“Tell me, while you were growing up, did your father love you?” Without a second thought, as if the question was ridiculous in the first place comes his response, “Well, he wasn’t an emotional man but my dad always made sure we had food on the table. He worked very hard to keep a roof over our head, he was always working. He was always well respected at the job. I sometimes felt bad for him, he would come home and it was all he could do to stay awake. Many a night he would fall asleep in his old easy chair. I wish he had the time to come to some of my ball games, but hey, there are only so many hours in the day.” I give him just a moment to mull over the response that was so forthright, “That was quite an adult response. Now, as an adult looking back at yourself as a six-year old, I ask again, Do you feel like your needs were met? Did your father love you?” The response is most telling. There is an awkward moment. He stares at me as if uncertain the meaning of the question. First a look of confusion, disappointment takes its place, a slight flush of anger followed by regret. This visual display occurs over a matter of seconds. His gaze moves to the floor as he begins to process his previously rationalized statement with a new set of emotions that he was probably unaware were hiding deep in the shadows of his mind and heart. He looks up at me, holding back the tears.
Many a counseling session with men over the past twenty years has journeyed down this well-trodden road. What does it mean? In many cases our fathers did not live for evil intent. Others have spent a lifetime battling demons from their own upbringing. Perhaps your father used any number of addictions to mask his own pain that he chose not to confront. Regardless the cause, for far too many men there was something lost in the relationship between father and son. It can be difficult to show love when it was never demonstrated, especially if you choose to operate in auto-pilot. We are good students and it’s easy to become what we were raised to be.
When my sons came along I had to make some decisions, not about my boys but about myself! Upbringing, circumstances, beliefs and life experiences all had impact on who I had become. My father did a respectable job of raising me but the reality was that he was not perfect. Everyone has issues, some worse than others. I was the first born and the test ground in our family. My arrival without instructions didn’t help. Since a very young age I was taught to function in an adult world, to be hyper responsible, behave beyond my years, taking care of business before pleasure. Thinking it best for me, these are some of the traits that he ingrained in me. My father was not evil, perhaps slightly misguided.
Over the years I became resentful, a perfectionist, arrogant and regretful over the childhood I felt lost. Realistic or not, this was my perception moving through adulthood. A decision had to be made. Is this who I wanted to be? Is this the future husband and father that God designed me to be? Mistakes made by my father or the way that I had internalized our interactions didn’t matter, what mattered was the example that I would set, not for myself, for God, for others. I didn’t want my son sitting in a counselor’s office thirty years down the road unable to answer the seemingly benign question, “Did your father love you?”
Maturity begins by taking responsibility for your present. It is necessary to stop blaming others or our past, it only keeps you stuck. Learn to forgive those who have hurt you otherwise you allow them to continue to victimize you, whether real or perceived, in your thoughts and memories.
You must give it to God for the healing to begin, understanding that you were raised imperfectly by imperfect parents. In fact, we can only truly lean on God when we embrace our own imperfection. Through forgiveness I learned how to let go of the past, assess my perceptions and update my script. In other words, I learned to love people which directly affects my relationship with my wife and my wonderful boys.
You don’t have to be what you were raised to be, be what you are called to be…a positive role model. This is a major step in caring for your legacy, your children. Is it time to take that step? How do you want your children to remember you?
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