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Dads and Mentors, Part I: Fathers and Sons

Whether he knows it or not, he wants to be just like you, Dad.

Confession: I said that this week’s article would be the last of “The Talk.” I now see that last week’s “charge to fathers” was truly the capstone of that series.

I promised to explore ways fathers shape their son’s masculinity and their daughter’s femininity (more than anything we mothers can do — a bold statement, I know) and I will honor that, but something happened this week that caused me to re-evaluate ending here.

When : “What if Dads are not rising to the call? How do we fill that ‘missing piece?'" I realized that there was more to cover than could be contained in “one more” article.  

So, we begin a new series, "Dads and Mentors," but I can't say that the issue of sexuality won't come up — in fact, it's the underlying subject here, too. (Surely you're not getting sick of all this "sex talk?!") 

Moms, thank you for your readership (keep reading!) but this week is for the men.        

Dads — when you don’t do (or know how to do) your “job,” it leaves a gaping hole.

Why is having “Dad’s” approval critical for a child’s emotional well-being?

We were designed to have it: to need it and to get it. We aren’t supposed to have to long for it. Dads are meant to be a picture of the strength, tenderness, high expectation (and belief in us to get there) and unconditional love and acceptance that our heavenly Father has for us.

OK, men, even if you don’t believe we have a “heavenly father,” your spirit tells you that Dads were indeed meant to be all of the other things I’ve mentioned. Don’t stop reading just because I “got all religious” on you.

If you’re like most men (and women), you have a “father-wound." You only have to scratch the surface to expose it. If this article doesn’t provide answers, I hope it stirs up questions so you can find healing.

In 1994, a friend loaned me a cassette tape (I hear you: "What’s that?!”) containing Gordon Dalbey’s message “Fathers and Daughters.” That
was the beginning of my quest. Little did I know, the speaker would become a “spiritual father” to me, mentoring me as I mentored girls and women.   

Much of what I want to share with you, Gordon writes about, so I’m linking to his article “Father Hunger” here.

Dalbey polled 350 fathers: “When you first became a father, did your own dad reach out to you — maybe with a phone call, a letter or a visit — to give you encouragement, support or advice?” Only five hands went up.  

And we wonder why men withdraw from their children?   

“You can kill a living organism [like a plant] in two ways,” says Dalbey. “You can cut it down, smash it or beat it up. Or, you can just leave it alone and not water it…”

The father-wound is often a “wound of absence” — emotional and/or physical.  

Dads — when your son is little, he wants to be just like you. Can you think of a higher compliment? As he grows, he will continue to want to be like you if you’re worthy of his admiration. He may become like you even if you are not worthy of his imitation.

Unfathered men grow up to be fathers just the same.  

Sons who are affirmed, on the other hand, find security in who they are, because they are secure in who their fathers are. .   

When my son was old enough to dress himself, he would run to his dad on Sunday mornings to see what he was wearing to church. Then he would come back with khakis and the same color shirt my husband had on. We laughed, but we knew there was a serious lesson there.  

Sons watch. They also listen to (and for) their fathers’ words.

What if my husband had met my son’s imitation with: “Can’t you think for yourself?”

It would have crushed his tender spirit. (You know if you ever received biting words from your father.)  

Instead, my husband always celebrated, saying something like: “Look how 'snazzy' we are!”

My son is the most fortunate young man on the planet.  

He has grown up with a father who has loved him expressively, in action and with words. His dad taught him skills and spent time with him in recreation, prayed with and for him and affirmed him daily, speaking words of blessing that have become a self-fulfilling prophesy of Good in his life. My son is physically strong, emotionally supportive, generous and protective. He has an incredible work ethic. These qualities were built into him, from birth, by the only one who could do so: his father.

No matter how loving and nurturing I may have been, I could not give him these gifts.

Both Gordon Dalbey and John Eldredge (who actually credits Dalbey with starting him out on his "journey of the heart!") point out that sons who can’t trust in the affirmation of their fathers end up looking more to their mothers, identifying more with “the woman” than “the man.” Eventually, they grasp onto their wives or one woman after another to find affirmation that can’t really be found there.

“No woman, no matter how present, loving and helpful, can be a father,” Dalbey says.  

When a father does not “embrace, encourage, guide and protect,” a son grows up thinking he is not valued, and he must not be worth much. He must not have much to contribute to the world. This, too, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Dads, don’t let your sons be “suckered” into “counterfeit masculinity” (searching for meaning in negative influences like alcohol, drugs, junk food, porn, shallow sexual relationships, ego, the list goes on.)

Instead, show them what it means to be a real man. (As my mentor's famous saying goes: “A real man is a man who is real.”)

More in coming weeks on how to be real in your fathering as we talk about “Fathers and Daughters” and “Trustworthy Mentors who Stand in the Gap.”

Recommended resources: 

Dalbey, Gordon. "Sons of the Father: Healing the Father-Wound in Men Today." www.abbafather.com

Eldredge, John. "You Have What It Takes: What Every Father Needs to Hear." www.ransomedheart.com

LeJohn R. Johnston April 09, 2012 at 12:26 PM
I had no idea about this series, however, I'm glad that I came across it. It's great! My question is, what if as a father, the example that was set by your father was a negative one. Now, you have a son of your own and you're basically still learning how to be a father. Based on my father's examples, I know what type of father I DO NOT want to be. However, I find myself repeating some of his same negative lessons. Any suggestions?
Donna J. Noble April 10, 2012 at 05:55 AM
LeJohn-- What a great question you have raised. I guess what comes to mind is this: if you know what kind of father you don't want to be, then I think, in your heart, you also know the Dad you want to be. It may be hard to get there, and trust me, as a Mom, I've been there. I have found that my best Help is listening to that Voice within that guides you. The One that tells you when you've failed but also when you've done well. I think it's extremely important for us parents to humble ourselves before our kids when we've made a mistake. When we do so, we are actually exalted in their sight. Whether your children are very young or nearly grown, they love you and want to know your strenght but also your humanness. Then, we try again. In my family growing up, we were quick to argue. This has been one of my greatest struggles as a parent-- to break that cycle of yelling. Staying calm and imposing consequences or having logical dialogue is my goal, but I don't always get there...especially with teens. But we pick ourselves up and try again. And I extend grace to myself and my kids, knowing that there is only one Perfect Parent, and I'll never be that Guy. But that Daddy- my heavenly Father-- loves me just as I am. Lucky for me, so do my kids. Yours do too. I encourage you to find other men to confide in and find accountability with in your fathering. Check out Dalbey and Eldrege's resources. So life-changing.

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