By Michael Jarzabek
In Freemasonry we pay a lot of attention to the bond between a Father and a Son. We even go as far as to have a medal for it. For many men it is one of the most meaningful aspects of the craft. It recognizes and celebrates arguably the greatest of bonds for a young man.
For others it will always remain a mystery that we will never understand. Many of our Fathers were never around. Many of us have spent years wandering in the wilderness. In our ritual we search for the lost word. For many of us the lost word is the love of our father.
If you’re reading this please don’t take it as a plea for sympathy. It is far from that. It is a celebration. It is an acknowledgement of the huge hole that the Craft fills in the lives of so many men.
It is largely acknowledged that boys who grow up without their Fathers overwhelmingly struggle with depression, anxiety, anger issues and a host of other problems due to the feeling of abandonment in their lives. This abandonment is the root cause of a huge number of societal ills.
It is often said that Freemasonry makes “good men better rather than bad men good.” While there is a lot of truth in this statement, it also fails to acknowledge the positive role that the fraternity serves in helping some boys become good men. The use of the word boys in the last sentence isn’t idle or unmeaning. Men that grow up without Fathers often are psychologically stunted.
How do I know this? Because I’m one of the “boys” that Freemasonry has helped become a man.
My Father left when I was 2 years old. His rights were taken away when I was 10. I was adopted by my step-father and took his name. Not only was his last name not my paternal name it was also not reflective of my family heritage. My history was erased and another foreign one put in its place. My step father did the best he could with an angry child still trying to answer the eternal question, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” I thank him for this. Had he not done so I might not be here today.
This is not a criticism of anyone in my family. There is a cause and affect to everything in life. In this story I am the affect. In many others I’m likely the cause. I have for the most part come to terms with the abandonment I suffered as a child. While I will always bear these scars I have found that there is little value in assigning blame to others. It’s not my cross to bear. There are others that bear that burden and it is theirs alone. Not only that but I’m not interested in giving power to people that have abdicated it long ago.
That being said I will likely always suffer from low-self esteem, depression, social anxiety. No matter how well my mind comes to term with that loss my soul still stands as a broken monument.
Before I knew of the pattern I searched for community, identity, and purpose. I searched in the military but it was not to be, as a couple years into my service the United States Air Force and I decided that it was best that we both part ways. At 20 years old my life plan ended in failure when I received an general discharge under honorable conditions.
As many a man with my background has done I sank into the trap of substance abuse and self destruction. Fortunately for me I had several friends and family members that helped me from descending too far into that chaos. If it were not for them I may not have been here to write this.
I was fortunate to meet my future wife Beth in my mid twenties who gave me the stability that I was lacking and helped pick me up and dust me off. In Masonic terms she is the perfect cornerstone of my temple.
My friend Kyle was also instrumental in my redemption. In addition to a number of other contributions that he has made to my well being Kyle asked me one day if I would be interested in a group that he had just joined. This wasn’t the first time. At his suggestion years earlier I had joined Amway. Whatever you want to say about that organization, the books that I had access to where a great resource in my journey.
This time however, Amway was not the group he spoke of, this time Kyle had just joined the Freemasons. He thought that I might like it. He asked if I wanted further light. I was curious and it was relatively cheap. With the assurance of a friend I knocked on the door of Freemasonry.
To say that I took to it like a fish to water would be a huge understatement.
For years I hadn’t felt like I fit anywhere. Maybe I was expecting too much. I couldn’t find my tribe and I looked everywhere. I tried to be everything and nothing at the same time. If I could become something… anything… I could fill that hole.
The longer the search went on the larger that hole felt. I tried on identities like cheap suits but none of them fit quite right. This story repeats over and over for millions of men just like me. In some cases they find community, identity, and purpose in other ways. Some healthy, some not so much, and some deadly. Gangs, white supremacist groups, and cults target men just like me for recruiting. They are designed to fill that hole. The difference between them and Freemasonry is that they do so in an exploitive way.
I was fortunate that I found Freemasonry which was a healthy, safe, and supportive environment in which I could be challenged and I could grow. I could do so because of the amazing group of men that I have had the privilege of calling Brother over the years. I could do so because the structure of the Fraternity is designed for just that purpose.
We are often critical of the Craft we say that it is watered down, we’ve made it too easy. In some cases this may be true but in others it is a refrain that has been repeated for generations. In fact, it was this very sentiment that caused the rift between the Ancients and the Moderns.
Freemasonry is not broken, it does not need to adapt to the times, and it is not dead. We need to recognize that some of what it offers is so simple that we tend to overlook it.
Since its inception this organization has helped men come to terms with abandonment issues. In the early years it was easiest to see. Wars or disasters took large numbers of men away from their families. Some were gone for a short time, some came back damaged beyond repair, and others never made it back at all. The latter groups left behind widows and orphans. It is no surprise that these times corresponded with the greatest booms in membership. The fact that we hold the care of widows and orphans as one of our central purposes is not purely sentimental. It is perhaps the most important function that we have.
The United Nations defines an orphan as anyone that loses a parent to death or abandonment. The Orphan is an important archetype and literary device in Western Culture. Almost every hero is in some way an orphan of sorts.
Luke Skywalker, Batman, and Harry Potter are examples in popular culture. Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are also examples. The founders of the three of the world’s major religions are orphans. Let that sink in.
Freemasonry also celebrates the orphan or rather Widow’s Son. If this is expanded to children cast aside due to the sin of their parents it is overwhelming. How many of the heroes of the literary allusions in our ritual could be described this way? Moses, David, Jepthah, Hamlet, Hiram. The list is endless.
This story is eternal. It is an echo of that “first” story in the Garden of Eden.
“…what was lost and with your assistance and my own exertions…”
The orphan feels alone in this world. What he searches for is belonging. Community, identity, and purpose are his treasure. His redemption is not in individual glory but in being a part of something greater than himself. Often our unlikely hero is cast-aside as less than his journey is completed when he takes his place as the rightful heir or is finally accepted into the community.
Tupac Shakur, an orphan himself, rapped that, “it’s just me against the world”. This sentiment and those expressed in the rest of the song have contributed to the early deaths of many young men including Tupac himself.
Freemasonry at its best provides all of these things. It doesn’t allow a man to be the victim. It encourages, no it demands that he exercise his agency… It demands of him to make decisions of his “own free will and accord”. Amongst all of the ways that Freemasonry makes a good man better one of the most important is by helping him develop a strong internal locus of control. He learns that he is not a slave to forces outside his control. He is the “Master” of himself and his environment. This allows the orphan for the first time since his abandonment to let down his defenses and be vulnerable within a community. This is not “idle or unmeaning”. This is transformational.
Through Freemasonry I found freedom from the bondage of outside forces.
Through Freemasonry I found that which was lost.
Through Freemasonry I found the love of my Brothers and the love I always wanted from my Father by finally learning to love myself.