The modern world creates all manner of spiritual and emotional disease. People everywhere suffer needlessly from the arrangements we inhabit. Loneliness, despair and every kind of dissipation characterize our every breath.
“Don’t worry”, we are constantly told. The modern world, it knows the cure, we are assured. The prescription, of course, is more of the same. We never get better because the things held out for our healing: distractions, triviality, self-indulgence, just make us sicker. The medicine that promises our cure only poisons us further.
Among the most prominent of our ills is the pervasive and interminable ache for the father. Behind so many of our problems stands not a presence, but an absence, the absence of the strong, loving man we need, not just as children, but throughout our lives.
A scene in “The Wonder Years,” that sentimental survey of growing up, shows what is now missing in too many lives. Much of the show revolves around Kevin’s struggle to understand his old-school, traditional father. His father is gruff, sometimes distant. He has trouble connecting and developing relationships with his sons.
Still, his love for them is never in doubt, and despite his shortcomings, it’s clear that he is devoted to them. One scene in particular illustrates the kind of action that actually does cure our father hunger.
Winnie has just dumped Kevin for some other, cooler guy. Kevin arrives home to find his dad in the garage.
You can see what happens here:
This scene is touching in part because it portrays an experience people long for, but that many have not had: the opportunity to turn to their fathers when things get tough.
Since most now don’t have what Kevin had, they hunger. Once the deep longing for a father takes root, the ache never goes away. Instead of disappearing, it goes underground, often so deeply we cannot recognize it for what it is. The desire for a father, for a steady masculine presence to guide and anchor us masquerades these days as numerous other maladies: anxiety, anger, purposelessness, and emptiness.
But, our culture makes it easier to talk about anxiety than about father hunger. Fathers are considered disposable. To admit we suffer from their absence would be to challenge the cultural narrative and to have oneself branded a traitor to the consensus. So, we keep quiet and compound our sullen anxieties with the shame of knowing deep in our hearts we long for a dad.
Take the effects of father hunger on a personal level: the directionlessness and weakness in men and, in women, the desperation, the fear, the pitiful, never-ending search for affirmation and multiply them by millions.
This is where we are now.
General cultural attitudes toward fathers that veer between, at best, indifference, and at worst, open hostility, magnifies these personal problems and make them pervasive cultural threats.
When an individual kid losses his father, he suffers, his spouse may suffer, his children might. But, if he lives in a culture that recognizes the inherent goodness of fatherhood and fathers’ necessary contribution to his development, he may be able to find a surrogate.
Not so now. Now we have not a few individuals who suffer intense father hunger, but millions. Father hunger and its consequences are now so widespread; we take it to be normal. The problem is overwhelming.
At the bottom of our many of our social ills lies the hunger for a father who has been displaced by the state, by the attacks against him launched by a thousand feminists and amplified by nearly every media production of the last fifty years, by the decision to make divorce easy and common.
All this makes the importance of what we fathers do even more important. For those of us who still have young children, we must not be persuaded by the culture to doubt our own importance. Instead, we must double down on our commitment to do our duties. We must be there in the knowledge that our mere presence satisfies.
We cannot father a whole world. The damage is done. Generations without fathers are now ascendant and their hunger will drive civilization down. All we can do is set the example, refuse to surrender, keep on doing what fathers have always done: provide and protect in a collapsing world.
There is much from which we must protect those in our charge. A fatherless world is a dangerous one. But, in the middle of this dangerous, dying world, we can cultivate pockets of healing and resistance.
When we can, we can reach out. We can be a mentor, a friend. At the very least, we can tell people that fathers are good and our hunger for them is real. We can cast a bit of light on the increasing darkness. People now are lost and suffering. We cannot save them all, but, if we answer the call, if we make the effort, we will find we can save some.
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