Finding Father

One Man's Journey to Discover Paternal Significance

Month: September 2013

The Dad Deficiency

Me, circa 1981, in what I tried to conceive as a father/son portrait about the time I would have been in college.

Me, circa 1981, in what I tried to conceive as a father/son portrait about the time I would have been in college.

The move to Montreat signified a whole new level of existence for me. My adolescence had been characterized by a desire to know and to do what was right juxtaposed with a struggle to find myself.  The latter proved challenging, especially when I didn’t really have a firm handle on the questions, for which there seemed no easy answers.   As I entered my college years, I began to realize what many of those unanswered questions were, and was now in a position to dive in and discover them.

What I came to learn was that, in spite of the exceptional nurture and affirmation of a loving mom, there was still quite a bit missing in my “tool box” of life.  I was growing into manhood, and as a man, was attempting to find my way through life without a father figure to guide me.

There were the small things I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing that many sons and daughters perhaps take for granted.   I don’t remember a dad picking me up, setting me on his lap and hugging me.  There was no dad to help me with algebra, to teach me how to craft something out of wood, or to take me out to a ball game.  I would have loved to have had a dad to guide me in the difficult decisions of life or to just put his arm around me and let me know things would be all right.  And, of course, it would have been tremendously beneficial to have him help to sort out all the burgeoning hormonal behavior that comes with being a teenage boy.

There are other issues that a fatherless son has that go even deeper.  Roland Warren, former president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, wrote an article, outlining some of the needs that, often times, can only be provided by a father to his son.

  • One is the need for significance…the need to feel that a son has purpose, meaning, and reason for his existence.
  • Another is the need for affirmation…to know what a son is here to do and to know that he is doing it well.
  • The other is the need to be loved…deep inside each one of us is an innate desire to be loved and to love.

Warren writes, “This boils down to a son’s innate need to be affirmed by his father. Your affirmation prepares your son to enter the world with the confidence and “emotional armor” that he needs in order not just to survive, but to thrive. A son needs to know that you are pleased with him, not for what he does or does not do, but because of who he is.”

Warren continues,

“Kids have a hole in their soul in the shape of their dad.  And if a father is unwilling or unable to fill that hole, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed.”

I realized that all of my struggles up to that point had to do with each of these areas and the quest to fill them with various things – some good, some bad, some legitimate and some counterfeit. Now as a young man in college, I began to think more about my dad and I became more aware of these deficiencies.  And as one who was tired of trying to fill the emptiness with more of the same, I resolved not to feel sorry for myself, but to see the future as a new realm of opportunity – one where I would discover my significance in this world, as well as the one who would fulfill that innate and divine desire to love and to be loved.

As I will detail in the next several posts, my two years at Montreat were monumental in helping to resolve some of my “dad deficiencies” and to fulfill my life in ways I would have never dreamed.

 

 

The Turning of the Tide

photoA very unexpected and significant turn of events happened during the spring of my senior year of high school. I had already been accepted at a state university, which was also known as one of the biggest party schools around.  Obviously I was going to college to further my education, but the thoughts of being totally on my own in such an atmosphere was somewhat appealing to me.  My brother, who was attending Montreat-Anderson College on a baseball scholarship, invited me to visit him on a weekend in February, 1979.

“Mike, I have no intention of going to school at Montreat,” I said, thinking that part of his motive was to sell me on the idea of attending college there.

“I’m not asking you to go to college there,” he said.  “I’m just asking that you come up and visit.”

So on Valentine’s weekend 1979, a friend and I made the journey up Old Fort Mountain and spent the weekend with my brother at Montreat.  Neither one of us looked at the weather forecast prior to leaving, but when we arrived on Friday evening, it was very cold and the snow clouds were already rolling in.  We really never gave it any more thought, because the weekend was mesmerizing.  The moment we drove through the rock gate that welcomes you to Montreat, I felt that I had been transported into a whole different level of existence.  You can’t really put your finger on it, but there is something that occurs deep within your soul – at least for some of us – when you visit Montreat.  For me, there was a sense that this was going to be much more than just a casual visit with my brother at college.

The intriguing weekend included meeting all sorts of engaging and interesting people, a hike up Lookout Mountain and a flurry of winter snowflakes that began to fall around 11 on Saturday night.  By then we had heard the weather report, so my friend and I quickly packed and made our way back to Belmont.  We woke up the next morning to a beautiful white blanket of snow on the ground, and we heard that Montreat had received well over 10 inches of snow that night!

That weekend set into motion a series of events that had me filling out an application to attend Montreat.  I know they say you’re not supposed to “put a fleece” out there and make a deal with God, but I did.  The cost to attend Montreat was considerably more than it was to go where I had intended to go to college. So, I applied for all the financial aid and scholarships that I could find.  Seeing that I was in the “eleventh hour” as far as financial aid awards were concerned, I thought if God could pull that off and make a way for me to attend Montreat, then that would be my sign.  Within a few weeks, I was accepted to Montreat and had my entire first year paid in full.   That was more than a sign for me…that was a billboard!

As a freshman at Montreat, I had the opportunity to make a new start.  It was such a thrill to be in a new place and a new environment.  Students from all over the southeast came to Montreat, and I looked forward to meeting them and creating friendships.

The striking thing about Montreat was its intimate beauty.  At the centerpiece of the Montreat campus was a body of water called Lake Susan.   580151_10151520695077832_710849394_n During the winter time, Lake Susan would sometimes freeze solid, and although it was discouraged, we would often take to ice skating with our tennis shoes on its solid frozen top.  It was a serene breath of fresh air to the rigors of a busy college schedule to take a long leisurely walk around Lake Susan.

There was a special closeness that came with being a “Montretian.”  Everything about the college appealed to me.  The small enrollment, the close proximity of all the buildings, and the beauty of the mountains only added to its attractive intimacy.  Everyone associated with the college seemed to really care about the individual student.  The Christian atmosphere was authentic and evangelical, but neither stuffy nor “boxed-in.”  There was a freedom to be yourself and to allow your true spirituality to blossom and emerge.  I was in an environment where God could truly speak to my heart, and it was there at Montreat that He began to move in my life in some tremendous ways.

For a young man who had lost his father, been saved at an early age, had experienced a wonderful childhood and endured a few turbulent teen years, I was finally ready to settle down and get serious about discovering some things about myself.  Most of all, I was ready to learn about God, Himself.  It was important to me that I learn who God really was, not what I had perceived Him to be.  It was important to me to fully understand why I was the way I was, why I did the things I did, how I was capable of thinking and doing both good and bad, and who I was and what I was put here on earth to do.  It was at Montreat that the answers to many of those questions would eventually be revealed.

 

 

Moses and Me

Charlton_Heston_in_The_Ten_Commandments_film_trailer-EDIT-600On the heels of the last post, I couldn’t help but think about the life of Moses, and the struggle he had with his own “wounds.”  So often when we think of Moses, we envision this Charlton Heston, larger-than-life biblical hero, when in reality, he was flesh and blood, just like you and me.

Here was a man, who as a child was semi-orphaned within hours of his birth.  His mom and dad had to give him up because of Pharaoh’s “death-to-all-firstborn” decree, and the irony was that he ended up in the very household of Pharaoh, with his mother, Jochebed, assisting Pharaoh’s daughter in his upbringing.

As Moses grew older, he began to discover the roots of his true heritage – that of being a Hebrew – one of God’s chosen.  He became incensed at the tyranny and bondage Pharaoh and the Egyptians held over his people.  One day, as he witnessed an Egyptian beating one of the Hebrew slaves, Moses’ anger got the best of him.  In a moment of righteous indignation, Moses killed the Egyptian, buried him in a shallow grave, and fled into the wilderness as a fugitive.

One day while attending the flocks of Jethro, the man who gave Moses refuge, this murderer-on-the-run had an encounter with God that would change his entire life.  Through a burning bush, God issued Moses a tremendous challenge – go back to Egypt, convince Pharaoh to release the Hebrew prisoners, and lead them to the Promised Land.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the plight of Moses.  He was displaced at an early age, he grew up without a father present and he had anger issues.  These issues were acted out in the most severe way when he took the life of another human being.  And when he was asked to do something that was bigger than he was, Moses’ negative self-esteem took over.  Moses gave God several excuses that were indicative of the immense amount of self-deprecation, fear and guilt that Moses was experiencing.  “Who am I that I should go and do this?  What if they don’t believe me?  I’m not an eloquent speaker.  Oh, Lord, please get someone else to do this.”  Here was a wounded man who was responding in a very human and real way.

I have always said that there are two themes that permeate the scriptures.  One is the frailty of man; the other is the faithfulness of God.  And here, the compassionate heart of the Heavenly Father emerges.  “I will be with you, Moses.  I will help you, I will teach you what to say, I will guide you on this journey.” And for Moses, it made all the difference in the world to know that he was not alone.  This proved to be the truth that guided Moses throughout his entire life – the very hope, purpose and meaning for his very existence.  At the end of his days, it was very clear to Moses that God had a specific plan and purpose for his life, despite the fact that Moses had many reasons why he was unfit and unqualified for the task.

I am coming to a place in this blog journey where I am closing out the section on childhood and early adolescence and going on to the next level of life – college, marriage, and child rearing – where much of this journey took shape.  As I do, I want to convey what I had come to know about my life to that point.   I knew my father had died when I was young.  I knew I had a mom who loved me unconditionally.  I had discovered a church family who lovingly nurtured me, which resulted in discovering a God who loved me much more.  I grew to learn that in my humanity I was not as strong as I thought I was.  I discovered my frailties and failures.  But by the end of my senior year in high school, He had orchestrated a turn of events that would set me on a path of truly discovering my significance and purpose on this planet.

About 17 years ago, I put together a musical monologue on the life of Moses, and as I assembled this post, I thought of a song I included in that presentation, entitled, “God Has A Plan.”  As a segue to the next section of the journey, I thought I would include a video of that song.

The Father Wound

absent-father-smIn his book, Wild At Heart, John Eldridge makes a very interesting and compelling case concerning “the wound.”  He advocates that all of us have, in some shape or form, a wound – something in our past that has served to cause us emotional, mental, and spiritual pain.  He speaks of a “father wound,” and indicates that such a wound can come from something our fathers said or did to us that produced an emotional scar.  I would take that a step further and say that such wounds can also come from abuse from a father – whether that be verbal or physical, and also, the absence of a father. The list can be endless, and the severity of the wound can range from very mild to extremely traumatic.

I remember reading that chapter for the first time and being emotionally moved.  It was clear that the concept of a wound resonated within me and struck a nerve.  In my mind, I tried to convince myself that I did not really have a wound.  Life had turned out pretty good for me, in spite of the loss of my father.  But deep within my soul, the reality rang true – I was wounded – probably deeper than I realized.  And the reasons for my wound began to rise to the surface.

My father’s death was much more than just a tragic event that took place in my life.  Part of my own flesh and blood was taken away from me.   I was and still am my father’s son.   His DNA lives within me.  He was a major player in the very reason I even existed, and at the age of four, he was suddenly taken out of my life, never to be replaced.  That was huge.  And as I read Eldridge’s words concerning the wound, I knew they applied to me.

Eldridge went on to say that our response to the wound would be one of two things – that we will either overcompensate for it and become very aggressive in the way we live our lives, or that we will shrink within ourselves and become completely passive.  The former holds the potential to lead us into more of a self-destructive pattern, the latter into more of a repressive one.   I would also add that the wound has the capacity to either make us bitter or better.  It would either drive us away from the Heavenly Father or closer to Him.

One of the potential problems with identifying the “wound” in our lives is that we might adopt a victim mentality – a notion that we are the beneficiaries of an unfair and unjust turn of events.    Many who have had such a tragedy occur in their lives feel that life has dealt them a bad hand, that somebody owes them.  They have resigned themselves to the falsehood that their “wound” is the reason all has gone wrong in their lives and that nothing can change that.  They operate in a negative and pessimistic flow, and feel that their present plight is as good as life will ever get.

The truth of the matter is that there are some events that will occur that will be beyond our capacity to do anything about, and we must decide how we are going to respond to them.  Will we allow them to make us bitter or make us better?

A wound unattended will only fester and get worse.  To properly assess, diagnose, and remedy “the wound,” we must not only recognize the things we cannot change, but identify those things that we can change, namely, how we will respond to those traumatic circumstances of our lives.  Will we wallow in self-pity or will we dig deep within ourselves to find that high road of healing and restoration?

My hope for the wounded is that the latter will take place.  I’m not advocating that we pretend that wounds and the pain are not real because they are.  My desire is that we will discover that there is hope and healing for the scarring that life has dealt us.

Just in the short amount of time this blog has been up and running, many of you have shared your personal stories about your fathers through phone conversations, private messages, and e-mail.  They have been a personal blessing to me.  It helps to know that there is someone else out there who knows what we are going through, and in some small way, it aids in our healing process.  King Solomon said in one of his proverbs, “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” and I sincerely trust that the presence of this blog will be just that.

As this journey continues, I will share more of how God has worked this healing into my own life, and how I have come to discover Him more deeply as our Heavenly Father who loves us more than we could ever imagine.

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