Father Hunger

The poor can climb out of poverty armed with just hard work, self-discipline, and faith. They don't need constant welfare handouts from the government. Seven hundred men gathered recently in Austin, Texas, to squat around campfires, pound drums, howl and sweat together. It was the First International Men's Conference, and participants hoped to rediscover their True Masculinity. Yes, just as the 60s gave birth to the women's movement, so the 90s promise to give birth to a movement for men. It's easy to poke fun at the drums and the feathers. Yet two books on the subject--Iron John and Fire in the Belly--have been on the New York Times Best-Seller List for a combined total of 68 weeks. Obviously, underneath the silly stuff, the movement is touching some kind of nerve. What is it? Robert Bly, author of Iron John, says American men suffer from "fatherlessness"--boys growing up without their fathers. If you go back to colonial times, life was much different. Fathers worked side by side with their sons on farms and in family industries, passing on the skills their fathers taught them. The Industrial Revolution changed all that. It tore fathers out of the home to work in factories and offices. For the first time in history, women became the primary parents. Today, boys spend most of their growing years around women--with their mothers at home, with female teachers at school and at Sunday School. They grow up with only the haziest notion of what their fathers do all day. According to the Family Research Council, the average father spends only 8 minutes a day in direct conversation with his children. In families where the mother works, too, it drops to 4 minutes. Is it any wonder many boys suffer from what Robert Bly calls "father hunger"?--a longing for a man's love, an insecure sense of masculine identity. Signs of the malaise were everywhere at the First International Mens' Conference. In workshops, men openly wept and railed against fathers who had neglected or abandoned them. Grown men talked of the need for father-figures to overcome the pain they still carried inside. Well, the men's movement pinpoints some valid problems but, like all secular movements, it offers wrong solutions. You don't mend a wound in the heart by squatting in tents and banging on drums. The real solution is found in Psalm 27:10--"My father and my mother may forsake me, but the Lord will take me up." It is the Lord who is a Father to the fatherless. He can heal emotional wounds and give the kind of love the human heart longs for. Over the next several years, the problem of fatherless men is likely to grow worse. We're just beginning to see the fall-out from the rise in divorce rates since the 60s. Only a few years after a divorce, most fathers lose contact with their children. Then there's the increase in children who never had contact with their fathers--whose parents never married. Boys growing up yesterday may have suffered neglect from fathers who were too busy, but many boys growing up today suffer from having no father at all. The Church needs to be praying and planning how it will minister to these fatherless men--with Big Brother programs, mentoring relationships, and classes to teach fathering skills. Reach out to young men before they head for the hills and the tom toms. Point them toward the Heavenly Father--the only Person who can really satisfy their "father hunger."


Chuck Colson


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