In my work as a counselor, I have come to believe that I am far from alone in this feeling of some missing piece regarding relationship with my father. Normative male alexithymia is newest psycho-babble phrase used to explain such an inexplicable thing.

 

Taken from the Greek, the term has to do with a male’s inability to put emotions into words. At least once a week, some father or son comes into my office—sometimes aware of the source of his hurting and sometimes not—seeking an unknown something that has been missing from his relationship. Because even though some of us while growing up handle it with apparently less trauma than others, we all nonetheless live in an environment in which a male gender socialization process teaches us to restrict our emotions, limit our feelings, and curb any vulnerability. “Be strong,” we are told. “Be tough.”

 

Many fathers, often duplicating the way in which their own fathers instructed them, attempt to equip us with a sort of emotionless shield to life, and in so doing send us on a life journey in which we commonly mistake stoicism for strength.

Seeing God

We are designed by God, I believe, to discover Him first through our parents. As infants, our parents represent our physical, emotional, and spiritual universe, reflecting onto us our earliest precognitive and pre-autonomous images—how safe is my world? What is trust and truth, comfort and consistency, warmth and wisdom? Sons and daughters look to each parent for specific needs; for sons, fathers are our heroes. In a spiritual sense, our parents represent our first impression of God.

 

When my mother began growing more and more emotionally ill and unstable with her bipolar disorder and drug addiction, my sisters and I huddled in our separate fears and waited for Dad to come and rescue us. But because he had never learned how to connect with his children on any sort of intimate level, my father grew more and more withdrawn, always trying to shield us, I think, and himself, unwittingly teaching us that feelings couldn’t hurt us if we kept them secret and hidden.

Still, I wanted him to save us, to arrive like Captain America and somehow put a stop to the madness. We sat at the dinner table, staring at our plates, withered by the barrage of hateful, shaming words, so that after a while we couldn’t really hear them anymore. Slump-shouldered, we wilted under the weight of it all, waiting to run. I tuned out my mother’s voice, and waited for Dad to come to the rescue. But he didn’t. He couldn’t.

 

We ran. I dug deeper into my bedroom, my stereo, my books, my band…and ultimately into a self-destructive journey through a dark world of alcoholism and addiction. My mother was destined for an early, tragic death by intentionally overdosing on pills and booze. I turned from it all, horrified, and ran. I had over time come to believe, deep within some little boy place in me, that God would not save me. And for a long while I sought solace in everything but Him, the One waiting patiently for my return.

Only Human

 

Ultimately, all our earthly heroes fail us. Even fathers are only human. And knowing this, God took on flesh and came to us as a fully man, fully divine manifestation of relationship. Personifying intimacy, Christ Jesus offers what each of us from the very beginning has longed for. Our souls hunger and thirst. For Him. Nothing else can satisfy.