Chapters 11 and 12 in Richard Rohr’s “From Wild Man to Wise Man” really had a profound effect on me. I found myself putting the book down and reflecting on my own father hunger and father wound. How did they affect me? How do the hunger and wound manifest themselves in my life? What I discovered about myself was amazing… waking-up-at-4am-amazing.
According to Rohr, much of the human race experiences a deep “father hunger.” The “pain is quiet, hidden, denied, and takes many shapes and forms that sons cannot even grasp–or care to grasp.” We grow up without a good man’s love, without a father’s understanding or affirmation. So, we always hunger for it, finding it in any older man who will offer it to them: in the military, in the business world, in hierarchical churches… seeking to be approved by their superiors. A father’s response is the first response of an “outsider.” A mother’s love is “body-based” and is assumed, taken for granted and relied upon instinctively, “which is why a foundational ‘mother wound’ can be even more devastating to one’s very core.” He believes that what Judeo-Christianity was trying to communicate in seeming to prefer masculine metaphors for God is to heal this deep and pervasive father wound. “God is that loving and compassionate Daddy they always wanted.”
This father hunger can develop into a father wound: “a deep hurt, a deprivation that leads to a poor sense of one’s own center and boundaries, a mind that is disconnected from one’s body and emotions, a life often with the passivity of an unlit fire.” Rohr contends that “sexual issues are always at the heart of masculine spirituality,” so we need to have “healthy sexuality modeled for us by our fathers, or we all start at zero and make all the same mistakes generation after generation.”
That’s what woke me up at 4am in the morning. God answered a question I had for Him for the longest time: “Why did You permit me to sin and let me sleep with my best friend?” When I was an atheist, I always kicked myself for not taking advantage of promiscuous sex. I wanted it really bad, as all teenage boys and young men do. But, when the opportunity presented itself, I never had the guts to close the deal… I didn’t even step up to the plate, let alone take a swing. I would be completely oblivious to the woman’s cues and did not realize how I missed my chance until reflecting on the situation later (sometimes years later.) After I opened up my heart to God and started reflecting on the history of my life, I realized that those “missed chances” to have sex were actually a grace by God. He protected me. He knew that, deep down, sex was sacred to me even though I mentally adopted modern culture’s liberal-mindedness about sex.
So, if God was protecting me from all those missed chances, why did He permit me to have sex with my best friend? I learned in Rohr’s book that a good male mentor does not help a young man avoid his problems but into and through them. God, in His Infinite Wisdom, needed me to suffer. He knew that I would be heartbroken. Deeply broken. And, I was. I could not feel, could not cry… I could not cry even about things that I used to cry about. I felt dead inside and I knew it.
God bless Nicholas Sparks for his book “The Notebook” and the movie producers who adapted it to film. I had seen it before and I knew that if anything could make me cry, it was that movie. I cried myself a river that evening, alone, in front of my laptop. The love that I thought could exist with my best friend, the love that I thought I finally had, was lost. I yearned all my young life to have a woman who would return my love, and I had thought my best friend was “the one.” But, I made the tough decision to break-up with her. I usually let the girl break-up with me. She was the first and last girlfriend whom I ever broke up with. Would I ever find someone to love? I didn’t know at the time. I cried and cried. It was the beginning of my healing.
I left for the Peace Corps soon afterwards. During the next two years, I never got into a relationship, never had sex. It wasn’t as if I did not want to, but I don’t think I was ready to give up on sex as something meaningful. God must have taken pity on me. My heart opened up to Him and I started on this incredible journey that can only best be described as “dying to myself.” Not suicide. Just purgative contemplation — what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night.” With so much time to think about the fuzz on my navel, I came to realize that all the things I thought highly about myself were just a cart full of horse manure. I was a wretched creature… and that was great. I was just like anybody else. I was no better than anyone else. In fact, I might be worse because I’m so good at hiding my faults.
God led me into my suffering, then made me whole again. That’s where I got the confidence to find the wife God intended for me. I finally knew myself as the broken creature as I am, and oddly enough, that gave me the confidence to grab onto life and let the Holy Spirit take me where He wills.
Here I am now, three years into a marriage that feels like three decades… dying little deaths daily when I do what my wife wants me to do instead of what I want to do. Then, in loving response, I see my wife starting to do what I wanted her to do all along… but without me ever having to say a word. Praise God, the fruits of the Holy Spirit are evident in a marriage lived out as God intends it. Marriage and fatherhood is difficult. Very difficult. No self-respecting, self-centered man should get married. Dying once for a woman you love is romantic, but dying daily for the same woman is insanity. But isn’t that the scandal of the Cross, the radical message of Ephesians 5, the mystery in the Sacrament of Marriage?