Today, Richard Rohr — a Franciscan friar, author of numerous books on spirituality, and leader of men’s retreats — is fairly well known. But back in early 80s, he was only starting out on his writing career, having just published his first book about the journey of male initiation. It thus came as a great surprise to Fr. Rohr to enter a cathedral in Nuremberg, Germany while on a tour for the book, and find the event had attracted a packed house. Men filled the pews from front to back. Men spilled out into the aisles and the sanctuary. 

After giving a talk to the rapt, predominantly male audience, Rohr opened up the floor to questions. A young man stood up and said, “Father, we thank you for coming here today.” Then, extending one of his arms to the right, and the other to left, he said:

We are the grandsons, we are the sons without fathers. We killed all of our grandfathers in the First World War. We killed all of our fathers in the Second World War. And that’s why we’re filling this church today. We don’t know how to do it. 

As Rohr recounted of this moment during his appearance on the AoM podcast, “you could have heard a pin drop.”

It was then that Rohr fully realized the significance of an issue he has continued to write and speak about in the decades since: the father wound.

What Is the Father Wound?

Some psychologists and spiritual leaders posit that everyone is born with a “father hunger” — a desire to be affirmed, approved, known, understood, and loved by one’s paternal parent, and to grow up with a sense of strength and authority, that, while not overbearing, provides the kind of structure that allows a child to flourish and take flight. When a child doesn’t receive this kind of masculine nurturance — whether because Dad wasn’t around due to divorce, abandonment, or death, or was nominally present, but functionally absent because he prioritized work, greatly favored a sibling, or was outright abusive — this father hunger becomes a father wound.

A father wound creates a sense of lack, an emptiness, that can haunt someone their whole life through, though they don’t always recognize it for what it is, and are unable to give it a name.

While the neglect of a mother can also result in a “mother wound,” in From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality, Rohr argues that a father’s unique relationship to his children makes his love uniquely prized, and thus creates a uniquely acute swath of damage when that love isn’t given:

Our father, and his response to us, is the first response of an ‘outsider.’ Mom’s love is body-based from the womb and the breast. It is assumed, taken for granted, relied upon instinctively, which is why a foundational ‘mother wound’ can be even more devastating to one’s very core. When one’s good mother dies, it first feels like God has died, because she is your first clear God image and Divine security.

But Dad is that other in the house, at a greater distance. He does not ‘have’ to love you. His love is not inherently felt and drawn upon, like Mother love. He must choose to love you! He decides for you, he picks you out, he notices you among the many. It redeems, liberates, and delights, therefore, in a totally different way. . . . That is the uniquely transformative experience of male love. It validates us and affirms us deeply, precisely because it is not necessary.

The result of not receiving a father’s