CONFRONTING THE FATHER WOUND | Fatherly Suffering 5
Question of Courage
How many of you desire to be courageous, confident? Take a moment and rate yourself 1–10. How courageous are you? How many of you lack courage? Those who admit it are perhaps the most courageous among us. Test your courage and confidence by answering the following questions: Do you become jealous? Jealousy indicates a lack of confidence. Do you feel weak, lazy, or have a lack of perseverance? These indicate a lack of courage. Do you have a sense of personal powerlessness, ineffectiveness, insecurity? Do you dominate others? Are you overly assertive, or have outbursts of anger? Do you have to have the last word? Do you lack attention and real concern for others? All of these are indications of a lack of courage and confidence. But as St. Paul related to his disciple Timothy: “The Holy Spirit is no cowardly spirit.” What is the source of pusillanimity and faintheartedness? What causes this fundamental disquiet in our souls?
We men are hardwired to believe subconsciously that the human father transmits the very love of the heavenly Father. This message is woven throughout the Sacred Scripture. God desires to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children for the purpose of turning the hearts of children to the Father (see Sir 40:48; Mal 4:6; Luke 1:17) St. Paul mentions that he bends his knees before the God of heaven and earth from Whom every father on earth derives his name (Eph 3:15). Our Lord in His Sermon on the Mount asks men to compare their fatherhood to God’s Fatherhood (see Matt 7:11). Our identity as fathers is derived from the Father. However, post-fall there exists a rupture between truth and reality. Our fathers have often failed us—and we have often failed as fathers. The opportunity to speak to men across the nation on fatherhood has allowed me the privilege to hear men confess the anguish of their childhood and describe the wounds inflicted by their fathers. For example, a man mentioned that when he was a young boy, his father would often refer to him as “my little girl” when he didn’t measure up to his older brothers. Another acquaintance shared that as a child his father was continually self-absorbed, introspective, comparing himself with other men, and nursed a deep sense of self-loathing. Today, the son of this man feels abandoned, insecure, and has difficulty relating to his own children. A friend told me that when he was a young boy, on one occasion he was playing catch with his father. After repeatedly missing or dropping the ball, his father yelled at him. The son, in anger, whipped the ball at his dad, threw his mitt on the ground, and ran inside to his mother, who promptly coddled him. He never played sports again, and today admits that he resists any form of confrontation or challenge. However, the most damaging thing a father can do is not do anything—to neglect his child; to be “there” but not really be present; to hear but not listen to his children. When this occurs, the child intuits the idea that he is unwanted, unneeded, and unnoticed. On the other hand, some of the most confident adult men have stable, strong, secure relationships either with their father, or with another male who has stepped into their life—either as a friend, uncle, grandpa, comrade, teacher, military leader, et cetera—and spiritually adopted them, filling the role of spiritual father. These men may have been disciplined firmly—even severely—and yet, because they knew that their spiritual father loved them, they carried on to become confident and courageous.
The Pseudo Self
Psychologists contend that people’s habits, beliefs, and foundational behavior modes are often solidified by the age of nine. Whether or not this is true, many—if not all—men are wounded emotionally at a very early age. This is the evil one’s tactic: to wound the child at a young age to ensure that he covers up, or hides, his true identity and does not become a manifestation and revelation of God’s glory. The evil one is bent on keeping young men from becoming a living expression of Christ’s courage, confidence, from being men who are willing to risk for God. When we are emotionally wounded at an early age, we tend to develop coping mechanisms, walls of defense, that will assist us in avoiding being hurt again. These coping mechanisms become modes of behavior that help us to “fit in,” become more likeable and acceptable, and help us avoid being marginalized because of our “weirdness”—which is nothing more than our unique God-given identity. Inevitably, the wrecking ball comes crashing in, tearing down the walls of defense that we solidified with our coping mechanisms. When this occurs, we naturally build the defense walls thicker, deeper, higher, and stronger, and reduce the number of occasions when we may become vulnerable. Eventually these coping mechanisms become a way of life, a pseudo persona, and alter identity; and can cause us to lose connection with our true identify and become incapable of leading ourselves or anyone, for that matter, to their destiny. If we are not attentive to this dynamic, we can allow such coping mechanisms to define us and thus lose touch with those things that give us vitality, freedom, and hope.
These types of wounds—especially if they are inflicted by our father—if gone unchecked and unhealed, can be transmitted through our own fatherhood and wound are children deeply. There are two basic reactions to the father wound: on one hand, we go strong, we cover up the hurt, we plow through the pain, we become socially resilient and emotionally bulletproof. We dominate, become overassertive, and are usually the loudest or one of the loudest voices in the room. We become the man by making a name for ourselves rather than striving to be an expression of God’s glory. Such as person believes himself to be the puzzle that everyone else fits into, rather than a piece to God’s puzzle of the Kingdom. To test whether you have this tendency, examine your reaction to this question: Are you comfortable with being unknown, unnoticed, hidden, and silent, if that is God’s plan for your life? Are you happy at another’s success in an area in which you would like to be successful? Internal resistance to these ideas often indicates that we do not believe that God is sufficient. On the other hand, if a boy was coddled, or paradoxically, not given enough attention or trained to be responsible, or perhaps dominated by a female authoritative figure, he can become a “doormat,” a man who acquiesces, fails to step in and protect his own beliefs, or those of others’ . He often thinks negatively of himself and has a poor self-image. To test whether you have this tendency, examine your past responses to situations in which someone is being belittled in your presence, your faith is being dishonored, people you love are being demeaned. If you consistently fear and fail to step into the breach, risking yourself to defend what is right, you lack confidence in God.
These two behavioral tendencies are very evident in two accounts in the book of Genesis. Recall in the account of the Tower of Babel that the inhabitants of the land of Shinar, modern-day Mesopotamia, led by Nimrod, embarked upon the endeavor of building a temple of glory that would reach the sky. Their motivation for building the temple was so that they would not be scattered, that is, not be conquered—and also to make a name for themselves, to glorify themselves. God, however, confused the languages of the people of Shinar and the project of erecting the temple was permanently ended. Why did God intervene? Was He having a bad day? To understand the account of the Tower of Babel it is helpful to return to the account of Noah. Shorty after the flood had diminished, Noah and his family celebrated the fact that they were now on land. Noah, however, had too much wine and his son Ham discovered him drunk and lying naked in his tent. Ham then disgraced Noah by exposing the shame of his father to his brothers, Shem and Japheth. Shem and Japheth, however, walked backwards, with a blanket, into Noah’s tent, and laid the blanket over his naked body without looking upon his disgrace. When Noah awoke and “saw what Ham had done unto him” (we are not certain what the full content of Ham’s sin was), he responded by blessing Shem and his bloodline for upholding his dignity, while in the same breath he cursed Ham, Ham’s son, Canaan, and Ham’s bloodline. Talk about a father wound. Nimrod, who was Canaan’s son—Ham’s grandson—inherited the curse that transmitted the father wound. An insight that helps us to further penetrate the mystery of the Tower of Babel account is the meaning of the name shem. Shem, in Hebrew, can be translated as name, or fame. In other words, Nimrod and the inhabitants of Shinar said, “Let us make a shem for ourselves.” Let us make a kingdom that will rival Shem’s kingdom. Let us build a tower to the heaven without heaven’s God. Let us reach the Fatherland without the Father’s blessing. Nimrod is a symbol of the narcissist, the self-focused, self-conceited man, who never being healed of his father wound, attempts to build a kingdom without God or God’s help. The other account is the fall of Adam, the father of our race. Adam, as the Catholic Catechism explains, “allowed the trust in the father to die in [his] heart.” The serpent’s beguiling words lured Adam into mistrust of the Father, which paralyzed him, causing him to vacillate and acquiesce, and avoid the risk demanded to stand in the breach to defend Eve.
The Desire Not to Fail Like Our Fathers Is Not Enough
All of us desire to be confident and courageous—all of us, deep down, desire to be Christ-bearers. To be such a man demands that we overcome the father wound by being brutally honest with ourselves about our father’s failings and the failings of our own fatherhood. Although it is a good start to resolve never to imitate our father’s failings, such a determined resolution is never enough. A friend some time ago recommended that I watch a movie titled Ivan Locke, a movie that demonstrated the devastating effect that an unhealed father wound can have on a man’s family. The entire movie takes place in Ivan’s car. Ivan is a very successful concrete engineer who is employed by an upper-echelon German concrete company. He settles in his car and is supposed to be driving home to spend the evening with his wife and two sons watching the championship soccer game on television. Ivan, however, is driving to London to be at the side of woman he had an affair with nine months earlier—a woman he doesn’t love—who is giving birth to his son. During the car ride he receives multiple calls from his family asking him why he isn’t coming home. Finally, due to the stress, Ivan confesses the situation to his wife. His wife decides to divorce him, and his sons are emotionally shattered. In between phone calls, during the drive to London, Ivan would occasionally have a conversation with an imaginary man, his father, who is supposedly sitting in the backseat of his car, cursing at him and condemning him for neglecting and abandoning him. Ivan is determined not to become like his dad. However, his resolution is precisely what drives him to transmit the wound he received from his father to his own family. Resolving not to fail like our fathers is not sufficient.
Four Steps to Confronting the Father Wound
There are four basic steps that if taken will aid us immensely in becoming a father who doesn’t transmit the wounds he has received from his own father, to his own children. First, we must forgive our fathers. This forgiveness must come from the heart. As Jesus commanded, “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offence. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Matt 6:14–15). And St. Paul commends us, “Be ye kind one to another, merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ” (Eph 4:32). In the way and measure that we forgive, particularly our fathers, our Father will forgive us. This is precisely the spirit of the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses [just] as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I once heard that unforgivingness is like giving the person you don’t want to forgive a lemon, but you have the sour taste in your mouth; or giving them poison, but you are the one who is dying a slow death. Fr. Logan, our original founding chaplain, often said that forgiving another is more for you than the person you forgive. For when you do not forgive them for hurting you, you allow that person to still have control over you.
The second step is to forgive yourself. I realize that this sounds a bit “Oprah-ish.” We obviously cannot give ourselves absolution or the remission of our sins. However, after receiving the sacrament of confession, being released from your sins, it is your obligation to release yourself from the guilt and shame of your past failure and begin anew. Otherwise you believe your sins to be bigger than Christ’s love and sacrifice—which is an act of pride. Jesus Himself said that we are to love our neighbor as ourself. How can we love our neighbor if we do not love ourselves? How can we forgive our neighbor if we cannot forgive ourselves? We all fail at fatherhood. We are children raising children. Our failings are not completely our fault, nor are they completely the fault of our fathers. The Father of Lies has the most culpability. St. Francis de Sales said that after you have confessed your sin with true sorrow and surrendered the sin to God, rise again in confidence. Dwelling on your misery is a form of pride, because you believe yourself to be better than you actually are.
Step three is to surround yourself with solid male friends. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two and had His inner circle of three. It is imperative that we meet consistently with other men, develop friendships, and allow these relationships to raise up the real man within us by means of vulnerability and accountability. If it were not for such men in my life, I would not be the man I am today.
Step four is to trust in the Father. The scriptures attest to the love our Father has for us: “Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, and put all things at his feet” (Psalm 8:6-7). Jesus said, “All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:15). And St. Paul affirms the Father’s love: “He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things” (Rom. 8:32). The point is that God desires to share with us all things. While Jesus proves in Himself that the Father loves us, St. Joseph in his vocation of fatherhood testifies that God the father deliberately chooses to need us; for if God the Father chose a human father to father God the Son, how much more do our human children need a father to lead them to God the Father?
St. Joseph’s Example
Unlike Nimrod, Joseph did not desire to make a name for himself, nor did he acquiesce like Adam, bur rather he silently obeyed and did as God commanded him. Joseph didn’t “do nothing,” nor did he do something to gain bragging rights. He simply did everything for the glory of God alone. If you want to have true courage, confidence, and strength, turn everything over to Jesus through St. Joseph. Ask him to be your mentor and guide. Follow his example of listening, trusting, and obeying. Forgive your father, forgive yourself, find friends, and have faith in the Father, as did Joseph, and over time, you will become a man and father of glory.