Shortly after my first birthday, my father left my mother and I, never to return. I don’t know why he did this. There are many reasons that people walk away from relationships, but I do know that I grew up without much of his influence.
Sure, there were brief staccato periods where he’d want to see me. I remember terrifying trips on his motorcycle, terrifying rides on waterslides, and terrifying drives in his car as I watched my home disappear into the distance. Not every moment was so scary. He taught me how sound travels faster in water and solids than it does in air. He gave me my first experience with an 8-track player (Baby’s got her blue jeans on). And I still know some of the songs we’d sing together.
But mostly I remember the TV in the room I slept in while watching Cagney and Lacey. After that it would be Newhart, and when the soothing song of Taxi played, I knew I would soon sleep, and in the morning get to return home. And I know that the bad experiences weren’t entirely his fault. The idea that it wasn’t safe to be with him was something that whether true or not, had been shared with me from other adults in my life.
All that I do remember though, has had less of an impact on my life than what I can’t remember. I can’t remember my dad teaching me how to play sports, and shouting at me from the bleachers. I can’t remember him teaching me how a man treats a woman he loves. And I can’t remember him showing me how to be a dad, among many other things. I am not able to remember these things, because they weren’t there. That didn’t happen for me.
This isn’t to say that God and others didn’t provide for me. My mom, despite not being perfect (who is?) was at every sports game, band performance, and play I was ever in. She was my protector and my nurturer. My grandfather was the best “dad” I ever had, despite being 70 years old when I was born, and never very good with a ball. I had uncles, teachers, friends, and youth pastors who invested heavily in my life. But none of those people were Dad, they couldn’t be, nor should they have been expected to be.
Donald Miller, in his book, Father Fiction says it better than I could, while talking about a childhood Pinewood Derby event, “My Mother was the only female father in my Boy Scout troop, and God knows she tried. But the truth is, she had no idea what she was doing.”
He tells the story of them trying to make a wooden car that raced at about a quarter the speed of all the other ones on the track. I had an identical experience as a kid. I think a Pinewood Derby’s main purpose is to make fatherless kids feel bad. Therefore as a society, it seems we’ve banned them.
In fact, that is what I want to talk about. My father issues are something I have grown past, and yet never will, but I have no need for catharsis on this. I’d rather talk about Pinewood Derbies, shoveling, paintball games, and porn.
In his foreword to the aforementioned book, Donald Miller states, “If we have a crisis in this country, it’s more than a fatherless crisis, though. It’s a crisis of manhood, of masculinity. It’s affecting our families, our schools, it’s filling our prisons, and it’s killing the hearts of our women.”
I’ve been in Christian ministry to teenagers for over 17 years. During that time, I’ve seen thousands of teens both from families that have been long-time church attendees, and those whose families out of the fear of religion, won’t even go to Church’s Chicken. I’m noticing a disturbing trend, one that needs to be addressed, and if unanswered will destroy the lives of generations of young men and women.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I’m afraid of anyone who does. But the conversation needs to be had. We must start the dialogue. Merely mentioning a “crisis of manhood” in Western society gets you labeled a chauvinist, if you are even listened to in the first place. Men’s issues are ignored and blacklisted for many reasons, but weak, uneducated, and unfulfilled men are hurting our women just as much as the men hurt. But no one wants to talk about it.
This is the elephant in the room. And because no one will attend to it, it is starting to stink up the place. If nothing else, this is my cry for help. So if you’re willing, grab a shovel, let’s deal with some of this proverbial manure, and maybe find some answers.