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3 Questions only a father can answer

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 the…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

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. 
For more on this complicated business of fathering, check out the following articles.  

Comments (12)

  • Very thought-provoking! I am not sure I agree that mothering comes naturally. However good fathering is at the core of who we are for both boys and girls. I set up my web site http://www.societyofdads.com just to allow fathers to help fathers with nurturing, mentoring each other, helping one another to be positive role models.
    I would love in-put from anyone out there who agrees with Seth about the importance of a father’s love and guidence.

  • Sitting in counseling sessions with many men and teens it is a difficult to even probe into their experience with their father. However, once they begin the journey healing starts to take place in a new way. Thanks for this post today.


  • perfectly timed Seth

    My eldest son disappeared last week and when we found him he had had a break down of some sort. He felt a failure because he is struggling to find work and it shows so deeply in what he has said that the lack of fathering has had a devestating impact on his life.

    He feels lost, he has never had a Dad come along side him and show him ANYTHING and then affirm him in it.He has no sense of focus at all.

    Please pray for him as his spririt needs rebuilding.

  • mothers can be callous & cruel & those wounds fester just as persistently as the wounds of absent or “un-done” fathers. the four children of my fractured family of origin only wished we had a mum who loved rather than lashed, used (her boyfriends favored us), & pounded us. and with a father who we loved & yet allowed it to happen (& is still married to her) issues with the “protective” fatherhood of God arise. we are orphans yet our parents breathe still. children do not need perfect parents or perfect childhoods. they do need to know that they are persistently loved & belong to a family doing their best. still searching for that place at the “family table”.

  • “we are orphans yet our parents breathe still” – brilliant observation, Al-e. The Lord told me, “It’s a fatherless generation.” So much of my purpose on earth is tied up in showing young people in tangible ways that it may be true for others, but not for them.

  • my question is, for those of us who’ve had an absent father, where and how do we find hope and redemption. the Lord promised to be a father to the fatherless but that’s very different from having a human father figure.

  • I think this is true in a different way for girls too. Read that book “Captivating” and it had me in tears. As a girl, you long for your father to give you the message that yes, you are captivating; yes, you are worth giving his attention to; yes, you are special to him. For many of us, those things didn’t happen and often the opposite occurred. You think you are not captivating, not worth lavishing any attention on, not special just annoying. And you spend your life still always hoping one day you can please your dad, secretly wondering if God is a father like you’ve known or someone different. You know all “the right answers” but knowing it in your heart and being able to rely on it isn’t always the simplest thing. You can’t make one choice to believe it and now it’s true and everything is different. It’s like forgiving someone – you have to keep on and on and on until the sting goes. I’m not there yet. I hope one day I will be…….

  • Seth,

    This was convicting and encouraging. I tend to want to pity myself for my father’s inadequacies rather than focus on how I am failing to answer these questions for my kids now.

    In a way, it was like hearing for the first time a Christian say that fatherliness (I make up words) is not as natural as motherliness. I always assumed it would come naturally. Just like I assumed being a husband was intuitive. What a putz I find myself to be again and again.

    Thanks for your guidance. Hope to run into you around town again sometime soon.

  • Yes, the gaping hole left by having these questions unanswered sometimes take a lifetime to fill…they WILL be filled by something! The collateral damage of fatherlessness (either physical/emotional or both) is vast and must break the heart of the FATHER…He will justify the situation, in His way and in His time.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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