When I was unable to reach my dad, just now, to wish him happy Father’s Day, I thought about phoning my mother instead. They’ve been divorced since I was seventeen (and I’m now 59) and, although it was my mother who deserted the family after falling insanely in love with another (married and unavailable) man long ago, she has curiously regarded my father with the bitterest hatred ever since—literally demonizing him while elevating herself (in her imagination) to divine status. I would have told her that, despite the fact that THEY have been divorced for twice as long as they were together during my ‘formative years,’ they are still quite (uncomfortably) married inside of me—one of the four (three living) products of their dissolved union. Funny, isn’t it, after all these years, how we—the children of divorce—have no choice but muddle our way through the inherited contradictions, misunderstandings, and incompatibilities that our parents were not equal to. I do not expose these ‘family secrets’ merely to invite others to make analogous public confessions. This is not the Oprah or Ellen page. I am not even lamenting or regretting the way things happened between my parents, for—paradoxically—the things I treasure most about my life and (admittedly) peculiar consciousness would have been inconceivable without that fateful split and enmity between my imperfect ‘creators.’ My dead brother (of alcohol and drug abuse) was not such a fortunate beneficiary of the split, but there’s no telling whether his life would have turned out differently if my parents had found their way through their challenges and opportunities rather than around them. But it’s worth remembering that we—the (grown-up) children of divorce—have no choice but to ‘stay in the marriage’ that our parents, for one reason or another, are unable/unwilling to carry through to the (bitter or sweet or bittersweet) end, for we are, in a sense, the fateful and problematic embodiments of these problematic marriages and divorces, are we not? No judgment here—just some ‘pregnant’ musings directed to those of you who are still struggling to marry your parents’ joint legacy within your valiant souls.
But there’s more to the story—a good deal more. For those who have suffered-endured a certain inner initiation, my next move will resonate powerfully, while for those who have not, it might seem like tricky business, a kind of verbal-conceptual legerdemain. I will preface my remarks with a quote from the great Jung-ster himself:
This is the mother-love which is one of the most moving and unforgettable memories of our lives, the mysterious root of all growth and change; the love that means homecoming, shelter, and the long silence from which everything begins and in which everything ends. Intimately known and yet strange like Nature, lovingly tender and yet cruel like fate, joyous and untiring giver of life – mater dolorosa and mute implacable portal that closes upon the dead. Mother is mother-love, my experience and my secret. Why risk saying too much, too much that is false and inadequate and beside the point, about that human being who was our mother, the accidental carrier of that great experience which includes herself and myself and all mankind, and indeed the whole of created nature, the experience of life whose children we are? The attempt to say these things has always been made, and probably always will be; but a sensitive person cannot in all fairness load that enormous burden of meaning, responsibility, duty, heaven and hell, onto the shoulders of one frail and fallible human being – so deserving of love, indulgence, understanding, and forgiveness – who was our mother. He knows that the mother carries for us that inborn image of them mater natura and mater spiritualis, of the totality of life of which we are a small and helpless part. Nor should we hesitate for one moment to relieve the human mother of this appalling burden, for our own sakes as well as hers. It is just this massive weight of meaning that ties us to the mother and chains her to her child, to the physical and mental detriment of both. (CW, Vol. 9, pt. 1, par. 172)
What I have to add will, in effect, merely be a gloss to Jung’s profound insights and advice. I sensed, early on, that my own mother was not able to carry the great burden that I instinctively WANTED to saddle her with. Many of us become dimly aware, at some point, of the need for a kind of spiritual love that is as pure as it is impersonal and non-discriminatory—the sort of love that Christ and the Buddha gave unforgettable expression to in their exemplary lives. Not even Mary, his ‘immaculate’ and perfectly charitable mother was able to answer Jesus’ ‘superhuman’ or transcendent need for the ‘higher love’ that stirred in the depths of his heart. How much less equipped was my delicate and nervous mother to provide me even with stable human love, let alone the ‘transpersonal’ sort! The soul of my mother was fragile and as prone to compensatory delusions of grandeur as was the soul of ‘Blanche Dubois’; her ‘shortcomings’ as a mother were not so much her fault as they were constitutional and culturally reinforced. All of us are helpless—at some point—against the overwhelming power of the archetypes and a big one swallowed up my poor mother a long time ago. (She’s still alive and probably monitoring this thread, so I will try and be as respectfully discreet as possible while disclosing only what is necessary to make my point.) In many cases, the child’s relationship with the actual mother becomes one of, if not the crucial, battlefields whereupon the transformation from ‘personalistic’ to ‘transpersonal’ (or transcendent) consciousness is played out. It is a ‘razor-edged path’ insofar as both excessively positive and negative forms of attachment must be transcended so that a benign neutrality can supersede them. Viewed in this way, our most important and fateful actual relationships (with parents, spouses, teachers, adversaries, children, etc.) turn out, for some of us, to be merely the foreground or ‘staging area’ for archetypal negotiations and initiations into the subtler, deeper realm—behind the scenes—of the underworld of the psyche. But the price of admission, of course, is the ‘letting go’ of our ‘mother complex’ or some other ‘literal-personal’ attachment that BINDS us to the ‘stage drama’ that is always underway in the concrete realm of persons and events.