“And I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
-2 Corinthians 6:18
Yesterday was Father’s Day. A great day for some, but painful for many. Maybe painful because of a bad relationship with their father during their formative years – a father that was emotionally distant, physically absent, abusive, or maybe controlled by addiction. Perhaps painful now because you are a father yourself and there is an empty seat at the family table – the child who has chosen the life of a prodigal, the son who has taken his own life, the daughter living in a halfway house recovering from chemical dependency.
Father-child relationships are challenging. Father-son relationships are even more so.
Dr. Ronald Levant writes in Psychology Today, the reason father-son relationships are so difficult is as follows; “Fathers feel an obligation to make their sons into men, in the classical/traditional sense of stoic, aggressive, self-reliant, stay-calm-in-the-face-of-danger manhood. As a result they feel that it is their job to wean their sons of their neediness, and to put a hard shell around their child’s vulnerable emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt, and loneliness.”
Where did we get this idea that men are not needy, vulnerable, fearful, prone to sadness, often hurting, and many times very lonely? I suffer from all of these “symptoms of manhood,” as do all of the male business practitioners and executives I coach and consult on a daily basis. We cannot make our sons into men. We can only model the right kind of behavior that points them to true manhood.
I’m the father of two children; a son and a daughter (see picture above from 2002). If you are like me, you don’t always model the best attributes of fatherhood, and perhaps you haven’t always had them modeled to you by your own father. But we have the perfect model available to lead us, love us, and forgive us. One who understands what it’s like to be human. His name is Jesus. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – The Trinity. Jesus has all the qualities of perfection, yet suffered all the things Dr. Levant says we men are trying to teach our sons to avoid – vulnerability, fear, sadness, hurt, and loneliness. Jesus was 100% human and is 100% God – He experienced all the heartaches and temptations we experience; the things Levant says we fathers are trying to spare our sons from.
Jesus experienced fear in the Garden of Gethsemane, evidenced when he said to His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Then He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Jesus apparently felt the emotion of fear, yet without sinning, as He quickly followed His request with, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:38-39). Jesus experienced sadness when he learned of His friend Lazarus’ death. The scriptures tell us He was sad and moved to tears, demonstrating His vulnerability and expressed in the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” He hurt when He was flogged (scourged), crowned with thorns that were thrust into his skull, and then slapped in the face (John 19:1-4). Jesus knew loneliness. Isaiah 53:3 says He “was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” There is no greater by-product of rejection than loneliness. His final words on the cross were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Mt. 27:46)?”
Perhaps it’s time to quit lying to our sons? To quit trying to make them into the men we can’t even be ourselves. Maybe telling the truth – that we are needy and vulnerable and unable to do it alone – would serve our sons better? That fear, sadness, loneliness, and hurt will visit us often, but we need not despair.
We need not despair because we have a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” – one who has demonstrated His love for us by doing what we could not do for ourselves. One who doesn’t spare us from the “symptoms of manhood,” but equips us for completeness. One who calms our fears, comforts us when we are sad, sustains us when we hurt, and supplies us with companionship when lonely.