What a Father Plants in His Son

by J. Michael Blackston, M.A.

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” –Thomas Merton

The other day I took my daughter to the park.  While on the swings, I noticed the arrival of a father with his two children, a girl around 8 years old and her brother a few years younger.  The kids excitedly ran to the swing set.  It was a different story for the dad, however.  He sat on a bench mostly talking on his cell phone.  His body language clearly communicated he didn’t want to be there. I could tell the boy really wanted to play with his dad.  The more the boy asked his dad to play, the more irritable the father became.  Eventually, the boy stopped asking.

As a therapist, I naturally began to wonder about the father.  Why was he so annoyed by the boy’s desire to connect?  Maybe it had been one of those long mornings where the children’s energy level was too much to handle, and he needed a break.  I get that.  It happens some days.

But maybe it was something more.  The boy eventually caught on.  He stopped asking from his dad and went about his play, seemingly unaffected.  I wondered what would become of that boy.  In twenty years, he most likely won’t have any memory of that interaction at the park with his father.  But, I think that event–and repeated events like it–plants something in his being.

He may land in a therapist’s office as an adult.  Maybe he’ll come because the pressure at work is impeding his ability to function, and he feels a constant level of anxiety.  As he processes the pressure, he shares that he lives with a nagging sense of inadequacy and fear that he will be exposed as incompetent.  The man has foggy memories about his father but clearly remembers never feeling his dad’s approval.

I believe more men than not carry around wounds from their fathers.  We ignore the wounds or minimize them or deny them altogether.  They are disguised, but they are there nonetheless.  The disguises are often very clever.  The wounds hide themselves in the empty bottle of beer or the vow to not look at pornography again.  They hide in the CEO’s need for constant success or a husband’s critical responses to his wife.

Acknowledging this father wound to yourself and others is a difficult but necessary step.  The goal is not to blame our fathers.  Many of them did the best they knew how.  We acknowledge our wounds so that we can heal.  Also, if we don’t do this critical inner work, we are likely to hurt others, particularly those closest to us.  But, if we do, a different seed will be planted in a man’s heart–one of courage and true masculinity that will set us free to live more fully, to love more boldly.

Categories Article | Tags: | Posted on February 6, 2013

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