With Father's Day around the corner I though it would be appropriate to discuss the archetype of the father and its importance in the cycle of human existence. However, I should say that the Father archetype is not necessarily correlated to any particular sex or gender identification. The Father role is an energetic orientation toward others, not a role dependent upon certain genetic or performative standards. I've known many a single mother who have stepped into the father role, and done so with grace and dignity. Fatherhood is also not contingent upon having biological children.
To me, fatherhood is the state of being a compassionate yet stable guide for those in need of wisdom and guidance. It is the impulse that arises to move others toward discovering their strength of will, perseverance and responsibility in the world. However, fatherhood in the western world has become associated with a multitude of masculinity markers that often do not serve men well in their adult lives. It is not about throwing around a baseball, teaching your kids to fight or merely being a source of financial security (although these can be aspects of the performance of fatherhood).
I can say that from teaching a college Men and Masculinity class if I've learned anything from my students, it's that most men are more contented acting in congruence with their own inner compass for masculinity rather than living in fear of breaking some masculine code of conduct. This goes for fatherhood too. The age of the punishing, emotionless, stern and lofty paternal figure is over. It has wreaked havoc, particularly on our culture's boys, and left generation after generation of individuals with "daddy issues". It does not serve our children and only perpetuates men's disconnection from their intuitive and emotional truths.
The Father archetype on a spiritual level is meant to provide spiritual stability and confidence to those whom they have adopted as their children. The Father archetype is meant to provide compassionate and gentle support at times, and at other times is meant to be a galvanizing agent helping their children to push toward actualization of goals. In this way it is deeply important for the father to successfully integrate their own spiritual lessons so they can provide wisdom to their children.
In Christian theology, Jesus Christ is the ultimate Father archetype and is deeply gentle, loving and kind, leading those in his flock toward realization of Divine Truth. In Hindu traditions the Father archetype is often depicted as the guru yogi who is both patient and exacting in steering his disciples toward enlightenment. In both cases it is more about the state of the father's being rather than the outward role he plays.
In other species, the father plays varying roles and can often switch roles with the mother quite easily. In many bird species, like the cardinal, the father builds and prepares the nest for the chicks, and even shares the responsibilities of nurturing and coddling the children until they are ready to fly, where the mother then teaches them the "ways of the world".
In this sense, fatherhood is less about the role that is played in the outer world, as that will have as many variations as there are cultural traditions. Some choose to enact the traditional role of father to their children dependent upon their cultural norms, but often these role playing endeavors don't match the father's themselves and leave children feeling a disconnection between the role their fathers play and the energy their father actually brings. I've met many people who felt disillusioned by fathers who did all the right things (supported the family, provided a home, etc.,) yet were emotionally and spiritually cold.
Fatherhood is a state of relating to others. It is the desire to teach, protect and guide those whom one has adopted as children. Fatherhood in my mind has little to do with dominance, paternalism and punishment, and more to do with confidence, humility and compassion. Indeed the archetype of the Father can be at turns strict (when necessary) and playful (when appropriate) and this is what pushes the child toward holistic growth and development.
The Father is the energetic compliment to the mother role who is meant to instill the fluid principles of love, creativity and acceptance into the child. Both archetypal roles can be masterfully played by one individual if the person is in touch with their own archetypal masculine and feminine energy. However, it can be difficult for many to overcome the cultural expectations of what a father or mother "does" in the world rather than what a father or mother is as a state of being.
I have never fancied being a father to my own biological child, but have found myself in this role with my students, clients and often sometimes friends or other family over the years and find that inhabiting the energy of the father is deeply rewarding and satisfying. So to honor the father in yourself find your desire to disseminate and pass along wisdom and protection to others. Accessing your own inner father can be a wonderful way to understand your journey in this life because it requires you to review your experiences in order to guide others as necessary.
Most people have the father energy within them, in some it goes untapped because of the restrictions on what fatherhood means in a cultural or biological sense. Conversely, there are many fathers or those playing the father role who have not done their spiritual work, creating a "blind leading the blind" situation. The most important role for the Father is to integrate and embark on their own spiritual journey.
In the West this journey is often not given importance, and since there is no universal tradition of initiation for men many fathers find themselves spiritually unintegrated and struggling whilst raising their own children, not to mention most men are not modeled healthy emotional and intuitive practices from their own fathers leaving them perpetuating outmoded ways of fatherhood. Therefore it is equally as important for the father to embark on their spiritual quest whilst tending to the practical needs of parenting. One cannot exist without the other if balance is to be achieved.
So in celebration of Father's Day I salute the father (expressed or unexpressed) in all of you. It is a necessary role but it is an even more necessary state of being. This is not to discount or discredit all of the wonderful male-identified fathers out there working their butts off to do right by their children and family units, but it is a call to examine whether the role of fatherhood and the energy of fatherhood you are performing are in holistic alignment. Don't get so caught up in the role of fatherhood that you forget that for children, they care much more about your state of being. Roles change, being is constant. Be the full expression of the father you wanted, leaving nothing out. Express your emotions, play, guide and nurture, but most of all integrate your wisdom and continue to do your spiritual work so that your children (whatever form they take) can learn from an integrated example.