It has been a year since I last posted a blog. It was Father’s Day 2015, and I wrote about the wound so many of us carry around because of difficult relationships with our fathers. I was blessed to have a good and healthy relationship with my father. He wasn’t perfect but in many ways and for many years he was my best friend. Last year on Father’s Day, my father was in the hospital. We thought it was for pneumonia, but after several weeks we discovered he had Stage 4 lung cancer. From the correct diagnosis until his death was only six weeks. August 1, 2015, he passed from this life.
In the time since his death, I have thought about writing many times. I have had ideas come into my head and have even thought about ways to communicate them. Whenever I would sit down to write though, nothing came out. I just couldn’t do it. The more I tried to write, the less I wanted to write. It was like writer’s block on steroids.
I have the feeling that the grieving process is as unique as a finger print. We may all go through the same stages or kinds of things, but each one walks the path differently. For me there was a long period of time when I just didn’t feel like doing anything. I found even the things I normally loved to do lacked their usual enjoyment. I sensed in many ways God’s kindness and loving presence, but I even found it difficult to reestablish my normal routines and rhythms.
It is Father’s Day again. One year since my last blog; one year since my dad’s first hospitalization. So much has happened in that year! Bethany and Joshua got married…Jonathan and I went to Europe…Angie and I celebrated twenty-seven years of marriage…I resigned from my ministry to pursue something new (still pursuing!)…milestones and memories…steps and stumbles…joys and sorrows…So many times I wanted to pick up the phone and call my dad to tell him about it. So many times I heard him say in a choked up voice, “Super, Son!” So many times I wished we had more time and reminded myself we would see one another again.
It’s Father’s Day again. I get to be with Angie and all three of my children as well as my son- and daughter-in-law. Every life has its challenges and its joys. We really never know what tomorrow will bring. Whatever lies ahead, I am thankful for loving parents who instilled in me a love for God and the importance of family. I am thankful for a wife who puts up with my idiosyncrasies and loves me well. I am thankful for my amazing children who make me proud every day not for what they do but for the character and passion with which they do it. I am thankful for my children’s spouses and how I can love them like my own after such a short time. They so complete and complement each other. I am thankful for my mother, who has shown strength and resilience and courage over the past year. I know it hasn’t been easy for her, but I am so proud of her. I am thankful for my sisters and their families. We have learned how to love and lean on one another this past year in ways we have never had to before. And I’m thankful for friends. There are so many people who intentionally and unintentionally were blessings in my life at times I needed it most.
For some, Father’s Day is a happy occasion. It’s a day to remember fondly times playing catch in the backyard or times out on the lake; it’s a time to remember getting advice that only later became wisdom or a big hug when it was needed most; it’s a day to remember a father’s love and concern or his faithful example. But for others, Father’s Day is painful. It’s a difficult day with broken memories of broken times or of absence – physical or emotional. It’s a day that is dreaded or ignored.
Whether we recognize it or not, each of us has what one author has called a “father hunger”. It is a longing we have for our father’s assurance and approval to comfort us and affirm us. Many will do almost anything to find it because of the deep validation it brings. When we do not find it from our earthly father’s, we will seek it somewhere else. A father’s love, a father’s acceptance and approval is “more important than that of any other man, and of a completely different quality than the affirmation of a woman. Until and unless we get it, every male relationship will somehow be our unmet father, for good or ill.” When we do not find love and affirmation from our fathers, the father hunger becomes a father wound.
Let me pause to affirm the importance of a mother’s love. Without question it is possible for us to experience a mother wound if a mother’s love is for whatever reason withheld. It can be even more devastating than a father wound. But the reality is that it is more common for a father to be absent physically, emotionally, or spiritually in relationship to his children. Generally speaking, a mother’s love is a constant from birth. There is something instinctive and constant about it. A mother’s love seems so often to “go without saying”. There is a natural bond between mother and child. But, while many fathers find it very natural to love their children from birth, there is a sense in which a father chooses to love his child; chooses to show love and affirmation in a way that is decidedly different from that of a mother.
This is a far bigger issue than I understand or have answers to offer. The father hunger and father wound affect both men and women but it does seem more devastating, in many ways, for men (which is my focus here). Without a father to guide direct them from boyhood to manhood many men feel insecure and that they have to prove their manhood all their lives because they did not have a father, or some other male, who told them they had what it takes.
One author suggests that “even though there are no guarantees in life, we (fathers) can help our own sons by sharing our inner lives with them, our thoughts, feelings, dreams and hurts.” He suggests that what most men require is respect and as a boy growing up he longs for his father to be proud of him with that pride growing over time to respect and honest admiration. “If dad waits until junior’s a teenager, it’s too late. That honoring of the man in the boy is what invites the boy to join the club of men” (emphasis his).
Some men overcome the father wound by pursuing the visions and ideals of men they meet along the way. They may become the best men a society knows because they are driven to overcome the father hunger they may not even know they have. “They sometimes learn to seek, to desire and to trust that God is that loving and compassionate Daddy they always wanted.”
Too often it seems, the hunger festers and becomes a wound that is passed on in a myriad of ways. Let me suggest just a few things we can do as fathers to help prevent the father hunger from becoming a father wound in our children, but especially our sons. I realize what I offer may seem like common sense, but perhaps a reminder is just what we need.
1. Affirmation – Our sons long to know we are proud of them. They long to hear, “Well done,” or “I’m so proud of you!” We also show our affirmation by being at their games or concerts…by making them a priority over our work or ministry…by letting them know that they are important and matter. But even if we go to every event, we still need to say the words: I love you! I believe in you! You have what it takes! Well done!
2. Affection – At some point as my boys grew up, I started feeling a bit uncomfortable with physical affection. At times Angie has to remind me that it’s something they both need. Hugging our boys is an important way we show love and affirmation. Wrestling and rough housing and horsing around is good too. It is a way for us to communicate to them our respect; our love; our acceptance. It may not always feel comfortable or natural, but it’s an important element in helping our boys become men.
3. Acceptance – Over time, we need to welcome our boys to manhood. In non-western cultures there are rites of passage that help in that process. In recent years groups have tried to provide something like that in the US (like the Boys Scouts, Ransomed Heart Ministries, and Raising a Modern Day Night for example) One of the things I’ve tried to do with my sons, but know I could have done better, is to plan a year for each of them in which we intentionally read and discuss important books or watch and discuss meaningful movies. I planned hikes and road trips that added opportunities for them to plan and execute their plan. We had fun, but we also had purpose. My intention has been to discuss what it means to be a man and to affirm that they have what it takes. I’m in the middle of Jonathan’s year, but with both of them I see how it helps in transitioning to more than a father-son relationship; we become friends/peers.
I am thankful for my father who was an incredible example of each of these things. I heard many times that he loved me and was proud of me. He was always ready to give me a hug or a pat on the back. And I’ll never forget the day he first invited me to join his friends to complete their foursome to play golf…in one small act, my Dad communicated acceptance and that he believed I was ready to be considered one of the men.
I pray this Father’s Day would be a day of happiness and fond memories for you…but if it isn’t, I pray you would find in your Heavenly Father the affirmation, affection, and acceptance your heart longs for and the healing of your father wound. For those of us who are fathers, may we endeavor to love our children well. May we equip our sons with what they need to become men after the Father’s heart.
Bo Diddley once sang:
You can’t judge sugar by looking at the cane,
You can’t judge a woman by looking at her man,
You can’t judge a sister by looking at her brother,
You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover…
But I’m not sure the Apostle Paul would agree. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
People who did not know Paul could look at the Corinthian church and tell a lot about him as an apostle. They were his “letter, written on” their “hearts.” For better or worse, Paul knew that people would look at their lives following Christ and see the results of his ministry. And that was ok with Paul.
Some time ago, I read those verses when Angie and I were away from our children for a getaway in Malta. It occurred to me that Bethany, Joshua, and Jonathan are my letter – are Angie and my letter – known and read by everybody. People in St. Louis meet Bethany and as they interact with her, they draw conclusions about me. People in Amman or elsewhere meet Joshua and Jonathan and interact with them and they draw conclusions about me. Perhaps they don’t do it consciously and maybe not everyone does, but many do.
My children are my letter of recommendation…and I’m ok with that. In fact, it makes me proud to think that people might draw conclusions about me based on my kids – because they are amazing! Each of them loves the Lord and is seeking to walk with him. Each is in a different stage in that journey. Each is mature, kind, generous, friendly, creative, fun, and a good friend. They love music. They love laughing. They are loyal friends. They are fun people to hang out with.
So, if you’ve met Bethany, Joshua or Jonathan but never met me…the truth is they probably make me look better than I deserve…(but factor in how amazing their mother is and then you’ll understand)…I have no idea what twists and turns life will take for my children. I don’t know what choices – good or bad – they might make. But they are my letter, written on my heart, and I don’t mind a bit that they’re read by everybody.