Puer-pater-senex:

Toxic Masculinity and the Generative Father in an Age of Narcissism

  • Elizabeth Èowyn Nelson
Keywords: father, maiden-mother-crone, malignant narcissism, politics, puer-senex, toxic masculinity, archetype, Greek mythology

Abstract

There is a suppurating father wound in the Western psyche that has manifested today in toxic masculinity and regression to patriarchy embodied in political strongmen. The wound is represented mythically by a recurrent classical theme of fathers who destroy their children rather than nurturing them—who, in fact, refuse to become fathers in any real or meaningful way. The wound also is inscribed in contemporary archetypal theory by an omission: Hillman’s (2005) discussion of the puer-senex tandem names youth and elder but without the crucial role that mediates them, pater. Restoring the archetypal father to this tandem, one who values beneficence not brutishness, creates the more stable triad puer-pater-senex, a triad that is parallel to the female developmental pattern, maiden-mother-crone, drawn from goddess traditions. Supporting the emergence of the generative father, and seeing where he already exists in contemporary culture, can detoxify masculinity and help us recognize and confront toxic patriarchal leaders.

Published
2019-06-11