Restoration Project | Hungry Man: Father Hunger
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Hungry Man: Father Hunger

“It seems we cannot be ourselves, we cannot be our own man, or our own father, until we have been someone else’s little boy.”

~Richard Rohr

 

In the heart of every man is a hunger for his father. It’s one of those inevitable things. It happens in both boys and girls actually, but the essence of this hunger is vitally different. There is something about the connection between the child and the same-sex parent that, when unmet, creates a gaping hole in their souls.

 

One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr says this:

“We need him to like us, to bless us even after our mistakes, to enjoy our company, to tell us that we can succeed…If manhood itself does not like me, then I’m forever insecure about my own. His affirmation is ten times more important than that of any other man, and of a completely different quality than the affirmation of a woman.”
Since the mid-90’s, there has been a lot of talk about this idea of Father Wound. This conversation has been vital, and I believe it has addressed a significant need in the hearts of men and women alike. However, there is a vast difference in my mind between the Father HUNGER and the Father WOUND. They should not be confused, and they most certainly should not be lumped into one gigantic category. Let me explain…

FATHER HUNGER

There is a natural desire in the hearts of boys to connect with their fathers. Born from, nursed by and nurtured into life by their mothers, the emotional and physical bonds between boys and moms is natural. In many ways mothers don’t choose their sons, and the mother-hunger is often innately satiated. Not so with fathers.

Just last night I was speaking to a young father about his 2 1/2 year old son. He said, “Because of the whole nursing thing, it wasn’t until he was 18 months old that I started to exist in his eyes. Now he can’t get enough of me.” How profoundly true this is. Boys naturally long for and need an emotional bond with their fathers. This hunger is good, blessed and valid, and usually begins to take root in the boy’s soul somewhere in early childhood. This young father is responding with intention, physical connection (i.e. wrestling, cuddling and rubber-room smack-downs), and soul-nourishing affirmation.

Father Hunger continues in the heart of every man his entire life. It never goes away, because the satiation of the desire is never meant to end. The hunger is only satisfied by a return to the Ultimate Father.
Fathers seem to have more of a choice than mothers in their connections to boys. Is the boy important enough to notice? Does the urgency of work overshadow the boy’s need for daddy? Of all the things and people and directions a father’s attention can be turned, will his gaze fall upon his son? It is the father’s primary role as FATHER to turn his delightful eye to his children. (Note: check out the last verse in the entire Old Testament — seems that God is pretty serious about this). And while the hunger will never end, it is the father’s purpose to provide soul-full nutrition to the boy’s heart until that Day when all will be rightly restored.

It is here that I want to BLESS the hunger. It is right. It is good. It is Godly. It seems to me that recent writers have taken away the blessing of this hunger, almost making a man’s desire for his father somewhat of a weakness or failure. In my eyes, father hunger is God-given and God-ward. Let us redeem this desire for the goodness that it is.

FATHER WOUND

The hunger evolves into a wound when it is regularly or violently denied. When boys vulnerably bring their legitimate hunger to their fathers and are then shunned, ignored, ridiculed, violated or refused, the desire falls into an overwhelming black shadow — a gaping hole in their souls. Fathers may be ignorant or unaware of their child’s need, or they may be threatened or overwhelmed by it. Regardless, the hunger turns inward like an acidic cascade of contempt, turning the masculine soul against itself.

In some cases, the violation is clear. Abuse and neglect create survival strategies in the child, often resulting in rage that is externalized into violence or self-soothing escapes. But in cases where the violation is less clear, when the hunger is ignored, denied, or the father is simply unavailable, the contempt is turned inward against the self. “Something must be wrong with ME” or “I must have some extreme deficiency that Dad just can’t get over.” Either way, the Father Wound seeps toxic contempt into the life of the child, and eventually into the fibers of the man’s heart.

When this occurs, the man spends his life (sometimes consciously, but mostly unconsciously) looking to heal the boy within. Since he did not receive the “affirmed worth” given to him by his father, he turns to “earned worth” through his actions – success in business, sexual prowess, gang violence, physical fitness, etc.

What to do? Author Richard Rohr makes these three suggestions:

  • First, we must work through the hurts we feel to an adult and forgiving relationship with our own fathers and father figures.
  • Second, we must nurture and perhaps seek reparenting of our little boy within, through healing prayer, male relationships and perhaps some inner spiritual work with the help of a counselor or therapist.
  • And, finally, we should dedicate some of our own father energies to reforming destructive patriarchal structures in our society and to nurturing and healing the next generation of men.
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