by Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield
On this Father’s Day weekend I have a gift for you…a gift of words, beginning with some validation and encouragement, then ending with a challenge.
As a father, you no doubt have a lot of weight on your shoulders and I’m guessing that you often feel overwhelmed with all that’s expected of you, even though at times you try to ignore the intensity and immensity of that reality. (I know this because many of you have trusted me enough to tell me what this is like for you).
And much of the time you find it easier to push away the discomfort of facing your own inadequacy so that you don’t have to sit in the space of admitting that it might actually be true that you’re not enough.
But if you peel back the layers and allow yourself to be honest, even vulnerable, you’ll discover that every other father is feeling the exact same way—with a sense of being less than competent, at least when it comes to relationships. Perhaps it’s most noticeable when the women in your life say they need more from you or point out areas of ineptness. And that’s when you find yourself falling into a pattern of slinking back into your shell to find safety from the perceived attack.
But dad, you weren’t made to shrink back and hide. That’s not where you thrive. You were created to pursue and conquer and lead. The truth is that you’re at your best when you’re taking action while proving to yourself and the world around you that you have what it takes to courageously go after the things—and people—you love and believe in.
So here you are, living each day with a wealth of experiential knowledge, some of it amazing, and some of it painfully debilitating. Yet all of it has brought you to where you are today, shaping the way you see yourself … and everyone around you. And it’s out of the overflow of all those experiences that you parent your kids.
Now here’s where I’m going to go a bit deeper by addressing the “painfully debilitating” part.
Those devastating experiences, when left unhealed, lead you to believe that you don’t have it in you to live any differently or respond in ways other than the hand you were dealt. Those wounding interactions have left you stuck, which then have you repeating unhealthy relational patterns that really don’t work for you—or your children, for that matter.
Sadly, I meet too many deflated men who have lost their drive and ambition, especially when it comes to pursuing relationships. Somewhere along the way they’ve succumbed to the lie that they can’t be more than what their histories or their failures have determined while believing that they’re destined to repeat mistakes that were modeled by their fathers.
Truthfully, this whole way of thinking and interpersonal relating breaks my heart because I see men who have shrunk back while using self-protective strategies so as not to be hurt again. But those strategies create distance between them and the ones who call them “dad” while keeping their offspring from reaping the benefits of being loved by the one man whose opinion matters most.
To make matters worse, instead of rising up to meet the challenges of fighting to maintain close relationships, men with these defaults too easily resign themselves to a position of weakness rather than being valiant pursuers and initiators, traits that I believe God created all men to embody in their DNA.
You see, when a father steps back, removes his armor, concedes before engaging, and walks away (literally or figuratively—such as when he is there physically but not emotionally), not only is he deflated, but so are his kids. Further, something disastrous happens inside of him when he believes that he doesn’t matter and instead defers to mom.
From observing men these past ten years since founding The Abba Project, I’ve noticed that something begins to atrophy in a man when he believes that he can’t rise up, change, make a difference, or lead his family. Even recently I talked with a dad who said he’s a terrible father and he seemed resigned to that fact. I literally stood in front of him with tears in my eyes, and though it was awkward for a minute or two, he could see that my heart was breaking for his children … and for him.
Why? Because it seemed like he was believing a lie that his story can’t be rewritten at this point in his life.
So what do you do if you didn’t get what you needed from your dad? What if that empowering, strengthening, life-giving deposit was never transferred from your father to you? Are you forever destined to a sense of stifling inadequacy in the core of your being? I don’t believe so…and I have data to back this up.
Dr. Ken Canfield, founder of the National Center for Fathering, has conducted research to confirm that a man’s relationship with his father is not the most significant predictor of his current relationship with his children.
In other words, a painful past is certainly an influence, but not a primary predictor of what kind of dad you will be. And your commitment to be a good father can be greater than any negative effects resulting from a poor relationship with your dad. This means that you can join the distinguished ranks of the “overcomer dads” by choosing right now to engage with your child, at any cost to yourself.
And if I could share one more thought with you, it would be that there’s a spiritual side to this issue that you as dads would be wise to explore. As a person of faith myself, I stand aligned with your spirit and affirm that you are a son of the best Dad ever. And He as your Father makes you enough.
Don’t let another day go by where you believe the lie that you don’t have what it takes to be a great dad. With God as a Father pouring His resources of “enoughness” into your depths, you will have enough to pour into your daughter and son.
Humbly ask for supernatural help while being open to letting your Heavenly Father fill you with His wisdom, insight, strength, courage, tenacity, tenderness, compassion, and on it goes. God says if we ask for wisdom, He’ll give it. No questions asked, no groveling, no earning His favor. It’s simply His gift.
As you pray this prayer, you’ll discover that God will download ideas that will lead you to connect with the unique needs of your children. I encourage you to spend at least five minutes waiting for the download to come, and then immediately act on the things God tells you in order to reach the heart of your kids. You might think you’re fabricating things as you listen, but it will get much easier to trust God’s voice when you put the ideas He gives you into action and then see that they work.
Dad, just in case you don’t hear it enough, I want you to know that you matter. And every day that you give of yourself to your children is a day that changes their lives…and yours.
I wish you the happiest Father’s Day ever and I CELEBRATE YOU as you continue to embrace the most important job you’ll ever have: being a dad.
Read more from Michelle at fathers.com here.
Dr. Michelle Watson is a licensed professional counselor in Portland, Oregon, founder of The Abba Project, a 9-month group forum for dads of daughters (ages 13 to 30), and author of Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart, available on Amazon, Audible, and many other places. She also hosts a weekly radio program in Portland called The Dad Whisperer, which you can access as a podcast on her website and on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Visit drmichellewatson.com for more information and to sign up for her weekly Dad-Daughter Friday blogs. You can also follow or send feedback on Facebook and Twitter.