Relationships

Dear Dad

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MW Editor’s Note: Part of your masculine Journey is working through boyhood and young adult wounds. (We each have them.) As author and counselor, Jay Stringer points out, your current behaviors are not random. They began somewhere, and finding their origin is when healing can begin. Mentoring Warriors did a series of posts called “Letters to Younger You”; what older you would say to younger you as part of that healing process.  In this post, we look at one other aspect of such healing: your father. Here is one man’s letter written with both honor and honesty to his dad.

Dad,

Over the past several years, through some serious health issues, a pivotal men’s conference, countless books on manhood, conversations with other men as well as with my counselor, God has been showing me why I am the man I am and with that, why I struggle in certain areas as a man. Namely, with insecurities and fears. Am I good enough?  Do I have what it takes? Does anyone actually want to know me, delight in me?  

I will be the first to admit that I am FAR from perfect! Just ask my wife and kids. Yet, those questions have haunted me deep in my soul since I was a boy. I recall being about 8 years old when my sister was born. I wanted a brother so bad that when I found out it was a girl, I ran to my room and bawled my heart out!  (True disclaimer: I love my sister. Would not trade her for the world.) She being a girl is not the issue. The fact she was not a boy (a brother) I now realize speaks to what my heart was longing for at the tender age of 8. Even then I longed for what I’ve now come to understand in adult terms as masculinity bestowed. John Eldredge says it eloquently in his book Wild at Heart, that masculinity is bestowed man to man. A mother can raise a boy, but she cannot raise a man. Dad, I needed you to engage in my life and you didn’t. 

Yes, you were there. You worked hard for our family, even when earning a paycheck was a tremendously difficult thing to accomplish. I never remember you as lazy. You instilled in me a hard work ethic that to this day has been core to my career success. But, even though you were home every night, you didn’t take the time to know me. You were always tired and needed your rest.

My counselor asked me to make a list of things that I wished you would have known about me growing up; things that mattered to me, but you didn’t seem to take me under your wing and know me. What I’ve come to see is that no one did that for you as a boy growing up as well.  What I now see is your stuttering, which seemed insurmountable, tapped so much of your energy to maintain yourself, that you had little to nothing left to invest in me. I want you to know I do NOT hold that against you. I do NOT have bitterness towards you. Only compassion. What I see is the anger you had and projected on me was because no one took the time to know you. It’s not that you didn’t love me as a son, you just didn’t know how to engage me because no one modeled that with you. 

I understand, but that does not negate the pain and struggles I faced growing up. Like, when I faced puberty and you didn’t talk to me about why my body was changing. I had no control over the changes and I was scared I was turning into either a zit-bomb freak show or a sexual pervert that would get a girl pregnant in high school. I’ve now come to see that all of the stress of junior and senior high combined with no one to sit down and process what was going on led me to use masturbation as a way to express anger and contempt against myself. I am a nobody. I am not worth knowing. No one delights in me. Why am I even here?  I now see how that all culminated when I was 17, contemplating suicide. What should have been an awesome time (my senior year of high school)was riddled with depression and despair that nearly took my life. I do NOT blame you, Dad, but man, I sure wish you would have been there for me. 

What was I good at growing up? What did you see in me that made your heart swell with joy? I recall after I graduated from university, you’d introduce me as your son, and my career position. How about simply “This is my son!”? Was it the fact I was now a professional that made you proud of me? Were you not proud of me while I was in the house growing up? Why did I never hear, “Good job, son.”?  Why was it always harsh reminders that I disappointed you?  No wonder I still feel as if I can’t do anything right.

But, I pause, reflect, and see the wounds you carried, feeling the very same about yourself. I am sorry no one took the time to know you, Dad. I’m sorry no one told you your life matters. There were so many good things I saw in you growing up!  I mentioned your work ethic and your patriotic love for our country. Yes, your love of sunflower seeds (so do I!) and your gift-giving generosity have rubbed off. Deep inside, you had a tender heart, a heart I inherited. A heart that yearned to be loved and to love. Yes, hugging you was like hugging a board, but inside I knew your heart melted. You were afraid of your emotions. You didn’t know how to deal with them, except to blow up and project verbal vomit on others.

The Bible says that dads are not to provoke their children to anger. Instead, to raise them in the instruction and admonition of the Lord. That is, by your walk with Jesus, to model, not perfectly, but increasingly, Jesus to us kids. Yes, I wish you would have been more of the spiritual leader of our home. I wish that church wasn’t as much mandatory attendance but rather a relational intimacy with our Heavenly Father. I wish that it didn’t take my friend Kevin being killed at age 16 to wake me up spiritually, but in it all, God led me, a shy boy, an insecure teen, and a stressed young adult into my own intimacy with Jesus.

I would NOT in a million years trade you as my dad. God’s sovereignty blessed me to be born in the family I was, with your and mom’s DNA. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am a man loved by God. If no one else ever tells me, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt He delights in me. Oh, how I longed to hear that growing up. Oh, how I longed for you to bestow masculinity on me. You did what you were able, for which I thank you for that. 

I feel as if I have a lot of catching up to do with my own masculinity. I also know that the struggles I faced as a boy are not unique to me. Many young men have father wounds. The blessing in all of this is that my aches are being used to come alongside and mentor young men on the same journey. 

“Masculinity is bestowed man to man.”  John Eldredge

You passed away quite a few years ago Dad. My counselor asked me if I saw you today, would I run and punch you out, or would I run away from you?  I told him, I’d run as fast as I could, wrap my arms around you, with all the compassion and love I can in Christ. 

I thank God for you, Dad, and I am trusting God to father me on the rest of my manhood journey.

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of www.Mentoring-Warriors.com. Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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