August 17, 2009

Father Hunger

I was severely under-fathered. My father was an alcoholic, an emotional terrorist, unavailable to me or the family. It's a long, sad story I've spent most of my life trying to understand, accept, and heal from. The Man-Making book is part of that legacy.

I've heard similar stories from so many men and witnessed that longing in countless young males. When I received a story by an almost 60 year-old man, speaking of father hunger, longing, and emotional confusion, I thought it would be important to share. I believe the hole left behind in the psyche of males who were under-fathered (or who had no fathering) leads to a powerful but subtle form of low-male-self-esteem. I know that sense of insufficiency personally and I also know it's part of the reason men don't show up for boys.

Father's, hug your sons, tell them you're proud of them, and then listen for the father hunger in this story from Charley:

My ending with my dad was very unsatisfying, like nearly all of our relationship. He died a year after my first son was born (now 17 years ago). He never saw my son, never seemed very interested. I found out later that he had experienced a series of mini-strokes that left him impaired in ways more serious than his lifelong alcoholism. But even years before that I found him uncomfortable in social situations and stiff and ungenerous in any expressions of

affection. He was quick to make a satirical comment, though his lack of connectedness to the world made his humor dull and mean.

I can't help thinking I was a big disappointment to him, though being one of ten it's easy to exaggerate my importance (even as a disappointment) to him. I was "supposed" to be "the" priest in the big Catholic family. The idea was if you have 10 kids (7 boys) surely you can spare one for the priesthood. Puberty convinced me quickly that wasn't a good idea. Then came "the hippies." We fought about everything, but in the end mostly hair, believe it or not. When I came home from college for the first time and had managed to grow my hair a bit, he didn't want to let me in the house.

I have a few good memories of him. Like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, he had tools and taught me a little (not too much) about them. He liked to tell ghost stories and was good at it. He tried in his clumsy way to give us experiences -- dune buggy riding at Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes on Lake Michigan, canoeing down the Au Sable river in Michigan, shooting rats with a .22 in an abandoned house. But overall, I pretty much dreaded his presence, stalwartly put up with his interrogations (with TV blaring in front of us)... my mom hovering about with snacks, trying to keep the worst from erupting.

Yes, it's hard to find "the good" in all this, though I do try. I did learn to work and still take some pleasure in "task" that may have something to do with him.

If you can touch the father hunger in you, you will have found a reason to step up to support a young male who is starving for the kind of male acknowledgment that can fill some of the emptiness. It's never going to be as powerful as what might have gotten from his father, but it can be life saving.


  1. Anonymous9:37 AM

    Thanks, Earl...I posted this to Facebook @ ManKind Project and ManKind Project Northern California

    Randall, o-f wolf

  2. Andrew8:58 AM

    Keep up the great work Earl. I share your under-fatheredness :-) That became the driver for a lot of men's work, connections with wonderful women helping me work this out, and the portrait of who I am. And also the basis for my loving respect for men because I see the good man my father was, though he didn't have the tools or support to fulfill himself in some of the ways he'd have loved to have done had he known how.

  3. I too found understanding of and compassion for my father. Like you, he did, in a very round about way, drive a lot of my personal work and my connection to men's groups and men.

    Here's to dads . . . doing the best they can with what they have.


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