In the secular counseling world there is a concept referred to as the "Daddy Complex." Have you heard of this?
While there is no official diagnostic criteria for this concept, the condition is used to describe conscious or unconscious trauma experienced by a child through a father figure relationship . The trauma often produces maladaptive behaviors that become more obvious in adult relationships and in parenting, which can drive many men toward addictive behaviors.
Many of my clients struggle with this issue due to the deep and troubling wounds they are still packing around from dear old Dad.
In light of the Father’s Day celebration this month, I want to make a couple of rather radical observations about being a dad in present-day America. As we learn what it means to be a dad, we have to understand brain development and how it contributes to the way we parent our kids. Equally important is how our kids develop empathy and their identity in Christ.
A FATHERLESS NATION
One of the greatest crisis in America is that we are becoming a fatherless nation. Dad's have never faced greater spiritual attack in our nation's history. Even when dad's are physically present, many are not emotionally available. Interestingly, the statistics give us insight on why we are faced with this reality.
Today, fewer men get married than did just a few decades ago and few stay married . Thus, one out of every three children don’t live with their biological father—that rate has doubled since 1970.
Fatherless kids are four times more likely to live in poverty and two times more likely to dropout of high school. Girls who grow up without a father present are seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen.
Based on research, males in our society are leading in all the wrong categories :
77 percent of all suicides are committed by men in America (a 43 percent increase from 1997 to 2014)
Incarceration crisis: over 90 percent of inmates are men
Less boys graduate from high school
Less boys attend and graduate from college
Boys have more disciplinary problems in school
One in five boys are diagnosed with some type of hyperactivity disorder and are on medication (which might have unknown long-term effects)
Approximately, seven million men have dropped out of the labor force—half of those take pain medication on any given day—that is the highest rate in the world by far!
The conclusions I have about being a father and the desperate need for fathers is not just based on my personal opinion but on solid research.
RAISING BIBLICAL WARRIORS
Because of the family crisis in America today, one of the primary callings of a dad is to raise kids who grow up to become biblical warriors.
Please notice I said, “biblical warriors,” not just warriors.
I remember years back, going with several friends to see the hit movie, Top Gun. They were so excited! During the movie, my friends kept asking me, “Wow, did you ever do that?” I tried to explain to them that the movie was pure Hollywood. It had little, if any, correlation to the reality of flying an actual fighter aircraft and the insane intensity of a dog fight.
Just like my friends, our common concept of a warrior is usually formed from images of current, mainstream movies. Men like:
A New York cop who kills a group of terrorists and saves the day single-handedly.
Secret agent suffering from memory loss and fights to discover his true identity amidst a CIA conspiracy.
An underdog who gets the chance of a lifetime and becomes a boxing champion.
Not only do we see this from film, but our kids are now seeing their favorite athlete as an example. These men may play the role of a warrior, but becoming a biblical warrior is a whole different level of reality.
A biblical warrior is characterized by three things: courage, commitment, and character. While these characteristics are important in many areas of life, if they are only developed to serve the individual and not others, they are developed in vane. These qualities must be embedded in an empathic heart.
Let me explain exactly what I mean:
Ability to manage your emotions and face your most challenging fears without flipping your lid or losing control.
Ability to bounce back when life knocks you down and not quit.
Ability to look within and understand what you are feeling, make good decisions, and be in control of your life instead of allowing circumstances to control your life.
Ability to understand how someone else sees their world, then care enough to act on their behalf when needed.
Every dad wants to see these qualities developed in their kid’s life. This is at the core of raising biblical warriors: enabling your kids to open their hearts and minds to new challenges, to become who God created them to be!
What many dads fail to recognize is the brain changes or lack of brain function exhibited by their kids. For example, the area of the brain located just behind the forehead is known as the prefrontal cortex. It’s responsible for higher-order thinking, compassion, curiosity, insight, and even moral reasoning. This part of the brain is not developed until the mid-twenties, leaving many kids vulnerable to its lack of function.
To further complicate matters, the emotional center of the brain, the limbic system, is fully functional. With your kids, have you ever experienced a meltdown or battles over bedtime, sibling wars, or homework freak-outs? You know what I mean.
As a dad, this is important: you will need to serve as their surrogate prefrontal cortex! You will need to provide emotional stability to the overpowering emotions they are experiencing. Through healthy communication and relationship, this is a great opportunity for you to lay a foundation for future courage in their lives.
Our kids learn empathy from us—by the way we respond to them when they are feeling hurt or afraid. When a child is experiencing physical or emotional pain, and their dad says, “Suck it up, be a man!” this only teaches them shame. Many adults go through life numbing their feelings and their response to another’s feelings because they were not taught empathy. This is evident in the work I do with men who struggle with sexual addiction: it takes time for them to develop empathy for the way they have wounded their wives.
Hard times are going to happen in life. It is inevitable. When our kids experience stress, as dads, we often try to protect our kids by telling them, “You have nothing to worry about.” Despite our intent, this response only denies their feelings.
Empathetically, we need to walk with them through the difficulties they experience, so that they can learn how to stay committed during tough times.
Our calling as a father is to help our kids respond to and develop their God-given identity. We have the tremendous opportunity to reflect the love and grace of God to our kids as we participate in their lives.
More times than I can count, I have observed a man who was raised by a dysfunction dad spend his entire life struggling with a deep uncertainty about his identity. It often takes a lifetime to separate God the Father from our biological father—to discover our true identity that is only found in Christ.
From a biblical warrior’s perspective, we need to help our kids develop a strong character so that they are equip to handle tough times. They need to understand their feelings—what’s going on inside them physically, emotionally, and spiritually—so that they can make the right decisions when faced with overwhelming circumstances.
For this to happen in our kids lives, we need to make sure these two things happen in our lives:
Let me close by sharing a life-transforming experience I had with my son.
I was taking him to the Home Depot store: kind of a guy’s shopping experience. It was a warm, gorgeous day, and not a cloud insight. One of those extremely rare days we have in the Northwest. I had my left arm propped up on the car window sill, my right arm arched over the steering wheel. As I casually looked over at my five-year-old son, I was stunned! Bryan was mimicking every move I was making. That is when I lost it! In fact, I started crying and had to pull off the road, my eyes so flooded with tears that I couldn’t see straight.
Through my tears, I blubbered out, “Son, I never had a relationship (sob) with a dad (sob) like you have with me (sob)!”
Bryan was looking out the window and I wondered if had even heard me. But he heard every word I said. Without missing a beat, he turned to me and asked, “Well...then how to you know how to raise me, dad?”
I was caught completely off guard, but blurted out, “Son, I am just trying to raise you the way my Heavenly Father is raising me!”
This is when the lights went on for me as a dad. I was so afraid of being a terrible dad. My seven abusive stepdads were poor examples of a father. I was terrified that I would mess up my kids; that they would struggle with a Daddy Complex for the rest of their lives.
That day, my son helped me understand how good my Heavenly Father was to me. When I got that right, then I could be the dad my kids needed.
Hoff Sommers, C. (2015). The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Is Harming Our Young Men. New York, NY:
Simon & Schuster. Farrell, W. & Gray, J. (2018). The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc.
Ted is the co-founder of Pure Desire Ministries. He is veteran fighter pilot with 30+ years of pastoral ministry and an IITAP certification as a Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional. Ted is a clinician on our Pure Desire Counseling staff. He has a M.Div from Asbury Theological Seminary and a D.Min from Western Seminary. He is the author of Pure Desire and co-author of Going Deeper and Sexy Christians. He is also a contributor to many of our group resources.