On Dad's and Love

I remember consoling a woman friend of mine many years ago. She was crying about her difficulty in establishing a career. Between her tears she said, "My dad kept telling me that all I needed to do was love someone really well, and I would be taken care of." The message she got was that her job as a woman was to focus on relationships, and that the man she finds will do everything else (presumably better than she could have). This kind of sexism had left her with great doubts about her ability to be successful on her own. 

I, on the other hand, found this message very intriguing. No one had ever suggested to me that the most important thing I had to offer the world was my love. I was taught that fathers are important because they earn money, provide discipline, teach right from wrong, protect their families, and model manhood. Love wasn't even on the list. It was mothers who were the experts on love. 

In truth, a father's love is his greatest gift. But our culture has not reflected back to us the importance of our love. The loving part of our natures is largely unattended to in our upbringing. Consequently most men feel insecure about their love. We wonder if we love enough or love well enough. One dad I know spent most of his first pregnancy worrying how he could possibly bond with his baby on anywhere near the level he expected his wife to.

No one would claim that men are universally skilled in showing their love. Rather, we have had extensive training in how not to show our feelings. Hence, many fathers struggle with expressing their affection. Sometimes they lose this struggle, they never take down their walls, and they die with words unsaid. I often hear adults say that they never knew if their father loved them. I can feel both the pain of these grown-up children and the pain of their fathers who never knew how important their love was. 

In the face of our culture's gender steriotypes it is helpful to keep affirming what we know to be true. I know my father loved me, though I don't remember him ever saying it. I know my woman friend was very competant in her field, though she struggled to feel confident. As a parent I know that what I reflect back to my child (about what I see in her) becomes built into her developing image of herself. And now I find that I have not outgrown the need to have the undervalued aspects of my humanity reflected back to me.

So let us honor the great love within the hearts of fathers. And let us never mistake a man's conditioning to avoid his feelings as an actual lack of love. All men love deeply. How nice it would be to wake up one morning and hear our loved ones say, "All you have to do this morning is feel how much you love us. And thank you so much for loving us so well."

© 2008, Tim Hartnett

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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