Rock & Roll, Kung Fu, & the Daddy Wound

Posted on January 17, 2013


Last year, The New Yorker magazine published a 20 page article on Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.  With an article of that length, they were able to cover history, origins, and current state of Bruce and the band members.  At the end of a discussion of Bruce’s family of origin, Bruce asserted that all rock and roll is a cry of “Daddy, Daaaaddy.”  His point was that rock music was a conscious (or unconscious) attempt to gain the attention of an angry or emotionally unavailable father.  Reading that brought to mind seeing Bruce at the Forum in 1978 on the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour.  Perhaps Bruce’s tormented vocal and his raging guitar playing on “Adam Raised a Cain” was not so much showmanship as catharsis.  It can be risky looking to rock stars to be sages, but I think Bruce may have had a point.  If I were to put that in attachment terms, rock and roll is then attachment protest over a lack of emotional availability of the attachment figure.  In layperson’s terms, Dad wasn’t emotionally available or emotionally safe, so you find ways of protesting the lack of emotional connection.  As Sue Johnson observed, in attachment relationship any response is better than none.

If I may make an abrupt shift in pop culture references, this same theme of protesting the disconnection in a relationship with a parent is carried throughout the two animated Kung Fu Panda movies.  The back story in the first film is that the villain, Tai Lung, was the adopted son of master Shifu.  When the son starts to seek too much power, the father rejects him (in this case he actually imprisoned him).  The son is looking for an opportunity to exact revenge on the father figure who rejected him (in attachment relationships, any response is better than none).  Meanwhile, Shifu is less emotionally available to his present students (we are told he never loved anyone before or since as much as he had loved Tai Lung).  His present student, Tigress, is dealing with her own angst over not being able to earn the love of the father figure.  Most of that is side plot and back story.  In the main story, our hero, Po, is torn between wanting to please his adopted father who wants him to go into the family restaurant business and Po’s love of Kung Fu and his dream of being a Kung Fu master.  In essence, the whole plot turns on various characters trying to resolve the relationships and earn the respect and acceptance of their respective father figures.

In the sequel, the same themes are seen again.  The villain is rejected by mother and father and wants to take his revenge on the world.  Our hero, Po, is wrestling with questions of why his birth parents would have abandoned him.  He is searching for “inner peace” while searching for answers.  His intrusive thoughts from his early memories make it difficult for him to function.

The films, of course, are not only works of fiction, but they are animated films about talking animals produced as entertainment for children.  I would suggest, that the reason they work is that there is a ring of truth to the issue of coping with the Daddy Wound.  If Dad was rejecting, angry, or emotionally unavailable, it impacts other relationships and other areas of our lives.  On some level, one wrestles with the idea that “I can never be good enough to be accepted by my father.”  On occasion (as in Bruce’s case), that can drive one to achieve great things to protest that negative belief about oneself or as an attempt to gain the attention or acceptance of the father.  In any event, the absence of emotional availability and safety from a father impacts how one bonds in other attachment relationships.  In relationships, we all have two basic questions, “Are you safe?” and “Am I loveable?”  If our early attachment relationships taught us that other people are not emotionally safe, we learn to avoid emotional closeness.  It feels too risky to allow oneself to be vulnerable.  If you close off your heart, you don’t get hurt.  Unfortunately, you also don’t experience real intimacy.  If our conclusion based upon early experience is that “I am not loveable,” it leaves us with the constant fear that our partner will eventually figure that out we are not worthy of love and abandon us.  This fear of abandonment creates anxiety in relationships.  A further complication is that most of this does not happen within our consciousness.  That is, we ask and answer these questions within ourselves without even being aware of it.

The word of hope is that we do not need to stay shackled to the past (see last week’s post).  With counseling, the unconscious processes can become conscious.  Secure attachment can be achieved.  Relationships can become safe havens from the stresses of life.  It is a beautiful and healing thing to be able to ask for the comfort and support one needs and have a partner who responds.