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Many prospects that come to our lodge talk about wanting to connect with other guys. Maybe their grandfather was a mason, but certainly not their father.  If you get to know these guys a little bit better, I have found many of them have major conflicts with their fathers in their backstory. 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, fathers who were in prison, or just neglectful. 


This of course isn’t true for everyone; plenty of Masons have great relationships with their fathers.  But whether good or bad, the relationship with your father leaves a lasting impression; and when it’s a bad one, many of a grown man’s actions, habits and emotions are impacted by those formative experiences.


Getting to know many prospects and members over some years, it’s occurred to me that a major role Masonry can play is as a type of replacement father, for some men.


Masonry overlaps with what a good father should provide in several ways.  Consider how these things would be of value to a man who had a broken relationship with his father:


  • It strives to be a “society of friends and brothers” and orients lodges around wisdom, strength, and beauty (good masculine principles if I’ve ever heard any).

  • Lodges contain hierarchical relationships with stationed officers including a Worshipful Master with a strong sense of “rule and governance”. It’s rules contain many references to “submitting to appropriate authority” such as the civil government, or the Grand 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.


These look to me like the same sort of positive masculinity that a man would ideally learn and experience through his father. It’s “DeMolay for grown men”. When done right, 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 to discourage the negative aspects of masculinity — aggression, bragging about sexual conquests, excess drinking, performative toughness, and the rest of that nonsense. Can you imagine a brother coming to lodge bragging about how many girlfriends he has on the side, that his wife doesn’t know about?  I cannot - it’s hard to imagine the rest of the brethren tolerating that. These forms of nonsense are the same sorts of behaviors which would damage a boy when he sees or copies them through his father.


Those of us with children know that kids are observational learners: sometimes they don’t listen to what you say, they do what you do. This is why modeling positive behaviors in places like DeMolay can be so important.  Kids model behavior, we were once kids, and this is where most of our experience of the world comes from. 


Men’s relationships with other men in adulthood often either echo patterns they had with their father, or they are opposite reactions, repudiating emotional aspects of their father.  If your father taught you to be a good man, you might treat others with respect (echo).  If your father was a drunk, maybe you’re a teetotaler (repudiation).  Either way, many behaviors develop as a response to what we were taught.


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.


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, think back to this original masculine relationship (or lack of one) and ask yourself what is to be learned. What is being echoed and what is being repudiated?


Men never stop needing more experienced role models, or positive examples of healthy ways to be a man. Not in their 20s, not in their 60s. Some men weren’t fortunate enough to have good fathers. Freemasonry is not an actual father. Each of us only gets one shot at that for a lifetime. Yet still it has a role to play to give some of these men things they were missing.


Why do they knock at the door? We’ve heard so many reasons; their grandfather was a mason and they want to know more about it. A very common reason in our lodge is that they want a group of male friends, and it’s hard to make new friends when you’re in the middle of your working life. Those are in my view truthful and legitimate answers, but also a bit surface-level: get to know some of these same men over time, you’ll find heartbreaking stories about disorganized families.  It is no wonder that a person like this would be drawn to a fraternity.


Should a man just sack up and “get over it” if he had a bad relationship with his father? Maybe he’s weak for needing support and connection with other guys. This bears saying, because I know at least a few of you are thinking it. To answer that, I’ll close with an excerpt of “The Beehive” from the presentation volume, simply saying that this “seeking process” which brings men into the fraternity is positive, and should be better understood & accepted.


It might have pleased the great Creator of heaven and earth to have made man independent of all other beings; but, as dependence is one of the strongest bonds of society, mankind were made dependent upon each other for protection and security, as they thereby enjoy better opportunities of fulfilling the duties of reciprocal love and friendship.

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