There was something different this time about the shouting coming from the kitchen. Jim had heard his parents argue before, but his mother’s crying frightened him. He ran from his bedroom into the kitchen and saw his father hitting and pushing his wife.
“Stop hitting my mother, stop hitting my mother,” Jim screamed as he got closer. Jim tried to stop his father, but he turned his anger and rage onto his six-year-old son. He punched and knocked Jim down before he began kicking him. “Joe, stop! Stop! You’re going to kill him,” yelled Jim’s mother.
Her plea finally stopped the beating, and Joe left the room. “You had better get out of here before he comes back and tries to kill you,” said Jim’s mother. He couldn’t stand up so he crawled from the kitchen out the back door and onto the lawn. The sun warmed his face as he lied on the grass. Jim felt comforted by nature and called out to God for help.
Dr. Jim Wisecup recalled decades later the intensity of that beating in 1950. He remembers feeling the sun on his face that day on the lawn. He won’t forget the sudden dark cloud that came to block out the sun. Jim said he felt God’s presence as he was cut off from the warmth of the sun. He believes the message he received from God that day was to have compassion and forgive his parents. It was a difficult thing for a six-year-old boy beaten by his father to do.
A Defining Moment
By age ten — suffering from ADHD and having a propensity to talk back to his parents — there were many other beatings. “You’re not good enough was how my father made me feel,” laments Jim. There was also a defining moment. Jim decided against pulling the trigger of the shotgun he placed in his mouth. This occurred one day in the basement of his Sioux City, Iowa home.
“Although my father, Joe, was angry, controlling and physically abusive, he was also very honest,” says Jim. “He was a generous community-oriented man with a strong work ethic.” Joe ardently supported Jim to earn his Eagle Scout badge and other awards, but he was very critical.
Jim’s Eagle Scout experience was the foundation for a vision quest. This is an American Indian rite of passage into the wilderness and the spirit world. Jim’s grandfather was part Cherokee. He introduced it to Jim at age fourteen. Years later, Jim taught wilderness survival while interning as a Chaplain at a local college.
Jim met his mentor while attending the prestigious Blanton Peale Institute graduate program. Louis Birner, Ph.D., was a professor who would become his psychoanalyst, supervisor, and the man Jim says “saved my life.” He was an exemplary role model and a father figure. “He helped me feel understood and valued,” says Jim. “I was able to feel safe and venture into my vulnerable spaces. It was ok to cry and express my pain and trauma.” Subsequently, Jim received his D.Min. in psychology and pastoral psychotherapy from Andover Newton Theological school in 1981.
As a minister and therapist, he has been using his adverse personal experiences to become more empathetic with clients. “My most significant achievement resides within the individuals who have experienced other dimensions of their personalities,” says Dr. Wisecup, founder and Executive Director of the Riverside Counseling Center. “They have tuned in to their innate goodness, depth and ability to heal and fulfill their potential.”
He feels anyone can shed the suit of armor necessary for personal transformation.
Dr. Wisecup believes most men lack the training and aren’t equipped to become fathers because they are removed from their feelings. “Resolving the root cause and creating a healthy and sustainable relationship can also be achieved through the vulnerability developed in men’s support groups and the insight gained in books like Write Father, Write Son: A Bond-Building Journey,” says Dr. Wisecup. Jim was fortunate to overcome his trauma while therapeutically helping others and becoming an effective father.
“Becoming a father can be a time for growth by resolving wounds from a man’s own father and for reinventing fatherhood, or at least trying to become the father one always wanted,” according to A review of research on masculinity ideologies using the Male Role Norms Inventory. This 2007 article is in The Journal of Men’s Studies. It was referenced in the 2019 American Psychological Association Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.
A Paradigm Shift Underway
The Need for Professional Practice Guidelines for Boys and Men section of the above mentioned 2019 American Psychology Association (APA) study has revealed several important facts. These facts herald the urgency of a paradigm shift.
One fact is “conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development and negatively influence mental and physical health.” Another fact is “boys are disproportionately represented among schoolchildren with learning difficulties (e.g. lower standardized test scores) and behavior problems (e.g. bullying, school suspensions, and aggression).” A third fact is “men are overrepresented in prisons, are more likely than women to commit violent crimes, and are at greatest risk of being a victim of violent crime (e.g., homicide and aggravated assault).”
Despite these disheartening statistics, there is good news.
The APA study contains guidelines for Psychologists to facilitate a paradigm shift. For example, guideline 5 — strive to encourage positive father involvement and healthy family relationships — highlights two significant advances.
The first advance is “the traditional paternal breadwinner role is less entrenched in modern families and is giving way to a new focus on the father as a more involved, available, and equal co-parent.” The second advance is “nationally representative samples suggest more than 80% of fathers report being involved in their children’s lives, but little more than half of the fathers believe they are doing “a very good job” as parents.” These two important advances represent a paradigm shift.
“The APA Guidelines provide a much-needed synthesis of the scientific evidence outlining the important role that psychologists can play to address the mental health and well-being of boys and men,” says Shanta R. Dube. She is recognized both nationally and internationally for her research on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. The ACE Study focused on early life stress and substance use and abuse, and mental illness in adulthood.
As a researcher and Associate Professor, School of Public Health, Georgia State University, it is her duty to ensure there is increased awareness and acceptance about the fact that all children are vulnerable to the long-term consequences of abuse, neglect, and related traumatic stressors. Dube explains that abuse, neglect, and related stressors tend to be kept hidden due to the shame and secrecy. “This serves no one in society. The idea that ‘boys will get over it’ and that the hardships of childhood adversities won’t impact boys and men is a misconception that is not supported by the research,” says Dube.
Empowering Fathers and Families
Empowered Fathers in Action and DreamSmart Academy have partnered to empower fathers and families. Our focus is to address the consequences of inadequate father-son relationships and provide stable sustainable solutions for families. We offer fathers and families a unique, scientifically researched, and evidence-based program. Our program equips fathers with the tools they need to strengthen their family units. We call our program Behavioral SuperPowers Impact Training.
Our solution focuses on fathers being behaviorally intelligent and emotionally smart. This approach decodes difficult to understand family dynamics and optimizes family performance using validated behavioral insights. The emphasis is on the father playing a pivotal role. By owning his behavior, he is co-creating an environment that fosters self-awareness and growth to enrich family dynamics.
“We must get to the root cause of the problem,” says Christopher Salem, CEO and co-founder of Empowered Fathers in Action. “There is no better time than the present to operate from within the solution rather than just manage the problem. We equip families with the tools and resources needed to shift from codependence to interdependence. When one family shifts to interdependence, the community in which they live will be impacted. This shift will foster more interdependent businesses, schools, and organizations while enriching the economy.”
Joseph Cohen is the Director of Communications, DreamSmart Academy, and co-author of Write Father, Write Son: A Bond-Building Journey.