My Absentee Father

“Experience has shown us that the men who are happiest and most content in the masculine role today are those whose fathers invested a great deal of time and energy in their lives.  These dads… are in the minority today.  Most mean are struggling to recover from relationships with fathers who failed to nurture, affirm and validate them at some level.  These fathers have left their sons a legacy of pain, confusion, frustration, anxiety, bitterness, fear and anger.  These adult sons are the angry men of our society.”

– David Stoop Ph.D., and Stephen Arterburn, M.Ed., The Angry Man, Word Publishing, 1991

WHEN A PERSON’S FATHER doesn’t take an active role in their upbringing, how much does that add to their personal sense of alienation, abandonment, and emotional distress?  Most people who knew my father would agree that, like my mother, he was a kind and gentle man.  He was a good listener, a loyal friend, and a giver.  My mother allowed my father to participate in activities that basically involved him listening to and solving other people’s problems.  Most of these caretaking activities involved other family member or friends.   There always seemed to be a crisis with one of his brothers or sisters who came to him to help solve their problems.  In many instance these seemed to b e problems of their own making and could have been solved by taking responsibility for them.  I recall being angry about that.

My mother though that my father should show more responsibility by taking an active role as a father.  Despite her resentment, she let him do his thing.  My father was determined to help others.  He felt obligated.  At times, he got frustrated with those who kept coming back with their problems, he had a limited amount of energy; when he was at home, he signaled in his own way that he wanted peace and quiet.  He valued his solitude.  This is something that I enjoy as well.  I find peace in solitude.  Therefore, I can understand what may have been going on in his mind?  In business, I am here to solve problems; that is part of the role anybody in business plays.  But I absolutely value my solitude–and privacy as well.

No one is perfect.  Growing up, I had idealistic expectations that might have been unrealistic.  My father had no interest in sports; I realize and understand that that is certainly all right.  Parents who place this type of pressure to perform on their children often produce bad results that you read about in the paper.  My father did not put that pressure on my brother and me.  If anything, he wanted nothing to do with the misplaced pressure associated with athletic activities.  Society idolizes this type of behavior, and my father wanted us to be thinkers and scholars.

Normally, fathers and sons have a special bond.  I did not have that bond with my father.  Nor did I try to understand him.  In fact, the only feelings I had for him were anger and contempt.  I was so wrapped up in myself that I did not care to get to know him.  I do now that he’s gone, and this is something I regret.  I was just in a place where I was not receptive to him.  I felt that being a librarian was unmasculine.  I needed some kind of male role model., and that was not my father.  I was influenced by what I thought I was missing when I compared my experience with other guys and their fathers.  I understand now that my father’s strength was associated with his powers of restraint.  To be restrained in trying situations can be a sign of courage in in itself.

My father passed away not long ago after enduring a couple of years of physical disintegration.  It happened on my mother’s birthday.  It was quite endearing to see how many people were in attendance at the funeral.  Normally, funerals do not fill a church of this size.  Most of those attending were friends, former faculty colleagues, and students.  In their minds, my father was a treasure.  I came away with a feeling of sadness–and even some feelings of guilt.  I wish that we had formed a closer bond.  I didn’t process those feelings at the time; my grieving is something that has taken time.  I dealt with my father’s passing in the same way I deal with any such situation.  I may have been depressed; I know that I was numb, and I went on with living.  I did not cry; I was just there.  I did not experience any emotions, dramatic or otherwise.  But my father was gone.

3 comments

  1. This really resonated with me. Masculinity in our modern society is so fragile. I’ve always felt a disconnect from my father – to the point of often choosing isolation over disappointment. Interestingly enough, my experiences are a bit of a foil to your story – I’ve always been the nurturer and my dad always placed unrealistic expectations on me “to be a man” at a time in my life when I needed reaffirmation for who I was rather than for who he wanted me to be. So true that men are left with a legacy of anger and frustration. I guess it takes experiencing it to really understand it.

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