By Mike Genung
The wounds caused by the absence of a loving and accepting father can have devastating consequences including sexual addiction
In their book The Blessing, Gary Smalley and John Trent describe the blessing that every boy and girl needs from their father growing up as:
- Meaningful touch; to be hugged consistently and often.
- A spoken message; to hear the words “I love you” consistently and often.
- Attaching high value; to know we matter and are worth being loved.
- Picturing a special future, which is to know that we have potential – unique gifts and capabilities God can use to bless others with later on.
- An active commitment, meaning we received the first four parts of the blessing on a consistent basis as we grew up. If a child who hears his father say “I love you” once during the first ten years of his life, he’ll buy into the message of rejection from the silence of the nine years and 355 days, not what was said one time.
The reality is that many men grew up without their fathers blessing – including those raised in Christian homes. The void that’s left by the lack of our father’s love is a set up for a long, hard struggle with sex addiction, workaholism, gluttony or some other false coping mechanism. Dr. Ross Campbell, a former associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, writes “in all my reading and experience I have never known of one sexually disorientated person who had a warm, loving and affectionate father.”
Neither have I. In our support groups I ask the guys to describe their relationships with their fathers, and I can’t remember one man who said his father told him “I love you” and hugged him on a consistent basis growing up.
Many of us had withdrawn, passive fathers who were there physically but missing in action emotionally. A father’s silence can be just as devastating as any kind of abuse; it leaves a child wondering “do I matter?”… “does he love me?”… “Am I worthy of being loved?”
Think of what happens when a family is ripped apart by divorce and a young child’s father leaves. In spite of what their father may say or the time on the weekends he may spend with his kids, the roaring silence of Dad’s missing presence during the week causes a child to think “did Dad leave because I didn’t mean anything to him? … Surely he wouldn’t have left if he loved me… I must have done something wrong… I must not be worth much.” Their father’s absence answers the question with “you’ll have to find out for yourself if you have what it takes… probably not, otherwise I would have stayed around. You weren’t worth it.”
For those who have been abused verbally, physically or even sexually by their Dad, having a passive father would have been a blessing. The message of “you’re a piece of worthless junk that no one could love” is violently pounded into them until this is the (distorted) truth of their life. Receiving love and affection is almost impossible, and hopelessness, despair and rage set in. How can we receive love from another if our Dad, the “first and forever most important man in my life” says we’re a piece of worthless trash? Since no one loves garbage, lust becomes the best and safest “love” one can hope for.
James Bryan Smith, in his autobiography of the late Christian recording artist Rich Mullins sums up best what happens to a man or woman who grows up without their father’s love and acceptance: “When a father’s love is withheld, a child will struggle with issues ranging from shyness and insecurity to a profound and crippling shame over his or her very existence.”
Most guys try to fill the Grand Canyon sized hole in their heart from this “profound and crippling shame over their existence” with money, power or sex. I tried all three. In my early 20’s I discovered I had a knack for sales and marketing; I had no self esteem, (which reveals how my “question” had been answered) so finding something I could do well was like throwing a bone to a starving street dog. I threw myself into my job full force and charged up the company ladder, getting promoted to assistant sales manager, then National Sales Manager and, by the time I was 25, vice president of sales. The more I succeeded the emptier I felt, so I worked even harder, putting in six and seven day work weeks, and traveling as much as 40 weeks a year. Eventually I’d burn out and crash into wall of depression which would slow me down a little. But, letting off the throttle had the undesired effect of having to feel the inner pain and emptiness I’d been running from inside, so it wouldn’t be long before I kicked it into overdrive again. I spent years on this furious merry go round of work and burnout until God broke me of the idea that I could find love in work.
Not long after my wife and I were married in 1989, we went to see the movie “Dad” in a theatre. The movie tells the story of a workaholic father, Jake, who is now retired (played by Jack Lemmon), and his son John, (played by Ted Dansen) who has followed his father’s footsteps. John has given his life to building up his career, sacrificing his first marriage and his relationship with his son along the way. Late in the movie, Jake goes through a life threatening medical crisis and John visits his father in the hospital. Not knowing how long he has to live, Jake asks his son a question that hits me like a ton of bricks: “we’ve never hugged before… can we try now?” John hesitates at first, but he agrees, and father and son are seen embracing for the first time in their life.
Watching Dad was like running my heart run through a cheese grater for two hours, and as soon as we made it through the theater doors I broke down sobbing uncontrollably. I ran into our truck, and my stunned wife held me for 10 minutes while I cried like a baby; I was so broken up she ended up driving home. Jake’s story had hit the deepest nerve in my heart: I was the hard charging, empty workaholic who was starved for his fathers love and acceptance. The worst part was that I didn’t know what to do about it.
My workaholic way of life poured gasoline on the fires of my struggle with sex addiction. Since I traveled a lot for business and couldn’t say no to hotel porn, I was often going through the shame and emptiness from acting out sexually, so I would “fix” my emptiness with more work, which left me emptier, so I needed more porn or sex to find comfort, and on it went, until I had a nervous breakdown in 1998.
Father wounds are just as common in women as men, and little girls who were neglected growing up often end up marrying a man who was just like their daddy. In his book Always Daddy’s Girl, H. Norman Wright shares the following about one of his female clients:
“I would like to find just one man who would treat me decently,” she said. I seem to be drawn to men who end up mistreating me, but I don’t know why… what is happening to me?” (Karen)… carried deep wounds from the emotional abandonment she experienced as a child. Her parents’ relationship was marked with anger and lack of fulfillment. Karen’s father had little time for her, controlling her with his anger. There was no physical abuse, but plenty of emotional abuse. She felt worthless and insignificant, especially in her father’s eyes.
The reality is that most men who struggle with sex addiction were injured by their Dads growing up, and they’re married to women with their own set of father wounds. This makes for a marriage fraught with pain and confusion, until both husband and wife take the time to look into the rejection that has so powerfully impacted their lives.
So what do we do with this deep wound within? Sex and money won’t fix it, food can’t comfort it (some use food, i.e. sensual eating, to try to fill up the hole in their soul) so the answer lies elsewhere.
First, pray. Ask God to lead you in the process of healing.
Next, face the truth. When I bring up father wound issues in our groups I often hear “well, my parents did the best they could.” Defending our parents is a natural response born out of love, but it’s also used to avoid feeling the pain. We are hurt deepest by the people we love and need the most, and there is no deeper wound than the one that comes from our father. Running or denial won’t resolve a father wound; it must be faced.
Facing our father wound doesn’t mean we blame our parents for the sin we used to medicate it. I chose sex and work to deal with my problems; my parents didn’t force those decisions on me. No matter what happened, we must own up to 100% of the responsibility to turn to lust or other sinful coping mechanisms.
We are wounded in our relationship with a man, our father, and it is in authentic relationships with other men where the healing process begins. Clean, non sexual masculine love isn’t found exclusively from our father. When our brothers accept and love us in spite of our faults, they unwittingly answer our question: “yes, you have what it takes to be a man… you’re important, and valuable, with gifts that bless me… I enjoy our friendship.” Through their support and encouragement our brothers pass a blessing of masculine love and strength to us.
David was blessed this way by Jonathan, Saul’s son. Read what David said after Jonathan was killed in battle:
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women. – 2 Samuel 1:26
David had several wives by the time he wrote this so he had all the emotional and physical intimacy he wanted, yet his friendship with Jonathan was “more wonderful” than anything he had with women. Clean masculine love isn’t complicated with sex or the emotional friction that arises from the differences between men and women. When another brother challenges me about an issue in my life, as long as it’s done without an insult or with cruel intent I can take it in stride. Men understand the fears and insecurities men go through, so we can bless each other in ways that women can’t. If I tell another man I struggle with lust, he can relate and help me. If I tell a woman about my struggle with lust I’ll be twice as ashamed telling her, she’ll have a harder time understanding, and there’s a chance I could struggle with lust over her.
Masculine love develops when we share our weaknesses and then allow our brothers to support, encourage, and, when necessary, correct us. My life is packed with other men; some I’ve met at support groups, others through work or church. Their acceptance of me, faults and all, is a resounding yes to my “question” that builds, encourages, strengthens and blesses me.
As you face the specific events that caused your wound, write them out in your journal to the Lord, expressing how your life has been affected by what happened. For example, if you had a passive father, write about the confusion and emptiness you’ve felt, and what you needed from your father. This will give voice to the cry of your heart and bring clarity to what you’re going through.
During the process of journaling your emotions, the Lord He may show you some issues that you need to deal with. Bitterness of heart often accompanies the pain of rejection, and the Lord could reveal the need to forgive your Dad and shower him with grace. Or you could see clearly for the first time how you’ve worshipped sexual sin as a false god, and the Lord could be inviting you to repent. If He brings an issue like this to the light, ask God how He wants you to deal with it, and take action.
We can’t go back in time and recreate the father-son relationship we wanted, and grieving the loss is a natural part of the process. Allow yourself to grieve what you didn’t have with your father; doing so validates what you went through and provides an outlet for the pent up emotion within.
As always, share what you’re going through with the brothers in your accountability group. Show them what God has revealed to you, and ask them to pray for your healing in these specific areas. Bringing your brothers into the wound will be a soothing balm to your soul.
Then, whether he’s alive or not, write a letter to your father. In this letter you’re going to share how you were wounded, forgive your father for what happened, and then bless him. Before you sit down to write, take a few days and pray first. This may be the most important letter you’ll ever write, and you want God’s hand in it. Ask the Lord to prepare your heart, and ask that you and your father will both be blessed through what you’re about to write. Also ask that your fathers heart is prepared to receive it.
Begin the letter by expressing how you were hurt. Tell your father what you needed from him growing up; how you wanted to hear him tell you he loved you more often, or feel his touch, or how you wish you could have had more time together. Say this in a non-condemning way, without accusations or using phrases like “you should have…”, or “if you had done this I would have had a better life.” What’s done is done, and the purpose of this letter is not to throw stones, but to heal. Tell the truth without using it as a sledgehammer to smash him with.
Then, forgive your father. Your forgiveness will cost you a lot, so don’t write these words lightly; you’re giving up your right to hold everything he did or didn’t do against him for all time, with no turning back. Write your forgiveness simply and plainly, without a hint of expectation in your words of anything you might want in return.
After you’ve forgiven him in writing, express your love to your father. Tell him you accept him for who he is, past mistakes and all. Describe the things he did that you appreciate and what you love about him; build him up, and shower him with grace. You could also write an Old Testament style blessing to him; your father could be carrying a wound from his father, and this could be the first time in his life than anyone’s ever blessed him. For ideas on how to write an Old Testament Blessing to your father, see Genesis 27:26-29, 28:3-4, chapters 48 and 49, and Number 6:23-24.
Once you’ve written the letter, take it before your accountability group, read it, and ask for their feedback. If they hear anything out of line, such as a condemning tone, make the appropriate changes and then read it again to them at the next meeting.
When the final draft is ready, have your brothers pray for you and your father. You should pray first, by stating to the Lord that you are forgiving your father, asking that He prepare your fathers heart and uses the letter to provide healing for both of you. Your group should follow up with more prayer for the same.
Before mailing the letter, seek your brothers’ counsel about the timing. For example, if your father is going through a stressful time, or if he’s having life threatening physical problems it might be better to wait. (Or it could be that time is urgent and you need to send the letter overnight.)
After seeking the counsel of God and others, and once you feel the Lord is giving you the green light to mail the letter, send it. No matter how your father reacts, realize that you have no control over his response. Your healing isn’t dependent on how he reacts, but in the freedom and peace you will discover by forgiving him.
If your father isn’t alive, take heart, the expression of your soul’s desires to your father can still provide healing to your soul. Write your letter to your father, and then share it with your brothers just as if he were alive.
You can be free of the pain and rejection that’s haunted your life. All you need is at least one other man who you can share with, the willingness to forgive, and God’s hand in the process. I hope by now you understand that we need other men in our lives to live the vigorous life of a Braveheart Christian. Honesty with our weakness with the right men brings abundant blessings, not the shame and rejection we so fear.
Resolving the wound left by the man who made the greatest impact in our lives is a critical part in our journey to grace, but it’s not the final stop. Every human being is born with an empty chamber in their heart that can be filled only one way, by one person. This chamber is set at the center core of the heart, and it’s marked that reads “For God alone.” No person, thing, or experience has the ability to touch or fill this part of the heart.
Since the Living God is the only one who can fill an empty heart with life, light, love, joy and peace, it is here in our journey where we turn toward His throne room.
Excerpt from the book The Road to Grace; Finding True Freedom from the Bondage of Sexual Addiction