to that of mutually shared adulthood. I have seen men in middle age, now with young children of their own, struggling to cope and be the fathers that they didn’t have.

The actual loss of a father through death, abandonment, or tragedy can be a devastating event. However, the father does not have to be physically absent in order for a loss to occur. A father may present in his body, but not present in his heart or mind.  He may carry burdens that cannot be seen, an unfulfilled dream, or a heartbreaking loss of his own. He may withdraw around this pain, apparently there but actually fleeing, unable to truly love and support the child in his life. Sometimes the father may be hurtful, physically or emotionally or sexually. Though the specifics of the story change, the pain left behind can be incalculable, a cavernous void in the heart.

The idea of the father, and particularly what makes one a good father, is not a fully static one. It is not suspended in time. We can see that our culture is changing rapidly in how we understand men and their role as fathers. And, even so, there are many ways in which our idea of the father has remained consistent in tone, sharing understandings and connotations that are ancient and archetypal.

One of the most ancient understandings of the father is that he is the protector. The father is the one who walks ahead of us into the dangerous world, making sure the ground is safe ahead for his little one. He takes this risk for the child’s benefit, for the protection of a small and vulnerable mind and heart. The good father can do this physically, looking across the street for cars, making sure our bicycle is safe and ready to ride, keeping us safe from strangers and even family. But he also protects psychologically and spirituality. The good father has experienced inner trials, despairs and elations, and is ready to share, when we are ready to hear, lessons from the inner world.

Another archetypal role of the father is as the one who guides the child out into the world, the one who challenges and encourages us. He is honest with us about what he sees. He knows that the world rewards our actual talents and passions, not things taken up simply for show. At first, he holds our hands as we walk with these strengths, with him, into an uncertain world. He tells us where we are going, what to look for, he explains the forces and energies we will confront. As we move forward, the good father allows us to explore, to push, to challenge, and to go farther up the path by ourselves. He knows that he cannot protect us forever, or live our life for us.

As this process continues, the bond becomes less parental and more about a deep trust and shared knowing: The child is ready to be an adult and the father is ready to let his child take greater responsibility and ownership for themselves. A cycle is completed and a new relationship is borne.

When someone walks into a Life Design Centre office, I do not assume that they have lived without a good father. There are many good fathers in the world. But when the father was indeed absent in body or mind, or was aggressive in body or mind, there is a grieving that needs to happen. This might not even need to be said. The grief can sit silently between the client and myself in the air we breathe. Often the feeling of grief and the healing of that grief are just present in the therapeutic space, simply as they are. This can be understood as mirroring a common emotional element of fatherhood: Feelings need to be felt and known, but they don’t always need to be spoken about.

Allowing grief is a large aspect of the process. But it is not the only one. When the father is not there, the child is denied a crucial growth process and the clear guidance that the father should have initiated. In the best therapy, the therapist and client join forces in order to make right what went wrong in the father-child relationship. It often matters little whether the therapist is a man or the women, as long as there is an understanding of the loss.

The first responsibility lies with the therapist. At Life Design Centre we understand the importance of creating a safe and nurturing container to hold your grief. We work to understand your story and provide insight and strong support to you as a good father would. We are present, both sensitive and steady in attention. As therapy proceeds, the work we do with you becomes increasingly more collaborative. We work with you to uncover the story of your childhood and what has happened since. We help you identify the strengths you have within. We support you as you map out the paths and places you have traveled to, paying homage and having gratitude for those. At that point, we often challenge you, as the good father would, to find the paths that you have not yet taken and begin the process of taking your own journey into the unknown.

This is the most important moment: When you identify the path that you might have taken but have not yet. Finding this new path is at the essence of the work you will do at Life Design Centre. Working with us, you will learn how to manifest that new direction in your life, through action, insight, and intention. This work is a shared effort: We may catalyze the process for you, but the effort must become joined in order for true healing, completion, and moving forward. Eventually, as you become steady on your new journey, the therapeutic relationship shifts. The therapist takes on a new role, like the good father takes on a new role, with you now having the strength to walk more independently and even help others find their own way. Through therapy, the gifts that were not given by the father are rediscovered in the self.

Del Mar | West Los Angeles | 877.361.2551 | info@lifedesigncentre.com