I recently had heart-to-heart conversations with three teenage clients about their fathers. I found it interesting that, though they don’t know each other or come from the same part of the country, they shared a common theme: they struggle with the hurt of not feeling loved by their fathers. I have also communicated with some of their fathers and learned they struggle with wanting to connect to their daughters but don’t know how. Human beings are the one species on this planet that die without this significant need: emotional connection.
In my years of counseling the men who were brave enough to enter my office and engage with me, I have come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for a man’s heart, especially when he is a father. Many times men don’t behave as though they have a heart or really care about their children. Some of the men I worked with have jobs that take them away from their families for long periods of time. They shared the relationship difficulties with their wives due to their long absences but don’t know what else to do to make a living. They feel caught in a no-win vice because one of the ways men care about their families is financially. The downside of this is that their absence doesn’t seem to make the heart grow fonder, instead it creates emotional distance with their wife and children. They feel trapped and misunderstood.
Males in our culture have been conditioned to hide their emotions. I see evidence that this is changing but it is s-l-o-w. In my counseling room, I have been honored by the courage and strength of the men I have worked with who bare their souls and show their emotions to me. They have taught me that men do love and love very deeply. But they have also received overwhelmingly, strong, and repetitive messages not to show it. They are tortured between the love and desire they have to be with their families and the need to provide financially for them. I, like most women, have had to develop the perception to see beyond this male armor and see their struggle within. I know we have our justifiable reasons for our blindness, which are beyond the scope of this article. However, women need to become more aware of how history and culture have written on and imprisoned the male of our species as well as women.
I’m glad that I have been willing to shift my perspective where men are concerned as they have reached out to me. I am able to help them understand their own unrequited, legitimate emotional needs. With that understanding, they can reach out with their hearts to their daughters, disengaging from feeling helpless in the face of their daughters’ emotional intensity. They learn that emotional courage is just as strong as physical courage.
They are willing to understand that their daughters need their calm understanding, their acknowledgement of their feelings (that don’t need fixing), sharing with them their thoughts, and feelings about life, and reassurance that they will be there for them no matter what. They come to understand the strength of their love, relaxing into getting to know and appreciate their daughters. They let the light of love shine from their eyes so their daughters see that reflection. It is the reflection of acceptance from the most important man in a girl’s life: her father. It is the one she will measure all significant male relationships from as well as her relationship with herself.
Though this articles focus has been on a girl’s relationship with her father, it is in no way meant to discount or minimize the importance of a boy’s relationship with his father. The emotional needs of a boy are as important as that of a girl’s and when a man can connect to his heart he can model for his son that to be a ‘real man,’ it is okay to have a emotions and express that part of one’s self as well as physical or cognitive strength.
We often underestimate the power of a father’s relationship to their children. It can hurt or heal. Both last a lifetime and establish the foundation for their children’s relationships lifelong. On this Fathers’ Day may you reach out and show your children the love you have for them. They need to hear it, know it and feel it.