The team from MENDS is available for presentations on subjects related to men and separation, so receive invitations to deliver papers or presentations at various venues around Australia and New Zealand .
The following is a list of some relevant presentations and papers:
A copy of this paper (533kb) is downloadable in pdf format here:
Working with males experiencing separation crisis in both community and prison settings, has highlighted what appears to be the most prominent, though least articulated source of abiding fear and pain for such clients.
This brief article seeks to define aspects of this source of difficulty for such clients, which is arguably related to disruptions to a phenomenon that will be termed "emotional inheritance".
When we think of the word inheritance, we invariably relate such concept, primarily to physical resources (e.g. houses, estates, objects or money) that are bequeathed following a death. Common understanding is as a sort of property settlement following the death of a relative or sometimes even a friend. In any event, most commonly experienced as part of an intentional plan and legal process established by the original property owner prior to their actual demise.
Most of us can readily associate those 'reading of the will' scenes in movies where most often, less than deserving descendants gather and sit on the edge of their seats as the lawyer reads out the deceaseds' wishes. Irrespective of how fair or otherwise those persons (or indeed ourselves if we've been involved in such a scenario) think of this process, such is nevertheless normally straightforward, legally defined and supported by law.
If we're lucky, we get something from Aunt Thelma, Grandad, Mum or Dad. If they've been particularly successful and if they've grown to like us in their lifetime, maybe we inherit a substantial portion of their resources. Regardless, the process is most commonly well defined, and despite the media focus on challenging of wills; the vast majority of recipients simply settle for what has been prescribed as their lot.
Separation and divorce often introduces a range of complications into the distribution of inheritance between parents and children. This is particularly so if remarriage occurs and involves not only new partners for one or both parents, but stepchildren or additional biological offspring into the equation. Many children from the original, intact family can often experience a systematic disenfranchisement from what they might have originally received or expected.
Given that approximately half of all marriages now fail in Australia, and given that most divorcees eventually repartner; its clear that inheritance decision-making and outcomes commonly involve other than biologically related persons. The potential for bereavements to involve feelings of unfairness, betrayal and/or loss of a perceived birthright is increasingly commonplace in contemporary society.
Despite such problems, it has been the writer's experience that non-custodial (non-resident) parents (mainly fathers) show little substantial concern about how much property they can pass on to their children by way of physical and/or economic resources. Few report agonising long-term over the substantial legacy of divorce as being their reduced capacity to pass on the products of their labour or investments. I'm purposely jumping over immediate post-divorce settlements, maintenance arrangements etc, which clearly involve considerable angst for many parents.
It seems, however, that following an economic adjustment period, there remains for many, the most disturbing impact on inheritance that is not defined in economic terms. Let's call this factor, "emotional inheritance." From personal and professional experience, this factor is worthy of considerable description, identification and focus, since it underlies the most significant disruption and substantial disinheritance experienced by non-custodial fathers and their children following family breakdowns.
Let's try and understand this concept of emotional inheritance by momentarily shifting the focus away from separated fathers and their children to aspects of relationships with our own parents. If we ask ourselves, what is it that we consider we have really inherited from them; or even more simply, what are those memories that most sharply define the quality of the relationships we have or have had with our own parents; the answers often become remarkably simple.
We quickly realise that whether or not our parents lived in a stately mansion, drove expensive cars or lavished us with worldly goods; (while clearly a factor), such simply take a back seat to other aspects of our experience.
More pointedly, such defining memories appear related to; how much time they spent with us, what we did during those times, how they interacted with us, talked, laughed, shared disappointment, administered discipline, dealt with frustration and anger, how they treated each other, whether they were there for sporting games, graduations and times of celebration, if they made themselves emotionally available when you were struggling, hurting or failed in something, and whether they took the time to listen to you, encourage you or celebrate with you.
Such collective memories form the substantial mosaic of emotional attachments, identity and sense of safety with our parents. In essence, the sense of how much they were supportive, actively involved and available to your life, more clearly defines parent-child relationships. Such experiences seem to cluster together into what is termed the 'emotional inheritance' gained from our parents.
This quality of connectedness invariably affected how we think about ourselves and the world in general. Further, the nature of our emotional inheritance is maintained to subsequently impact on the nature of the emotional inheritance we pass on to own children.
It seems almost innate for children to really want to know their parents. Not just what they do, but how, when, where and why they do things. That sense of knowing, of real visibility of our parents seems to provide a sort of emotional safety net and appears critical to the development of self knowledge in children.
Equally, not really knowing our parents, or our parents being invisible to us, seems to produce a vacuum within which the development of a stable self-esteem is hampered. It's as if a very real disinheritance of sorts is experienced. Tragically, this has become the hallmark of relationships between hardworking (absent, distant and tired) fathers and their children; even in intact families. How often have you heard, or indeed even spoken similar words describing your father.
'He was a good man and worked very hard to provide for our family. But (and there's always a but); I really wish I'd gotten to know him as a person before he died".
On the other side of the coin, after nearly two decades of working with fathers, the writer would like a dollar for every time a male client expressed the following sentiments.
'I've worked hard to establish a home and opportunities for my children. I was shocked at how quickly they went off the rails when they hit their teens. I really wished I'd worked less and spent more time with them. Maybe we'd have a better relationship now.'
Paradoxically, those same fathers will often say
'But I really enjoy playing with the grandkids, they are a real delight. I take them on walks, to their activities, attend their speech nights, etc etc' .
Those same grandfathers have often expressed the sadness and grief associated with their awareness of having "missed out" on so much of the good things with their own children. Often, as much motivated by guilt as opportunity; they plunge themselves into meaningful activity with grandchildren as work commitments tail off. Alan, a 48 year old grandfather of 3 grandchildren wistfully explained
'In a way, I know I'm trying to make up for what I didn't give to my own kids. I wasn't really there for my own, but I'm bloody well sure I'm not going to make the same mistake with these grandkids'.
Now, here's the zinger (by Alan again)
"You know what's really sad? I see my own son busy, building up his business, and making the same mistakes with his own kids that I did with him"
In the words of that great ballad by Cat Stevens (Cats in the Cradle)
"and as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, my boy was just like me, yeah, he'd grown up just like me."
The utility of the concept of "emotional inheritance" in working with males, particularly where post-separation fathering opportunities may be limited to 48 hour time windows every two weeks has been found to include:
A copy of this paper (16kb) is downloadable in pdf format here:
Each of the following concepts have been found to be useful in engaging males by use of non-threatening acknowledgment of (their) real experiencing. In other words, such concepts validate those often secret or inner-world aspects of male lives. Further, such have been found useful tools for individuals themselves to recognise and communicate sources of personal distress or 'hot spots' underlying relationship difficulties.
While such concepts are not lost on females (particularly working/career women), the meaning and utility have been found to encompass certain unique aspects of the male experience. Importantly, their value as metaphors, models, myths and touchstones for personal transitions is apparent. This is particularly so in all-male forums, where individuals feel sufficiently comfortable and safe to talk openly and honestly about themselves after they realise that their experiencing is more 'normal' than they previously thought.
While much of the male identity is anchored to and defined by action: i.e. the achievement of outcomes through activities; action can also develop into a way of not addressing real-life experiences. For example, the classic workaholic can be understood to be avoiding dealing with other problems in his life. While distracting oneself through action can be a positive coping mechanism at times, (for example, extreme anger), overuse of this particular sort of coping mechanism can result in a poorly developed and narrowed sense of self with negative impacts on key relationships.
Being real simply refers to the honest declaration of present experiencing. Being real requires no pretending and particularly, self-acknowledgment of what is truly going on inside of oneself. Being real also requires the honest response to requests from those near to us when they sense that something is not quite right. Notably, being real, not only requires an ability to monitor our thinking, emotional and bodily states, but critically, the development of meaningful words (language) to communicate such to ourselves and others.
This concept captures the idea of not quite ever being in the centre or personally involved in something that is important; but rather, skirting around the edges of it. Boundary riders typically avoid situations that may cause them some degree of discomfort, however, over time, such activity denies them a range of real-life experiences and opportunities to grow and develop. Males (fathers) often report boundary riding around the emotional life of their family by defaulting such activity to their partners. Consequences of boundary-riding include marginalisation from much of family activity and not being emotionally available to children (or even partner).
Just as in the times of Cowboys and Indians, sometimes our heroes, typically under overwhelming odds, would circle their wagons, dig in and basically wait to be rescued by the cavalry. So too this concept captures the idea of men putting themselves into a siege response and basically waiting to be rescued. However, Cavalry Waiting represents a denial of self-responsibility, particularly in those circumstances where self-action is required. Cavalry Waiting is also at the basis of co-dependency in relationships where one partner simply waits for the other to make things better or even fix things up.
This term refers to a style of living that is close to danger or to falling off something threatening. Cliff Dwelling refers to a lifestyle which is not only full of risk, (given its proximity to a cliff), but also highlights that there doesn't exist very much of a "buffer zone", ie the capacity to move comfortably in one particular direction at least, without increasing personal danger. Those males who have little or no capacity to exercise control over strong emotions without acting-out or "losing it" are typical cliff dwellers. For many males, the 'cliff' can be an imaginary fear rather than anything real, however, over time, has become just as scary or dangerous.
The concept of parental stewardship (as distinct from implications of 'ownership' of children) when applied to parenting has been found to have significant utility for both separated parents but particularly non-custodial fathers. Specifically, the notion of stewardship appears less threatening, more inclusive and fair to those fathers who feel disenfranchised from their children following separation.
Further, this concept /principle has been found to represent part of a critical enabling strategy to assist those who have become entrenched in current hostilities and past issues by shifting parental focus onto their children and to more positive future possibilities.
Doing the Best I Can
We mostly hear this statement when males are responding to challenges or criticisms to "do better". Interestingly, such a statement often represents the truth; i.e. the person is at that time, actually coping to the best of his ability. However, sometimes this same statement can represent a defensive response to fear about a certain activity and under such circumstances (i.e. where the fear is not acknowledged), represents a level of dishonesty and pretending. When we are being real, such a statement can represent a true self-declaration. However, when we are pretending, it can also be a mask to or a denial of our fears to not want to attempt to do something else.
This concept has been found to have enormous face validity, especially to fathers who have come to consider themselves "disposable parents", "walking wallets" or essentially "dispossessed" and/or "disinherited" from their children's lives. ( Note: Such phrases and self-descriptions have been regularly used by such fathers in communicating their frustrations and fears) .
Emotional Inheritance is maintained to be a forward looking, hopeful, child-focussed and pro-social concept that foregrounds the importance for such fathers to strive to retain positive, nurturing and sustainable relationships with their children. Emotional Inheritance seeks to encapsulate all those positive qualities that a father would ordinarily wish to pass onto his children, quite independent of acquired marital resources. Those parents who subscribe to such a concept are also far more likely to provide financially for their children, irrespective of substantial changes within their own lives.
(For a more in-depth discussion of Emotional Inheritance follow the link.)
One of the unfortunate legacies of contemporary Western society is for males to be raised in families that have distant, tired or absent fathers. Furthermore, the historical rites of passage and mentoring activities of so-called more primitive societies which acknowledge and empowered such transitions, are also clearly missing in modern communities. The end result is that many males in contemporary society experience the absence of a close (and real) relationship with their father or a dominant male. 'Father Hunger' is a concept that was coined by Steve Biddulph in his book, Manhood. Biddulph maintains that this is a widespread phenomenon, which despite personal resolutions to do otherwise, many males repeat with their own children, especially their sons.
Daniel Petre recently published a book called Father Time. Petre, a former Microsoft executive, documents his own growing awareness of the need to establish a work-life balance in his own activities so his children did not suffer from Father Hunger. The term Father Time refers to that unique opportunity for fathers to spend quality time with their children by shrugging off the role of the corporate executive and spending activities in the present with their children. Notably, Father Time cannot come from anyone other than the child's father, therefore, all the activities from the mother cannot reasonably displace the need for Father Time in a child's life.
Just as the concept of 'sitting on the fence' highlights a position of not taking sides, 'Fence Leaning' has a different sort of meaning, however, still defines a particular relationship to a boundary (or fence). Fence Leaners are those who are actually on one side of a boundary, however, are attempting to hold the fence in place, i.e. maintain some boundary which is clearly being challenged. Fence Leaners are actually using the boundary itself to prop themselves up, and therefore typically place themselves on the opposite side of the forces that challenge and typically do not declare their reasons for taking such a hidden posture.
This concept embodies a number of aspects of the male experience that relate to an avoidance of aspects of reality. When we functionally pretend, we may exhibit ambivalence about intimacy and experience limited safety zones, particularly in our emotional world. Further, functional pretending may encompass a suspended or delayed realisation of self-needs and nearly always the displacement of our stewardship over the now. Continual functional pretending typically results in males living in a low-grade, depressive world that may include sleep and energy disturbances.
Head Space and Heart Space
In essence, Head Space refers to the world of words, of rationalisations and of logic. Conversely, Heart Space refers to the world of present experiencing, including areas of our thinking and bodily functioning, but particularly emotionality. While both places have "real" aspects, the typical male world is that of Head Space. Avoiding Heart Space can therefore distort real experiences and opportunities for connecting with other persons in a more complete, honest or meaningful manner.
Keeping it Up
This concept quickly brings to mind sexual pressures for males; pressures that dig deep into male anxiety, particularly male performance anxiety and habits of people pleasing. So too, anxiety exists around maintaining those aspects of our lives which we know to be difficult to sustain long-term, particularly when based on pretending. Like so many other of these male engagement concepts, Keeping It Up can be a functional mask that exists to deny what is being experienced in a very real and personal sense.
Living Behind Enemy Lines
This concept was coined by a group participant who came to the realisation that his typical response was "to go into my head to deal with pressures". His recent awareness of the limitations and dangers of such activity, were described as "living behind enemy lines". Just as in the case of war, this term highlights the dangers and lack of real support that accompanies such activities. By use of this metaphor, the concept allows a male to see that certain of his historical activities (eg over-utilisation of 'Head Space') represent high risk and may not support him long term.
Making Time Friendly
Male experiencing often encompasses an awareness of the 'unfriendliness' of time, which arises from an awareness that the present does not provide sufficient resources to meet current challenges. The typical response at such juncture, is to either delay the sustaining of real needs; i.e. a siege approach which simply waits in the hope that time will move the individual to a better place; or alternatively, commence activities that will distract the individual from the present. Notably, the net experience is an unfriendliness of time itself.
While Mexican Stand-Offs can be enacted by both males or females, the quality of the male Mexican Stand-Off is hallmarked by a commitment to avoidance of self-disclosure and an adamant stance based on the female rescuing him from a difficult emotional place. Females often report such male behaviours as 'sulking', while the male often experiences their position as justified. The end result is most often a no-win outcome and an entrenchment of relationship difficulties.
No Man's Land
Another war time term referring to the piece of land between two enemy front lines and traditionally known for its dangers. This metaphor has applicability to the male experience of being caught between two (2) competing forces/worlds to such an extent as to be locked into a sterile and dangerous place. The common, no-man's land for males is the place between work and home. The metaphor also has utility in that it can be taken literally as 'No Man's Land' = No Man's Land.
One Sized Boots
This metaphor relates to the common male perception that there are a very large pair of boots that each male must fit, invariably much bigger than what he could possibly fill. This perception often rises over time from a belief that the façade of pretending, that's offered by other males, is actually real; i.e. that they are coping and achieving in a much more substantial way than himself. Further, the competitive posturing between males reduces the opportunities to dispel such myths in order to more realistically compare himself to other males. The concept has utility in that the one-sized boots in reality belong to each person; that is their own sized boots.
Prodigal Father is the title of a book by an American author, Mark Bryant, who wrote extensively about his own experience of having to return into the life of his son. The term puts a twist on the Biblical Prodigal Son by sheeting home responsibility to fathers to be proactive in returning to reconnect with their son and/or children and to make amends wherever such is warranted. The term strikes a general chord with most older fathers who have become increasingly aware of their historical unavailability to their children, even in intact families and their consequent desires to connect more substantially.
A piece of computer jargon which has definite applicability to the male time-travelling experience. Real Time is now time; that is, living in the now and therefore not related to living in the past nor projecting ahead into a possible future. Real Time appears to be the only time we can connect appropriately with our children and those closest to us. Even small children are aware if their fathers are operating in real time or alternatively not totally present. Real Time requires the honest acknowledgment of present experiencing to be effective.
Reconnecting with Myself
An extremely useful concept to males who have or are going through some crisis-related response wherein the traditional mechanism of working harder is simply not effective. Reconnecting with Myself is based on the experience that there is great utility for an individual in doing a very thorough self-audit at such times. That is, gaining insight through identifying of what forces have impacted on and shaped their character to date and consequently understanding themselves, their needs and their feelings in a much more useful fashion. Prior to reconnecting with themselves, most males in crisis seem better able to express what they don't want rather than what they really do want.
Some Day I'll.
Captures the typical internal male dialogue (self-talk) which rationalises delayed gratification. This is particularly relevant to the kind of self-talk which keeps males on the boundaries of important core family activity and therefore limited emotional availability to their children; i.e. "Some day (when I've got enough money in the bank and I'm more financially secure), I'll be available for my kids and my relationship and all the other good things that I'm now missing out on". "Someday I'll (Isle)" does not exist in Real Time.
This concept refers to one's unique set of physical, emotional and thinking cues that indicate stress build-up. The concept begs the importance of each male becoming increasingly aware of the more subtle initiatory-type cues, particularly bodily and emotional cues which flag rising stress levels. Awareness of one's stress signature affords more opportunities (and therefore choices) to enact earlier, more adaptive responses to early warning signs of stress.
Just as in the commercial world, there is an understanding and commitment to the traditional stocktake or inventory, this concept highlights the importance of the value to taking personal inventory of what past, present and future factors are impacting on a person's current functioning. Taking Inventory at this level is the hallmark of a responsible human being. The avoidance of taking inventory invariably places an individual at future risk and further entrenchment in pretending.
Another of Bryant's terminologies from The Prodigal Father and refers to the male experience of living with that cluster of negative guilt and fears related to past missed opportunities or inappropriate behaviours on their past. The concept engages many males who have great difficulty in disclosing their own levels of haunting, by acknowledging that such is normal and forms the critical first step in being able to address such. Haunting reflects those aspects of the past that seem alive in the present and negatively erode the capacity to enjoy Real Time.
As the name suggests, Time-Travelling highlights the male capacity to avoid the present by either worrying the past to death or alternatively, shooting ahead in time to some possible (either positive or negative) future. Once again, what's important here is that the male gain some understanding of the value of standing still in time and taking care of the real stewardship; ie that is the now. While certain aspects of time-travelling are functional (ie visiting the past is critical to insight and examining possible futures, essential to planning), to do so at the expense of present functional is clearly dysfunctional.
A well used and a useful therapeutic technique of having individuals change their individual locus of control; i.e. from the past or future to the present by having them move their time frame of responsibility to more appropriate point. Time Shifting can involve the incremental changes that are required to offload the past or to bring to stage manage bringing someone from the future into the present. For example, anxiety about the next week can be substantially reduced by focussing on controlling the next hour. Ultimately, a positive awareness of the value of living in the now brings relief from the capacity of the past to hold the present hostage or a person's capacity to give up the present to live in some possible future.
Tooling Up for Change
As the name suggests, in workplace projects, the initial phase is often to ensure that the correct tools are available for the job. Tooling Up for Change refers to that phase in significant life transitions where we look at the range of capacities and skills (and skill deficits) that may exist in our toolkit and therefore highlights those skills and resources (tools) that we may need to source from someone else. One sobering aspect of Tooling Up for Change, is the common realisation that our current support mechanisms are often inadequate to sustain real change.
Captures the male resistance to emotionality generally and specifically, the use of touching as part of appropriate human expression. Touchy Feely has become a more generalised term in male language to refer to weak, ineffectual, effeminate or superficial behaviours that appear threatening or even useless to the needs of a real male. Touchy Feely fears limit male expressing and ultimately, deny real needs.
This term highlights the challenge for males to understand what aspects of their own behaviours (embodied in roles) have been taken on board in an unconscious or less than fully responsible or considered manner. The name suggests that several of the roles and therefore behaviours, attitudes and beliefs; have usually been adopted with minimal consideration for their fit with the individual's long-term needs and wants. Therefore, such may require significant review and readjustment when the mismatch has become apparent..
Of Norse or Viking origin and refers to the particular heaven where true warriors go to live in the next life. Both positive and negative aspects of this concept are apparent. Appropriate and necessary male bonding and support during times of war is understood to be functional for survival under such conditions. However, the focus on an elitist-style, warrior male to the exclusion of the more insightful, gentle and compassionate aspects of male experience is clearly problematic when the battle is over. The co-existence of the range of features (i.e. the warrior and the peacemaker) with wisdom to enact different roles appears most functional.
A term that has arisen in the last decade and refers to the entrenched outcome of significant work-life imbalance, i.e. the impact of attempting to engage and derive a disproportionate range of needs from the workplace. Clearly, many needs are more appropriately sought from a broader range of social experience. Work Woundedness not only refers to personal deficits as a result of 'workaholic' activities, but also to the experience of coming face to face with disloyalties and/or economic realities of changing workplace and vocational arrangements in contemporary society.
A copy of this paper (48kb) is downloadable in pdf format here:
Whilst one hears of "civilised" separations, sadly they are in the minority. Most parents part their ways with high levels of confusion, anxiety, loss, and anger. Not the least among this list is the devastation at the loss of a dream, and it is human nature to see others as primarily responsible for our vanished dreams.
Whilst that makes us feel better in the short term, long term it also shifts the possibility for a change of our circumstances out to others, which ultimately prolongs our pain and powerlessness.
One manner of reacting to our sense of powerlessness is to attack and criticise our 'X'. Common it may be, but this short article aims to communicate how and why that is toxic to children and clarify whether that is what you as a parent really desire. Note: these remarks also apply to parental criticism within an ongoing relationship, but have added impact within a separation or divorce.
First let us start with some background. It is extremely common for children to blame themselves for a parental separation and marriage breakdown. In their immature minds and with their highly ego-centric world view, given the choice between Mum or Dad being flawed, and me (the child); the latter is the less threatening. So, even without Mum and Dad badmouthing each other, the impact of separation on children is significant.
Now let's look more closely at what occurs for children who hear overt criticism of the other parent. No matter how much that child is like one parent, some aspect of them is a reminder that they have two parents. It may be their hands, their smile, their voice, their love of sport, or maths, their knees or their curls; somewhere both parents get a look in.
Now remember back to those stages of growing up when your self-confidence and esteem were still evolving. It was a fragile, faltering process was it not? The smallest attack from significant others, frequently brought us to deep doubt about our worth and desirability.
Socialisation skills in the school yard can be learned and changed, but what about aspects built in by our genes? When one parent badmouths an other, the child ultimately perceives that as a criticism of some part of them. From the child's perspective "One adult who I love and am deeply reliant upon, is attacking my other parent whom I love likewise".
One author has labelled such an attack on a child's self-esteem as child-abuse, and I cannot fault his logic.
I am sure few parents, if any, would knowingly do that to a child they loved. The key word here is knowingly. Most parents consumed by the stresses and strains of separation, can easily fall into the trap of this form of attack upon their child, failing to see with clarity what effect they are having.
MENDS would encourage parents who see that they have been at risk of doing this to their children, to:
It is MENDS experience that when men commit deeply to the wellbeing of their children in this manner, then their own healing is accelerated. We can see no reasons why this should be meaningfully different for women.
Daryl Sturgess - MENDS Executive