The spring morning when I caught my father unawares and sliced his penis off and chopped it into a dozen pieces with a meat cleaver changed our relationship forever. Which is to be expected, I guess. Sigmund Freud first hypothesized about the Oedipus Complex – the developmental work of little boys desirous of replacing dad so as to become the single object of mother’s desire. How it played out the first time in our house though, was not exactly what Freud envisioned.
One morning at around age four I spied my father naked, shaving in the bathroom. I walked in below his sight line and prefaced what was to come with the short announcement, “Daddy, watch how hard I can hit.” Since my fist and his nutsack were close to the same height, my father discovered that for a little guy, I could indeed hit very hard. A week later he left for parts unknown, not to be heard from again for 20 years.
That’s not how the Oedipal Complex ideally gets resolved. It’s bad for body and brain for a four-year-old to suddenly become “Mommy’s Little Man.” It’s more responsibility and complexity than four-year-old neurobiology can manage. It’s also enormously confusing to be clearly favored over the females in the family with Electra Complexes running rampant (Jung’s female version of the Oedipal drama).
My four-year-old brain must have known Dad’s time as a father wasn’t long. It witnessed the arguments between him and my mother that ended with her being picked up bodily from her rocking chair and hurled violently across the room. It also noticed the disconnect between him and my older sister Andrea, my mother’s first daughter by a prior father. There were no tools or resources available then to be able to address these conflicts and bring them to any kind of integrative resolution. Repairing relationship ruptures held the same place on people’s Bucket Lists then as it does today: few of us have the internal resources or external support to turn towards long-buried pain of relationship rupture and lost love and begin to deeply explore and restore its damaged roots.
Some Tough Dots to Connect
These and other kinds of disturbing, disorganizing early experiences end up being the brain damage that we are invited to do healing work on during adulthood. During the late 90s Vince Felitti and Rob Anda working for the CDC discovered the high correlation between my father’s violence and his abandoning of the family and the fact that I currently struggle to maintain a healthy body weight and get sufficient exercise every week. You can watch an extended discussion by Vince talking about their research HERE.
It wasn’t until I reached my mid-thirties that I began to do the restoration work on my own brain in any kind of systematic, organized way, mostly without realizing that’s what I was taking on. I enrolled in an experimental graduate school program where we explored material like A Course in Miracles, The Enneagram, Cross-Cultural Intentional Communities, Dreamwork, Desert Vision Quests, Meditation, Holotropic Breathwork, and something called … The Hoffman Quadrinity Process (then known as “Fischer-Hoffman.”). The creators call it ” a course of personal discovery and development which allows you to examine your life and your behavior and empowers you to make lasting changes.” Like many things experimental at the time, Fisher-Hoffman had some woo-woo roots. It was founded in 1967 by a tailor in Oakland, California, Bob Hoffman as Fischer-Hoffman Psychic Therapy. Hoffman claimed to have had a vision of his late psychiatrist Siegfreid Fischer who appeared to him and told him the key to emotional healing is to undo “negative love”, unrealistic expectations and manipulations which parents saddle their children with.
Revisiting Mom and Dad
As I remember it, the process was done over 4 three-hour sessions – two spent investigating the dynamics of my relationship with mom, two then spent on dad. For my session with dad, since there was so little actual material for me to work with, the facilitator, Luc Brebion, encouraged me to be creative. And this is where my father’s penis met it’s fate.
I went over to my local meat market and purchased a two foot long Italian salami. To the final Hoffman session I brought it, along with a cutting board and a meat cleaver. Working solely on creative intuition, I went to work with abandon. I then passed around pieces of this symbolic penis as a form of ritual sacrament. From an integrative, healing, brain science perspective, this body movement while my few memories of dad were alive and firing action-potentials, seemed to have worked to change neural structures and connections in my brain. When I was done with the session, a kind of full-bodied peace washed over and flooded me.
What the Hoffman Quadrinity Process seems to have accomplished was transforming my father from the parent who abandoned me, making life for the family extremely limited and difficult, to the seriously wounded human being who did the absolute best he could, given the body and brain and the suffering and disorganization they had endured. Probably the best way to describe the internal emotional experience that resulted for me is: the embodied feeling of forgiveness.