“Dad? Am I a good person?”
“I think so, I know so, yes.”
“Will – will that help me when things get really rough?”
“That’s not good enough, Dad.”
“Good is no guarantee for your body. It’s mainly peace of mind —
“But sometimes, Dad, aren’t you so scared that even —
“—the mind isn’t peaceful?” His father nodded, his face uneasy.
“Dad’, said Will, his voice uneasy. “Are you a good person?”
“To you and your mother, yes, I try. But no man’s a hero to himself. I’ve lived with me a lifetime. I know everything worth knowing about myself—”
“And, adding it up…?
“The sum? As they come and go, and I mostly sit very still and tight, yes, I’m all right.”
“Then Dad,” asked Will, ‘why aren’t you happy?”
“The front lawn…let’s see… at one thirty in the morning…is no place to start a philosophical…”
“I just wanted to know is all.”
Something Wicked This Way Comes
I’ve yet to find a better literary illustration to the power – and necessity – of fatherhood than this glimpse into a son’s quest for answers. It’s telling the fourteen-year-old Will Holloway, from Bradbury’s sci-fi classic, holds this conversation with his dad. But it shouldn’t be surprising. It’s natural and, in my experience, nearly uncontrollable for a boy to seek out wisdom to many of life’s deepest mysteries from the one who most fascinates and perplexes him – his father.
These sentences fell like a hammer reading the book, ironically, with my daughter last summer. So impactful were they, a photo of that page is now in my phone as a reminder to the influence – and responsibility – I have as a father, particularly a father with a son.
But what if Alex Holloway hadn’t been there on the lawn that night? What if this father had been preoccupied with other matters or his own interests? What if, as his inquisitive son contemplated these weighty questions, his dad was nowhere to be found, in spirit or body? What if the one person, perhaps with the greatest influence in shaping this boy into the man he is to become, just wasn’t there? Where would Will Holloway have gone? His mother? Maybe. But I’ve witnessed and experienced, the natural pulling away by boys, teenage boys especially, from their mothers. Instead, I believe he would have swallowed those questions, stamped them back down. Because like many other boys, when a father isn’t there those weighty questions don’t get asked nearly as often. Instead, they get buried deep within his heart where they regrettably, and all too frequently, take root, blossoming into poisonous flowers.
If honest, I must admit to being overly sensitive about my son. I pay closer attention to what’s going on with him and in him. It could be argued I’m too much that way. But the fact is, I feel a greater responsibility towards him than I do his sister. There are, I believe, two reasons for this. First, it’s easier. We’re both males with male brains. We like more of the same things, sports, cars, movies. Those ordinary interests lead to deeper personal connections. Second, that sameness presses more heavily because, right or wrong, I believe I have a greater obligation to him. Our shared masculinity means – actually demands – I bear a heavier load in readying him for the what’s to come. It is a fact that his experiences, and mine, have and will be different from those of his sister or mother. I have already walked down many of the paths he will someday travel, and I am scarred by many of those slings and arrows aiming his way.
Understanding this, I ask where else does he go for the answers only a father (a man) can legitimately provide? Who else could better map out the terrain for his journey ahead? Is there another who can better shape his ideas of what masculinity is and should be? Those answers lead me back to the same thing, as it should for every father,
‘If not I, then whom’?
Our fathers sinned, and are no more; it is we who have borne their iniquities. Lamentations 5:7
But this strong sense of duty isn’t without side effects. It leaves me sensitive to, and often judgmental of, fathers who can’t or more commonly won’t, rise to that similar calling.
The absence of a father in a child’s life is profoundly heartbreaking and terribly soul-crushing. Countless children are robbed of the influence of a father, and most through selfish reasons. It’s no less a form of child abuse for a man to abandon his children, in body or soul; to forfeit their future for personal convenience or from fear. And while his absence affects sons and daughters in proportion, it’s the former, in my experience, who suffers most for his sin.
As the Old Testament warns us; the sins of fathers are passed down. The consequences are not always immediate, and we’re only beginning to see the actual effects of a generation of boys, and girls, who were left alone to navigate childhood without a father’s hand on the rudder. Boys who never grew into healthy manhood because they had no one to model or expect them to do so. Men whose maturity remains stunted, incapable of developing into adults who can have healthy relationships with others, especially women. Men who prefer unreality – video games or pornography – to the real thing. Men who don’t, and may never, possess the necessary qualities and character to lead families and communities. Instead what we’re seeing is a population of boys who will never be big enough to wear men’s clothing.
I often imagine the narratives these boys tell themselves when they see others spending time with their dads, loved and adored by them, nurtured by them. What does that boy, whose father isn’t there, say to himself when those feelings surface? Does he take responsibility for dad leaving? Does he start to feel inadequate? Unloved? Unworthy? Or perhaps all of it?
Invariably, as the boy gets older and begins recognizing his masculinity within, he will start searching for whatever will confirm in him that sense of manhood. He will lean into whatever it is that tells him he’s on the right track. That is where, I fear, the real danger starts, because when a father abandons the authority bestowed to lead his son, that responsibility will naturally, and always, be handed over to something or someone who will – culture at large, sports, women, alcohol, drugs, or any host of others.
But as the bible warns, it doesn’t just end there. If that boy was never properly passed the baton of manhood, by the one most responsible for doing so, what is the outcome to be when he is given the authority and there’s a son out on that lawn searching for answers? Will he be able to give as a father, what he never received as a child?
Far too many children today are living that answer because there are countless boys and girls today suffering the consequences of a father’s sin.