At this point, it bothers me deeply when a man entirely blames his negative life circumstances on the fact that his father was not in his life. I get it. I do. I understand how much easier becoming a man is when you have an example to follow. And this is not because, I had a great example myself. I grew up with my dad, but most days I wanted him gone. He was a good provider but beyond that, there was much to be desired. Being around him was like navigating a mine field wearing grenades. I spent years hoping to please him, trying to do something well enough to make him happy. You see, there were moments when he was good, when he smiled easily, when I could see this sparkle in his eyes. That sparkle remains one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, but it never lasted. In no time, he would regress to his typical way–growling, bashing, critiquing, provoking. So while in a way I had him, I really didn’t–not in the way I needed him. Some may say, at least he was physically there, but I don’t know. It’s terrible to have no water, but it’s just as terrible to have water present but just out of reach. Either way, you end up dying of thirst.
I’ve always longed for male comradery and connection. Perhaps my father’s emotional absence intensified this need. As a product of this desire, I enjoy films that demonstrate the power of deep, male relationships. Four of my favorites are The Buttercream Gang (1992), Toy Soldiers (1991), Taps (1981) and Cru (2014). People often discount the ability of men to be deeply and emotionally connected. Sadly, men are often accused of being weak or gay, if they do have intimate, emotional ties with other men.
Recently a photo of actor Michael B. Jordan and screenwriter/director Ryan Coogler was characterized by some as “looking gay.” In the photo, Jordan is seen holding or caressing Coogler’s head with his left hand as they both look into the camera. Negative reactions to the photo prove that people continue to believe that men should not be close or intimate with each other. I’ve even allowed such attitudes to cause me to hide the sensitive, creative sides of my personality which has often lead to feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.
As I matured, I put down my stoic smokescreen and began opening up, telling the men closest to me that I needed them in a deeper way–beyond competition–beyond the superficial. I needed male affirmation, affection and attention. It was extremely difficult and exposing to ask a male friend for a hug or to tell him that I needed to spend some QT (quality time), but the discomfort and occasional rejection has been worth the payoff. In time, I discovered that the men who became part of my inner circle, my pack, had begun helping fill gaps left as a result of the poor relationship with my father. I now understand that no matter what type of relationship a man has with his father, he needs other men actively involved in his life providing love and support. Sports teams, fraternities and even gangs are examples of the groups to which men gravitate in hopes of building such relationships. This makes sense because at first, men more easily build relationship around a cause or activity. Perhaps this is due to societal mores (norms) that mischaracterize acceptable, male behavior as only being that which is considered tough or unemotional.
Over the years, I’ve met a number of men who prefer to be lone wolves as a result of issues with their fathers. They say things like, “I don’t have friends. I have acquaintances.” Men who flippantly make such statements usually don’t have much success in romantic relationships. I advise people to not become romantically entwined with men of this kind. If not from the beginning, he will likely display characteristics that make being in a healthy relationship difficult.
Victim or victor, these are the choices presented to us when faced with hardship, tragedy or the unideal. The wrong choice–to be victim–creates an inertia that often takes time and intentional effort to overcome. It is understandable to be hurt or disappointed at the absence or disinterest of one’s father, but it is not acceptable to clothe oneself in this excuse for a lifetime. There are men around us who can help. We must be willing to step into a place of vulnerability to ask for and receive that help. Life quickly gets better when we do.
Song that Inspired this Post
Feature Image Credit: Copyright Cathy Yeulet