For over 25 years, Richard Rohr has identified something he calls father hunger as “the single most prevalent [and painful] absence in the human soul.” He underlines the unique importance of identity the same-sex parent passes on to their children. For men, “we cannot be ourselves, we cannot be our own man, or our own father, until we have been someone else’s little boy.”
Father hunger is a deep, often unconscious, need for masculine acceptance and approval.
When this craving goes unsatisfied, it may be a key driving force enabling many of the world’s self-destructive problems. It’s what keeps too many men imprisoned under the myth there “is no other game in town but the game of power, status, and wealth… the game that is played in the boardrooms of corporate America, on the stock and commodity exchanges, on the playing fields of professional sports, in local and national governments, in the ranks of factory and office workers and in the neighborhoods of suburbia,” says Rohr. Maybe father hunger is the compulsion behind sacrificing whatever it takes to please the man in charge — coaches, CEOs or presidents — deep down almost everyone wants a chance to make Daddy proud.
Far too many of us men have spent our lives trying to prove to we are men to each other, yet still remaining emotionally, spiritually and psychologically just boys who secretly feel powerless. This inner insecurity festers and spreads throughout the void of a good man’s love. We are all starving for an older man we respect to turn and affirm us, as if to say, “You my son, are already a man.”
“You are a man.” These might be the most powerful words one man can say to another man. Have you heard these words spoken before? Has anyone ever said them or something similar to you?
Whatever our experience up until now, men are being challenged to carve out a brand new path for their own children and the following generations — one where we become the fathers we’ve always needed. These are men who have courageously faced and overcome struggles, who have discovered a strength within they know by the sweat of their own experience. These are men who have learned a path of greater purpose beyond themselves and use their newly discovered power to protect and guide those with far less of it. And they do it all the while retaining a sense of humor, their own integrity and a deeply rooted humility. These are men who have grown up.
Take a moment and listen to Jason Momoa share his dream of fatherhood in his Canvas of My Life story. Raised by a strong single mother, he somehow made this difficult journey and became the father he needed as a child. If his story awakens anything in you, pay attention — that nameless intangible spark, growing into a fire within, could be called father energy. Whatever it is, it has an inner strength and vitality that clearly sees the wildness of boyhood as something to be developed, guided and matured, not naively tamed or broken.
The antidote to father hunger is the growth and development of positive father energy or holistic masculine spirituality. It’s what frees men to risk showing the world what we are truly capable of — and stops men from feeling the need to constantly prove our worth to securely living out of our own worth. What a subtle but deeply significant difference! It can’t be faked. It can only be known by experiencing it.
There isn’t anything you have to do to earn your worth, it has to be given to you.
As a father, you either know this kind of positive energy deep within the fibers of your being, or you don’t because you haven’t had an opportunity to open yourself up and receive it yet. Some of us have people in our lives with generous father energy and some of us have never had such relationships and must learn to give it to ourselves. Most of us are somewhere in between where we’ve had mentors, teachers or coaches that showed an interest in our lives but we wanted and needed more from them. When you have to be the one to give it first, it’s the kind of thing that benefits from an outside witness to help us face our self-doubt and reassure us we indeed speak the truth if we dare to say, I am a man.
Fathers need each other, to be involved in one another’s lives, to create safe places together where we can be honest with how we feel about our role as a father. We need a sacred space where failure doesn’t unravel us completely and success doesn’t over feed our egos. This work can’t be done alone. If we try, the unfortunate reality is it just won’t get done.
This is what fathers can do for each other.
I will dive into more practical aspects of these steps down the road. Right now, this is only the beginning of an exhilarating journey deeper into fatherhood, which will take years to unpack and explore and relish. For now, just imagine how the entire world could change with a little grace to help heal this father hunger so many of us suffer from — the act of a father freely choosing his son (or daughter) may be the first step leading to the restoration of all other things.