Fathers and Sons

Posted on May 29th, 2014 by in Conscious Living

fathers_sonsby David Harshada Wagner

Every son has a father. And in every father-son relationship, there’s a chance for deep spiritual growth.

Years ago, when I was first getting into serious spiritual training, I worked with a brilliant psychotherapist. In my first session he asked me what my intention was.

“I don’t want to be like my father.”

I was 20 at the time. I had just started reading Robert Bly’s book Iron John. I was a long-haired, recovering addict and art student. My father, Carl, was an earnest, conservative, deeply unhappy, functioning alcoholic. By the time I was 20, I was mostly estranged from Carl. He was an absent father, and left wounds in me as young boy who wanted more and needed more from a dad.

As a result of my father wound, I spent many years rebelling against him and all authority figures and institutions. I kept my distance from men. I eventually worked that stuff out for the most part. Over the years I’ve done spiritual work, therapy, men’s groups. I’ve been close with a number of brilliant and generous male mentors. In all these ways, I’ve managed to find the holes that Carl left and learn how to fill them.

Carl died when I was 30. I had my first son two years ago, when I was 40. There’s really nothing like being a father. I absolutely treasure my relationship with my son. And as a father myself, I can now empathize with Carl and understand better the challenges and struggles he faced. Now, from this place, I can really appreciate him as a dad and embrace the positive lessons he taught me in his good moments. These days I have a whole circle of powerful male friends and a deep love for masculine energy. I know how to stand for my truth and weave a life around my deep purpose. I can only do this because I have worked on this “dad stuff.”

Being a father who is also a spiritual teacher, I see the importance of this connection for men. I really get how deep the “soul waters” are that run between fathers and sons. If a man wants to embrace all the good things in life and really know and live his purpose, he has to look with a brutally honest eye at the stuff he carries in his heart about his dad. For men on the path of transformation and self-knowledge, it’s essential that we work out our “dad stuff.” We all have it, whether we had the best dad in the world or the worst. It’s not about working out our present-day relationship with our dad. It’s more about the conditioning and patterns that got woven into our masculine psyche as we grew up as the son of our father. This principle is true for men who grew up with their fathers and equally, if not more, true for men who lost their fathers for whatever reason.

Some men had absent or addicted fathers like mine. Others grew up under the long shadows of great dads. All men need to go through a transition from being the son to being the father. When we do, we go from being the boy to being the man. This allows us to really go for it in life and live from our truth. Then we don’t feel like we’re proving ourselves—we’re simply living our truth and doing our thing. As a teacher, I have been focusing more and more on men, helping to find ways to unearth their greatness and help them to really rise into their bigness as men.

Over Easter, I was in Nashville TN and had the privilege of hanging out with the songwriter John Jarvis. He shared with me a song that he wrote for Waylon Jennings, “Between Fathers and Sons.” John played and sang the song for me. I found it so poignant and heart-wrenching. I’ll leave you with the lyrics below.

My father had so much to tell me
Things he said I had to know
Don’t make my mistakes
There are rules you can’t break
But I had to find out on my own.

Now when I look at my own son
I know what my father went through
There’s only so much you can do.

You’re proud when they walk
Scared when they run
That’s how it always has been
Between fathers and sons.

It’s a bridge you can’t cross
It’s a cross you can’t bear
It’s the words you can’t say
The things you can’t change
No matter how much you care.

So you do all you can
but then you gotta let go
You’re just part of the flow
Of the river that runs
Between fathers and sons.

Your mother will try to protect you
Hold you as long as she can
But the higher you climb
The more you can see
That’s something that I understand.

One day you’ll look at your own son
There’ll be so much that you want to say
He’ll have to find his own way
On the road he must take
The course he must run
That’s how it always has been
Between fathers and sons.

It’s a bridge you can’t cross
It’s a cross you can’t bear
It’s the words you can’t say
The things you can’t change
No matter how much you care.

So you do all you can
but then you gotta let go
You’re just part of the flow
Of the river that runs
Between fathers and sons.

David Harshada Wagner is a meditation teacher and spiritual leader who is classically trained in the Indian wisdom traditions of yoga, Vedanta, and tantric Shaivism. He is founder and director of Living Meditation, based in New York City, and Adhishtana Living in Mumbai, India.

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  • http://www.livingmeditation.org David H. Wagner

    Great to see this on here! Hope to see some sons and dads at the Men’s Weekend in June.