June is the month we celebrate fatherhood and fathers everywhere. It seems to me that Father Love is very strong—both love from fathers and love for fathers.
Two brothers, ages 24 and 27, recently had a reunion with their dad. For the first time in a long time, the father flew into town and visited them in their environments. He “hung out” with them, stayed at their homes, and visited them at work. Most importantly, he acknowledged and validated their successes as young men. It meant a lot to these brothers. There was laughter, tears and acceptance.
Two other brothers, ages 29 and 24, and a sister, age 32, recently led a memorial service for their dad who died accidentally while drunk. In the last few years, all of these siblings worked hard to make amends and peace with their dad who suffered from alcoholism and post-traumatic stress. At the service, they proclaimed their love for him, despite his lack of support and understanding of them at times. They also said that they knew he loved them.
Father Love exists despite suffering, pain, and abandonment issues. Love from fathers can be experienced even if fathers are filled with emotional distress and shame. Young people can learn to love their fathers for who they are, and accept their limitations and disabilities.
It is now believed that 40 percent of young people in America under the age of 16 will grow up without a father in their lives. They live apart, or their father has passed away. That is over 36 million children without a live-in biological dad. There are terms like “father hunger”—the craving children feel toward their absent dads. Some fathers leave because they are forced out by the system, or by mothers. Others leave because they do not feel up to the challenge of raising children. Still others can’t handle the emotions brought up in them by their child about their own childhood experiences. Poverty, racism, and social classism all have their impact on dads. Abandonment by one’s father can bring resentment and shame. The challenge is to understand that it is not the child who is being rejected, but the role of fatherhood.
Being a father is challenging these days. Children seem to grow up quickly, and need guidance, support, limits, encouragement, as well as love. Some fathers know how to teach their children important skills, be excellent role models, and then gradually encourage them to test their wings and fly into the world. Other fathers lack social skills and haven’t effectively dealt with their own unresolved issues. Some fathers are controlling, demanding and punishing.
Samuel Osherson, in his book, Finding Our Fathers says that young men often carry their fathers’ unhealed wounds inside themselves. This means that they try to become, in some way, what their father could not become. Some choose to emulate their father. Others find their father’s behavior (good or bad) coming out in them whether they are aware of it or not. Some try to become the opposite of their dad.
Fathers have a great impact on their children. This impact is both genetic and emotional. The challenge for kids is to take to heart what is best in their dad, and leave the rest. In many cases, dad did the best he could under the circumstances.
I was blessed with a supportive and loving father. He lived until I was 37 years old. I wish he were around now to see how my life has unfolded. Spiritually, I know he sees it.
I have known many young men and women who have had remarkably caring and nurturing fathers. Also, I have experienced many people whose fathers were not available to them physically or emotionally. Eventually, all of us must learn to turn inward and begin to parent ourselves, telling ourselves that we are beautiful, worth it, and courageous.
So Happy Father’s Day and Mother’s Day to all of us.
Michael Obsatz is an associate professor of sociology at Macalester College in St.Paul, Minn., and for more resources visit www.angeresources.com.