Emotional Health•Family•Parenting • 6 minutes to read
During one of my first sessions in counseling with Dr. Ted Roberts, he told me, “Nick, you are going to find out that this struggle isn’t about pornography, but that you have a deep father wound driving this behavior.” As much as I respect Dr. Ted, I objected back to him, “No Ted, I have a great dad. That’s not my story.” In a knowing kind of way, Dr. Ted smiled, nodded, and responded, “We’ll see.”
I was about six months into my healing journey when I returned to this conversation and let Dr. Ted know he was right; I had a deep, unaddressed father wound that was at the heart of my issue. AND, I still had a great dad. Identifying the source of a father wound had far less to do with identifying my dad’s problems or blaming him for my issues. The father wound had far more to do with recognizing how messages that had been inadvertently communicated to me throughout childhood had become lies festering in my soul.
I discovered the truth that psychologist Dr. Gabor Mate states, “Trauma is not the bad things that happened to you, but what happens inside of you as a result of what happens to you.” On the scale of dads in this world, I would put my dad in the top 1%. Yes, I’m biased. But he’s a great guy—godly, dedicated to his wife and family, an example in the community—I could go on and on!
But my dad was, and is, human. My dad was over-extended and over-busy at times, as he juggled being a pastor with his many hobbies of hunting, fishing, coaching, gardening, beekeeping, and collecting sports cards. When he was busy, I inherited a voice in my soul that subtly said, “You don’t matter. You aren’t as important to your dad as all his other stuff.”
Now, did my dad ever say these words? No! In fact, he often said the opposite—he was good at expressing his love, his admiration for my accomplishments, and his pride in having me for a son. Which leads me to an important question: Why did the voice of shame that said I didn’t matter still become lodged in my thinking?
As parents, if we can do so many things right and still have our kids struggling with a sense of worthlessness, rejection, or fear, what might we be missing?
Here are four truths I have discovered that may be helpful as we consider the messages we pass on to our children, whether intentionally or not.
1. There is an enemy.
What I have seen in my own story and countless others is that the words and experiences of our past get twisted into lies beyond what was ever said or done to us. I believe that very often, this is the work of our enemy, the devil. Regardless of our particular brand of theology, if we view the Bible as our primary source of truth, then we must face the reality that we have an enemy who wants to destroy us and our relationships with God and others.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.1 Peter 5:8 NIV
When I see the truth of these words, I know as a dad that I need to be on the lookout. I need to stay alert and of sober mind to the negative messages my children might be tempted to believe. I need to pray for them and over them, that God’s Spirit of truth would guard their hearts and their minds. And I need to be a leader in my home by helping them recognize when the enemy might be tempting them to believe a lie. As I do this, I am actively engaging in a spiritual battle—one we have been promised we will win—for the hearts and minds of my kids.
2. Communicate value.
One message we may have under-played in our thinking is the role we have as dads (and parents in general) in communicating value to our children. I think the greatest quality we can pass on to our kids comes out of self-awareness to our own brokenness or past pain. As I become aware of my need to feel “good enough,” I make it my goal to communicate to my kids that they are good enough and have what it takes. Fathers have the primary role of communicating value to their children. We can give to our children what we may have lacked—a voice of affirmation that speaks to the core of who we are.
Every child is asking, “Am I enough?” As fathers, or father figures in people’s lives, I believe God has given us a primary voice of influence in these areas. We may think it—but how often do we communicate it? How often do we speak these words of value over them? Yes, tell your kids you love them, but take it a step further. Tell your children how important they are in your eyes and that they have what it takes to face this world. Your words, whether you feel they are heeded in the moment or not, will leave a powerful impact in the construct of their thinking.
3. Actions speak louder than words.
We talk often in recovery circles about how addicts have tried to use words to fix their problems. We make promises and commitments like, “I will never do it again.” “I’m really sorry this time.” “I will do whatever it takes to fix this.” Often, these words were not accompanied with an appropriate level of follow-through and so our words became hollow.
The danger is that we might take this approach with our kids. We might focus on saying the right words—“I love you.” “I’m proud of you.” “You are important to me.”—but then not follow-through with our actions. If we rarely spend quality time with them or take an active interest in their passions, our lack of availability may be the seed-bed for more negative messages. As a dad, I am regularly confronted with my tendency to spend my words but not my time with kids. This is an area of focus for me these days!
4. Walk in humility.
The truth is, none of us will get right all the time. We will realize we were preoccupied when they were trying to tell us a story. We will make a face or glare at them when they do something wrong or interrupt us. We will make a commitment and forget to follow through. Issues like this, and a thousand more, are part of life for parents as we manage jobs, finances, keeping up the house, and trying to get enough rest. We’re going to make mistakes and do things that in the moment inadvertently communicate to our kids, “You are in the way. You are bothering me.”
The question isn’t whether or not this will happen. It will. Welcome to life. The question is whether or not we will recognize these moments and then take the time to approach our kids in humility to make it right. I can’t tell you how many times I have needed to go to one of my kids and say, “I’m sorry—this morning you were telling me a story and I didn’t even look up from my phone. That must have made you feel like you didn’t matter, and I am sorry.” I say I have “needed” to go to one of my kids like this—the truth is, I’m probably about 50/50 on this. Sometimes I follow through and sometimes I don’t, so I am working on this too! But I believe that our humility to address and own our responsibility for situations like this is crucial to combating the negative message our kids will be tempted to believe about themselves.
So to all the dads out there, Happy Father’s Day this weekend!
We often hear it said, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a good dad!” Which is so true! But on the other hand, we also need to keep in mind that none of us can be so perfect so as to avoid wounding our children. We are all human, and mistakes are a part of life. If, however, we can recognize this reality and own our shortcomings, God will use our humility to build strength, resilience, and lasting value in our children.