I'd like to say it was at a younger age when I really appreciated my father. But sadly, it really didn't occur until college. Because that's when I found out how much he means to me.
And no, I don't mean being all alone in a dorm. I had a roommate, and friends. I had a good job, lots of work and fun, and even met my future wife there. It was a school very much like LaGrange College in fact, with lots of good professors, small classes, and plenty of scholarship, service and social occasions to make memories to last a lifetime, and started me on a great career with a top internship. In fact, college was, for the most part, a pretty wonderful existence.
That didn't mean I didn't miss him. I wasn't great at writing letters (the occasional postcard had to suffice), but he did write me. I have to admit, handwriting wasn't his strength. After all, he was a doctor, and I am sure all of the nurses and secretaries in town are adding a knowing smile, as there is some truth to this myth. But it was enough to know he did write. And I called once a week, a tradition I continue today. Nowadays, I write at least once a month.
My dad, my mom, and our kids enjoy Rock City on the Tennessee-Georgia border off Lookout Mountain.
But I realized how important it was to have a dad when so many other kids in college didn't have one. One friend lost his to a heart attack. Another had his father tell him, to his face, that he didn't want him or his mother. There stories of divorce and a lack of caring. My wife's father suffered from alcoholism and also divorced his wife less than a month before we were married.
Dr. Quincy Brown, Associate Pastor for Serve Ministries Peachtree City UMC emailed me a great Father's Day sermon titled "Growing Pains," discussing an episode from that TV show involving an absentee father, and the pain inflicted on the son, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Dr. Brown related a recent tale about a barbershop conversation, when he said "It takes a man to teach a boy to be a man," which was supported by fathers and mothers in attendance.
"I went on further to explain that in my experience, no mother or any other woman can ever make a boy or a man love himself as a man. An attractive woman might make him feel terrific for the moment, but she still can't make him feel loved deep down inside or feel that he is a man, no matter how attractive she might be. A man may even be "love struck" when he meets a beautiful woman and may even want to marry her. If he does, he may be in for a rude awakening, because when the passion cools down he'll be faced with the pain and reality of his own loneliness and emptiness that festers from his unhealed father wound.
And then to avoid facing his pain, he'll look to another performance, climb another mountain, or seek another beautiful woman...and another...in attempts to prove to himself that he is a man. Or he may try to deaden the pain through alcohol, drugs or addictive behaviors which can eventually ruin his health, get cancer, die of a heart attack, and never get close to the ones he loves, or ruin those relationships. That is, he'll keep "acting out" until he faces why he looks in the wrong places for the love he never received as a child.
Expressed in each young man in the barbershop story of abandonment from their fathers is that every man craves deep, intimate connections with other men. But unfortunately, men are often left without the tools for creating these loving, nurturing relationships. A big reason for this has to do with the primary role fathers typically play in families. Rather than nurturing their sons or developing intimacy with them, fathers often spend the majority of their time enforcing the rules.
The absentee-show-up-as-you-please, stoic, and unemotional approaches to life are often accompanied by a seemingly unreachable set of expectations from fathers. Countless men all secretly carry around with them stories of fathers that they could not please: "All my life I have felt as if I just couldn't cut it in my father's eyes. It always seemed like the bar was raised just above my reach."
Because so many boys do not have a father affirming their "leap into manhood," that transition is often filled with feelings of fear, anger and frustration, instead of confidence and security. Lonely and discouraged boys become isolated and alienated men. In this isolated state, men continue to desire closeness and connection, but they often have no concept of how to achieve it."
I found that I could handle all kinds of challenges in life, from college, to the corporate world, to building a relationship with a wonderful person, to creating a great pair of kids. I have all kinds of tools that I can call upon in these situations, from both parents. Whether it is a work ethic, a fun-time activity to share, all kinds of knowledge, how to love another, and respect for the Almighty, they set me on a path that was very different from some friends. Standardized tests will reveal I'm not always the sharpest tool in the shed, but I had great parental teachers in all things that helped me make up the difference.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.