In the work that I do and in my personal experience, I’ve noticed there is a certain myth that continues to script the important moments of a boy’s life. I know this is a myth, although it is not well publicized. How? Talking with fathers about their fathers. Anecdotal, yes. Thematic, absolutely. The myth is that boys’ feelings do not matter as much as they live in the world of action. They are doers and their emotional life, unlike girls, is secondary as boys just move on. And the case is closed tightly each episode with the simple words, “Boys get over it.”
They don’t and worse is that while others are sure they will get over it, the emotionally charged moments are stored away and emerge later to the inner voice of, “I guess it doesn’t matter now.” States become traits, and habits are learned. Culture tells us what boys should be, and that men need to be strong. “Big boys don’t cry.” But they do express anger very well. Yet, anger has so much in common with tears. It’s just another form of not having any control in the moment, wishing things were different, being frightened by loss or frightened by not knowing what to do.
So in those charged moments we follow the script and try to fix it or give advice or tell the boys to move on. Move on they do, but they don’t get over it. Which brings us to the connection of the script for “being strong.” “What is strong?” is the question we all should ask without buying into what others have handed out or handed down. Perhaps a brawny football legend and former NFL Pro Bowl athlete who made his living roughing it up in the trenches might have some insight:
“It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more ‘manhood’ to abide by thought-out principles than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind.” —Alex Karras, College and Professional Football Great
In those charged and meaningful moments, it takes immense strength to listen, to truly be with them in the rawness and messiness of it all. It takes strength to try to understand without imposing your own perspective. And even more courage to say that maybe your perspective is irrelevant…
I have watched my father bury his father, and I have watched my father-in-law bury his. In the solemness of the moment and the stark reality of endings, both men uttered the same words. In tears, they turned away, head down child-like, and proclaimed, “I was never good enough.”
How? Why? What was unsaid and undone in moving on….?
A Father’s Path is not my path alone. It is our path. It’s rarely smooth and it’s full of rises and falls. You pay the toll with blood and bone. And if you do come to a smooth stretch it simply leads to the intersection of “Wit’s End.” But what is offered along the way is unique and beyond measure. In moments small and large we can and do make a difference, and the essence is in the meaning we make. And meaning is on the far side of logic and reason. The path makes sense because it is who we are and it simply feels good and true.
The greatest gift we can offer along the path is one of the few certainties of life: that our children, regardless of age, can trust us, depend on us, knowing we are always with them in spirit. And in those quiet moments they hear the inner voice, “He understands me. He loves me. I matter to him.”
Next time we consider a father’s influence on his daughters….