I have finally picked back up The Way of the Wild Heart and started reading it again. It seems an appropriate week to start reading the book again, since it is just past Father’s Day and in light of an exchange with my sister on her blog regarding our own father and our relationship to him. I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately and I’ve been struggling to figure out why. I’ve been exercising, have a great new job that just seemed to come to me instead of me trying to force something that just wasn’t right, and am daily in awe of my children. I started to put my finger on the problem yesterday during a long run – I am lonely. Damn lonely. Not in a solitary confinement I don’t get to see anybody type of way, but a more primal way – a lack of masculine initiation, validation, companionship way. Many of the guys that I had developed a real friendship with – men that could mentor me, walk with me, understand me – have left. A couple to Tennessee for promising new jobs, one who up and left on a grand adventure to LA, one left behind at a job where things just got nutty, and one who is currently deployed. And this has left me coasting, not living like an adventurer – someone who leads other men, or a strong guide for his own son’s masculine journey, or a husband passionate about loving and uplifting his wife. It’s not like I am a bad person, or really any different from most men. It’s just that I can see that something is missing – the something is what John Eldredge calls fatherlessness. He puts it like this in chapter 2:
Whatever life has taught us, and though we may not have put it into these exact words, we feel that we are alone. Simply look at the way men live. If I were to give an honest assessment of my life for the past thirty years, I’d have to confess the bulk of it as Striving and Indulging. Pushing myself to excel, taking on the battles that come to me with determination but also with a fear-based drivenness, believing deep down inside that there is no one I can trust to come through for me. Striving. And then, arranging for little pleasures along the way to help ease the pain of the drivenness and loneliness. Dinners out, adventure gear. Indulding. A fatherless way to live.
That sounds a lot like me – pushing to create meaning and find pleasure but constantly feeling a lacking sense of fulfillment, in the deepest sense. And that’s what struck me in Tom Wolfe’s quote from The Story of a Novel:
The deepest search in life, it seemed to me, the thing that in one way or another was central to all living was a man’s search to find a father, not merely the father of his flesh, not merely the lost father of his youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom external to his need and superior to his hunger, to which the belief and power of his own life could be united.
My sister laid out a bit of history on my dad, and certainly there is more than the one final blow of abandonment that she wrote of. Dad did some things right and some things wrong, and I’m sure most of what he did – good and bad – was right out of his own father’s playbook. I suspect if I were to ask my dad the big question, “do you have what it takes?” his answer, after peeling away the defensiveness, anger and nearly endless ways to prove his abilities and worth his answer would be “no”. But I think the he did well enough with me that I could probably answer a resounding, “I don’t know if I have what it takes”. And I hope that I can help my boys be able to answer “yes”.
I am trying to be more purposeful in initiating my sons into the world of masculinity, even though they are only 2 and 1 years old. I want them to know that they have what it takes – and that I believe that about them and will help them in their journey. I’m sure my sons will feel that primal bond to me as a father, and to their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. And through that bond they will undoubtedly inherit some of my flaws – my temper, my self-doubting, and insecurities. And I think that Eldredge has it right when he writes that,
Being a father is a noble undertaking, and a terrifically hard one. A “hazardous conquest,” as Gabriel Marcel wrote, “which is achieved step by step over difficult country full of ambushes.”… If our earthly fathers faltered along the way, it may have been that the country they were asked to travel was more difficult than we know. The longer we live, the more I think we will see our fathers’ failures with compassion, and-I hope- we will see all that was good in what they were able to offer.”
I am learning to see my father in that way, and I hope to God that my boys can say the same about me. I need fathering still – from my earthly father, from the men that I surround myself with, and from God – I am an unfinished man. And because we live in a fallen world, where thorns and sorrows grow, I have to start my understanding of masculinity in God. I have previously read this verse and thought it sounded rather wimpy. But maybe there is more strength behind than I previously read:
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has also made you also an heir. (Gal. 4:6-7 NIV)