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If you dig deep enough into the soul of a man who for some reason seems a bit lost in life, or maybe real lost, you’ll usually find a man who never received affirmation from his father. In groups, I often ask men, by a show of hands, how many never received a blessing from Dad. More often than not, the overwhelming majority of men raise their hands.

In a session on manhood I was leading, a group of four high school boys talked about their dads and the lack of Dad’s blessing in their lives. One boy said, “The best thing my dad did for me was leave!” Do you hear the pain?

My dad was the second child of four kids. His dad, an alcoholic, left the family when the kids were very young. Essentially, my dad grew up in poverty as a result. Dad understandably carried a deep anger toward his father. At one point, when his dad tried to pop back into their lives as he often did, only to leave again, they came to blows, as my dad demanded that his father stay away.

Thankfully, my dad didn’t pass that father wound onto us. But he lived with that wound all of his life. It wasn’t until I was an adult myself that I began to understand how that father wound shaped my dad’s life. My dad was always fighting someone or something. Turns out, in the end, he was fighting his dad. It’s part of what made my dad such a success. He didn’t back down from a fight. But it’s also part of what led to many of my dad’s failures. He was fighting his dad, and it blinded him at times.

Months before my dad died, he attended a class on manhood I was teaching. Near the end of the course, I happened to sit in on his small group as the men talked about heroes in their lives. My dad stunned me when he told the group that his biggest hero was his dad. He said he admired his dad because he never backed down from a fight. I thought to myself, Are you kidding me? “This man abandoned Grandma and you for a younger woman. He was an alcoholic. You grew up in poverty because of that man. You’ve carried a lifelong wound from that man!

But I’ve seen this happen now many times with men carrying a father wound. Dad has wounded them deeply, but the little boy in them still needs Dad to be a hero. My dad, though I’m not sure he knew it, was really expressing the universal need of all boys: the need for his father’s approval.

Without Dad’s blessing, a boy struggles to be whole. With Dad’s blessing, a boy’s spirit is forged with noble, good, life-affirming power.

Excerpted from Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys from Church



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