If you want to get to the core of a person, probe his or her relationship with their father. You may look like a success on the outside, but if your father didn’t love you, chances are you’re limping through life, covering up the ache down in your soul.
Mothers, by and large, perform their role honestly and naturally. Something in them yearns to have and to hold babies. Most fathers, by contrast, lack that nurturing gene. Many of us are doing the best we can to schlep along, taking our emotional cues from our wives.
This is not an excuse, just a generalization. Most of us are like an actor who forgot his lines, anxiously looking offstage for his line prompt. Yet, as they mature, our kids are asking three crucial life questions that the fathers in their lives need to answer. And as long as the questions remain unanswered, our children will feel forced to either live the sad charade of a poser (think gangsta rapper) or something equally shallow but less obvious (think of maybe, a shopaholic).
The three questions are:
1. Am I OK?
2. What is my highest and best in life?
3. Can I make a difference?
We ask them at different stages and we keep repeating them as long as the answer is negative.
Am I OK?
We want to be whole, not defective, and we want to feel significant, that we matter. The question, “Am I OK?” is about our identity. Moms are supposed to love us; they’re wired that way. A dad’s love is more elusive and may feel conditional. I asked my son about this and he said: “Just as the mother’s unique position is to care for and nurture, the father’s is to see the best in everything, even in a failure, and to be the kid’s biggest fan through it.”
We dads need to practice saying, ” I believe in you; I’m here for you.” And we need to back it up with our hugs, the gift if our time, and by refraining from criticism.
What is my highest and best?
Most young people are multi-talented. Whereas a hundred years ago a son apprenticed with his father to follow in his footsteps, that pattern no longer holds. The world is your oyster now and the task is one of specializing, that is, saying “no” to a dozen other skills you may have in order to focus on a strength that sets you apart from your peers. The process is one of finding your voice.
Your father may be ill-equipped to help you answer this question, but most of us hunger for a father figure to affirm us in our area of greatest strength. If we’re fortunate, we’ll find a mentor willing to invest in helping us answer this question of “what is my highest and best in life?”
How can I make a difference?
All through our lives we ask the question, “How can I make a difference?” Eventually, we specialize, focusing on our strength, but to find our purpose, we need to focus our efforts on solving a particular problem. Whether it’s world hunger or maintaining a database, we want to know that our lives matter. We ask, “Where is that niche that only I can fill?” We want to know where our strength matches up with the world’s need.
Each of these three questions, if left unanswered, becomes the source of gnawing insecurity. They need to be answered either by a father figure or a surrogate. “You don’t have many fathers,” Paul writes, suggesting that it is normal to have multiple father figures.
In the home of our childhood, the first question of identity is answered. In the office or workplace we answer the question or our voice or role. And out in the world as we find a role that meets a specific need, we discover our call. In answering these questions, a father has a unique privilege, the privilege of discipling his children.