Men who stay away from their children don’t understand or believe in themselves enough. They haven’t had sufficient exposure to healthy fathering. They haven’t watched and learned how to communicate their own loving presence, intimacy, and learning. Men who distance from their children, whether it’s in front of the T.V., at work or across the country, are avoiding hurt in themselves, which lingers from not receiving their own fathers’ loving attention.
As a therapist, my work is helping people understand where self-doubt is rooted. All of us have experienced feeling inferior. Men who are distant fathers have a history which includes a distant father.
It doesn’t matter if the father was never there, left part way through development, died, or just lived distantly right under the same roof. The impact of father remoteness carries meaning into the life of children. Without a steady diet of dad’s loving attention, the experience of his detachment can become a threat to life itself. Daddy distance easily becomes a statement that “outsider children” have a tragic, permanent flaw. Bringing love to this experience is the only healing. Bringing love to his own children can feel impossible to a man experiencing core unworthiness.
And so distanced sons grow to be men unsure what healthy intimacy looks like. Feeling unimportant (because he was unloved) he unwittingly avoids the healing love of relationship with his own children. Going near loving acceptance within him brings his own pain nearer, and because he hasn’t dealt with it lovingly, it remains overpowering. Afraid, distant dad treats his wounded self and his children as peripheral rather than intimate and important.
The man living his experience as “I wasn’t good enough for dad to choose me” must either wake himself from the nightmare with healing self-love or continue to dream walk around his love-hungry children. Deeply wounded men—isolated from father love, distanced from father-child intimacy—are part of social confusion which can be healed by men courageous enough to look at their own fear and sadness with love.
Distant dads are an intergenerational habit and pattern of emotional atrophy. Children acting out in school, learning disabled, isolated, all need the balance and closeness of their fathers.
My father was a road salesman, left home on Monday and returned on Friday. His comings and goings were powerful in many ways. My siblings and I learned to define ourselves in relation to his absence. Mornings, afternoons, dinners, evenings, bedtime were all left to mom. We grew independent of him while hungering for his connection. I eventually learned his absence was brutally and lethally painful for him as well as us. When I was 18 he told me that loneliness was the strongest emotion he’d ever felt.
After his sudden death when I was 22, my life took on the weight of both our isolation. He was no longer there as a potential healing of my loneliness. In my naïve assessment of life, all was lost when his physical presence disappeared. Without my father to approve of me who/what could I be? The legacy of my distant dad—-find a way to be good enough—-continued, but without the chance of his approval.
As a result of my dad’s lack of connection, I’ve dedicated myself to my own healing. I’ve become a husband, father, and grandfather, writer and teacher helping fathers heal, maintain and nurture their family relationships by healing their own self.
Thankfully, there are more and more of us men choosing to change what has felt like immutable isolated destiny. The Good Men Project is an example of the culture healing itself.
I have been fortunate to live with a woman who is strong, smart, funny, brave, and forgiving. She has helped understand that when we are willing to look at our own father-son relationships, we can see the changes needed with our kids to bring us into daily, loving relationship.
Are emotionally intimate dads the trend? They are certainly the necessity. If you’re a father who finds himself on the outskirts of your children’s lives, whether you live together or not, take this important step: choose self-appreciation. When you do this you automatically resume intimate connection with your children. You can’t love yourself deeply without loving those around you.
Intimacy is an ability we all possess. Though I will likely never meet you, I am able to reach into your heart and understand the common love of our children. You can do the same with your children. Touch them now with your willingness to be lovingly present. That is enough and will guide you into what happens next.
The key is understanding that we cannot be limited by our past. We can imagine we are limited by our father relationships, but that is our own thoughts.
But what about their mom and the courts?
Many fathers experience a sense of powerlessness when they encounter visitation restrictions. Fearful mothers have fought tooth and nail to keep dads distant, and have often succeeded. It’s important to accept these restrictions as part of our own healing. When we commit moment by moment to loving our children joyfully rather than fearfully, we open to learning how much more we can be for our children.
The clear majority of fathers I have counseled in marital conflict have been hungry for closeness with their kids. They long to understand the workings of emotional connection. Again, most didn’t experience emotional closeness with their own fathers, and again, you can change that right now, this moment, by feeling your own heartful love of your children without fear.
Healing the Feeling
If you’re a dad who desires more emotional connection, take heart: You can change your thinking and feeling right where you are, now.
Here’s an exercise that will demonstrate reworking unworthy emotional and thinking patterns is as simple as breathing.
Pay attention to your breathing. Notice that your breath comes and goes on its own and that you don’t have to do anything. You can simply watch it come and go. Do this for ten breaths.
Now add in a word you freely choose to describe your relationship with your child. Loving for example, or kind. Use your word as a mental focus while you continue breathing. Allow your word, it’s meaning and feeling to ride the breath in and out as you imagine your child and you. Let your imagination feed from the meaning of the word you have consciously chosen.
Get a pen and write your word on your hand. Do this one little commitment to closeness with your child. Breathe your word as often as you remember. Each time you do you strengthen the bond of closeness and invite the wisdom of loving.