18 Feb 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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.