It’s surprising how many Freemasons I know have stories in their background of major conflicts with their fathers. There are masons who grew up adopted wondering why their biological father gave them up, those whose fathers were physically or emotionally abusive, those who had problems with alcohol, or just neglectful fathers who weren’t really there. Relationships with a father like that tend to leave lasting negative impressions on these men, and later in life many of their actions, habits, and emotions are impacted by those formative experiences.
This isn’t to say that most or all of them have issues in their relationship with their father. That definitely isn’t so. I also know many Freemasons who have great relationships with their fathers and credit their father for getting them into the Craft. This is so common as well that many jurisdictions created Lewis Jewels to represent father/son pairs in Freemasonry.
Still, just in my experience – I see men with troubled father relationships in Freemasonry more often that in my non-masonic relationships. Part of this is simply that we form closer friendship relationships in lodges. Men are more willing (over time) to open up and talk about what happened to them in their past.
But a major part too is that I think Masonry serves the role of a replacement father, for some men.
Masonry’s Overlap with what a Father Provides
Elements of the institution really jump out:
- It strives to be a “society of friends and brothers” and orients lodges around wisdom, strength, and beauty.
- Lodges contain hierarchical relationships with stationed officers including a Worshipful Master who is to rule and govern his lodge.
- Masons are often assigned mentors, who is typically an older, more experienced Past Master
- It strives to be men bound together for mutual intellectual, social, and moral development.
Really — all of that sounds to me like the same sort of positive masculinity that a man would ideally learn and experience through his father. It is a place to be a man in a positive way, and to take examples from more experienced men who will hopefully convey positive lessons.
Freemasonry tends discourages the negative aspects of masculinity that seem to crop up — aggression, bragging about sexual conquests, excess drinking, performative toughness, and the rest of that nonsense. These forms of nonsense are the same sorts of behaviors which would damage a boy when he sees or copies them through his father.
The Impact of Parents
But at the end, men’s relationships with other men will tend to either echo or repudiate strong emotional aspects of the relationship they had with their father when they were growing up. It’s practically cliche in psychotherapy that if you’re having challenges in your life “it’s all back to your parents”, but it’s cliche because it has such strong elements of truth.
The impact of fathers cannot be understated. Because humans learn by mirroring and emulating others, a key part of a person’s emotional, social, and moral growth is tied to what crowd they hang out with. Small children do not know how to be adolescents or adults, and they are taught “how to be” by observing the people the most important people to them (their parents). The mother cannot teach a boy how to be a man.
We know intuitively that people learn by emulation: it is the same reason why parents so worry about their teenagers “falling in with the wrong crowd”.
If you are a Freemason, whether your relationship with your father was good or bad, this connection is worth considering. When you think about your lodge experience and things come to mind that you find particularly helpful or challenging, hearken back to this original masculine relationship (or lack of one) and ask yourself what is to be learned.
Men never stop needing more experienced role models. Not in their 40s, not in their 60s. Some men weren’t fortunate enough to have good fathers. And Freemasonry is not an actual father, yet still it has a role to play to give some of these men things they were missing, things that they need.