I would like to bring two movies I saw recently to the attention of the readers of this blog. But first, as a way of introduction, I have been concerned about the status of boys for some time. For several years I wrote and published a newsletter on boys for the community where I live (Santa Fe, NM). Currently I am completing a doctoral dissertation on the subject of the decline of boys. My interest is in the field of depth psychology, and I am doing the doctoral work at the Pacifica Graduate Institute.
About those movies: both concern father hunger and father absence as seen from the point of view of pre-adolescent boys. They are both sad, but well-done films and raise questions about the issue of the fathers’ unavailability and what it means to the boys. In my opinion, the father loss issue is a crucial, perhaps the most important, ingredient in the decline of boys.
One film was The Kid With a Bike. It was made in Belgium and showed, among other things, the ease with which others can exploit father hunger in a young boy. The other film was simply titled Boy. It is from New Zealand and begins with a boy pining away for his imprisoned dad. Much of the experience of the film is about the boy’s coming to understand that his father, once he returns, is not the adult masculine presence that he projected on him when he was away in prison. The disillusionment is heartbreaking; the inner need for the father in both boys is palpable. The two eventually wind up in the care of women (a kind stranger, a grandmother), though the boys must go through a lot of turmoil in accepting this fate which seems to be a loss. However, the women are a relief compared to their clearly inadequate, abandoning fathers.
With Father’s Day at hand, perhaps others on this blog could weigh in with their thoughts about the causes and effects of father absence. For my part, I want to share something about another film which was popular two years ago and dealt with this subject, though the missing father was seldom addressed in relation to the abundant commentary about it. The movie is The Kids Are All Right. It is about a lesbian couple with two teenage children, a boy, 16, and a girl, 18. The children, whose parents are educated, stable, upper middle class women, came into the world with the help of an anonymous sperm donor, and now the boy wants to meet him. Once the meeting takes place, and the “sperm donor dad” and his energy work their way into the family, all kinds of new psychological effects are set lose. The girl begins to explore her sexuality, and the boy stands up for himself to a bullying friend. Both mature and are stronger. The claustrophobic relationship between the two mothers also shows the potential for change. But before that happens, the sperm donor dad is ostracized for having an affair with one of them. Nonetheless, his spell—a sort of randy, masculine energy—is cast on the family, for better or worse. From the point of view of individuation, or psychological growth for the children and the mothers, I would argue that their development was enhanced, in line with the film’s felicitous title.
What I found most interesting about this movie was that even in this father unfriendly (or at best neutral) environment of the movie’s lesbian family, there was a need for the male dad. While in real life the culture seems to be trying hard to either ignore him or turn him into a substitute mother, there is something that I see portrayed in these films about the male father that is called out in the children, and I suspect in the boys especially; in the psyche of a boy he is not so easily replaced by the mother. What are we as a society going to do about this absence which seems to work to the detriment of boys in so many ways?
In closing I want to thank the Boys Initiative for starting this blog. It is badly needed.
Santa Fe, New Mexico