The Black Dog
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from Iron John by Robert Bly

Iron John

As the father seems more and more enfeebled, dejected, paltry, he also appears as the tool of dark forces. We remember that in Star Wars we are given the name Darth Vader, a pun on dark father. He is wholeheatedly on the side of the dark forces. As political and mythological kings die, the father loses the radiance he once absorbed from the sun, or from the hierarchy of solar beings: he strikes society as endarkened.
The demons who have set up a propagandda shop in the son’s psyche convince him that his father’s darkness is deeper than the son ever imagined. What can be done about that? The son finds out early that his mother cannot redeem his father; moreover, in most cases, she doesn’t want to. The only one left to do it is the son.
As long as political kings remain strong, the father picked up radiance from above; and the son tried to emulate the father, to become as bright as he is, to reach to his height. The son perceives the father as bright. Though this may not have been true in reality, we notice the literature as late as the eighteenth century is full of this sort of deference, this reverence for the father, and emulation.
In our time, when the father shows up as an object of ridicule (as he does, as we’ve noted, on television), or a bad-tempered fool (when he comes home from the office with no teaching) or a weak puddle of indecision (as he stops inheriting kingly radiance), the son has a problem. How does he imagine his own life as a man?
Some sons fall into a secret dispair. They have probably adopted, by the time they are six, their mother’s view of their father, and by twenty will have adopted society’s critical view of fathers, which amounts to a dismissal. What can they do but ask women for help?
The request is not all bad. But even the best intentioned woman cannot give what is needed. Some father hungry sons embody a secret despair they do note even mention to women. Without actually investigating their own personal father and why he is as he is, they fall into a fearful hopelessness, having fully accepted the generic, diminished idea of father. “I am the son of defective male material and I’ll probably be the same as he is”. Then, with this secret they give up, collapse, live with a numb place inside, feel compelled to be dark because the father is dark. They lose the vigourous participation in political battles, so characteristic of nineteenth century men in the United States, feel their opinions do not matter, become secret underground people, and sometimes drown themselves in alcohol while living in a burrow under the earth.
Other men respond by leaping up and flying into the air. The deeper the father sinks in their view, the longer their flights become. More and more evidence comes out in newspapers and books each day about sexual abuse perpetrated by fahtes, inability of fathers to relate in a human way, the rigid promilitary stance of many fathers, the workaholism of fathers, their alcoholism,wife-beating and abandoment. All of this news intensfies the brightness that some sons feel compelled to achieve because the father is dark.
We can sense in this situation one answer to the question “why are there more and more naive men in the world?’
[The above is a tiny selection from the book Iron John, which sees a path to a solution to the crisis in male life through ritual and sorytelling.)


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