I have wanted to write this for a long, long time, but I have been so afraid…but here goes anyway…
Several years ago my oldest daughter, Anna, said something that really shook me. Truth be told, the echo of her words bouncing around in my head has made me, at times, a nervous wreck. The irony is that these words are the kind that many fathers may live for…but not this one…About 17 or 18 years ago I had a water sports type of accident where I landed straight down on my head and caused some trauma to my neck, compressing two of my discs and causing me some uncomfortable complications. I didn’t seek treatment for this until my upper back pain became pretty severe and the frequency of headaches increased. When I finally went to the doctor, more than a decade later, I was getting my healthcare from the VA hospital. Because the injury was in the upper part of my spine, I could not simply see someone about my spine, but had to see a neurosurgeon, since that part of the spine has the spinal cord inside. The VA sent us to Durham, and because of that, my wife and I asked my mother to keep our girls for a couple days. We went to Durham and everything went fine…it was when we got back that I received a shocking jolt…
My mother greeted us warmly as always and asked about what the doctors said. We exchanged pleasantries and information, and then we asked if the girls had been good. Of course, my mother went on to speak of how her grandchildren are perfect. Anna, came running in and hugged me and began to chatter away at the many adventures she had at Nanny’s house. As she ran off to play a little longer, my mother told me something she had said…she told me that Anna had told her that when she grows up, she wants to marry a man just like her daddy…and as my mother said that, she had a sweet smile and a proud look on her face…but I shivered inside…and felt an immediate sense of panic…terrified at the prospect of what had just been said. In my head and heart, I screamed inside, “Please, God…NO…please don’t let that happen!”
Let me now tell you why this bothered me so much. As a young man, I absolutely objectified girls. I treated them with absolute disrespect and used as many as I could. I manipulated and hurt them and will even admit that at times I took joy in so doing. I don’t know why I did…I don’t understand it. I could look for reasons and try to find ways to explain away the guilt, but in the end, it’s still guilt. I am guilty of having done these things. I am responsible for the actions that I took. I am responsible for the “womanizing,” the heartaches, and the betrayals. I may well be responsible for the way some women view men today. Please don’t hear me being at all braggadocios. This is NOTHING to be proud of. This is the lowest of the low when it comes to being a man. As I have grown into adulthood and more importantly since I have begun to mature a little more into my faith, I find that a real man does not treat women this way. A real man protects women. He treasures them and nurtures them. He puts them first and is sensitive to their hearts and needs. A real man does not exploit a lady for his pleasure but instead finds pleasure in treating her like a lady.
Now, let me add a bit more. All of the womanizing and betrayal of trust happened before I was a Christian. That is to say, it happened before the living Spirit of God entered into my life, and therefore it would be easy to say that I did those things as a carnal individual and that I am not that man anymore…and all of that is true. But even though I became a believer, there were other things that I desperately struggled with. I struggled with and still have to guard against verbal abuse, manipulative behavior, MAJOR self-centeredness, a volatile temper, and vitriolic communication. I can’t tell you how many times I thought my wife was going to tell me to leave. I can’t tell you how many times I have harangued my daughters. I can’t tell you how many times I have treated them with such anger and animosity simply because they were inconveniencing me at the moment. I guess the truth is that I was way too selfish to be a dad…way too narcissistic to want to put anyone else before myself…and I still contend with that nature every day.
It’s probably not hard for you to understand why I shuddered when my mother told me that Anna wanted to marry a man like me…but here’s the thing…and it should wake us up. Guys, young ladies tend to find someone like their dad. It’s the pattern of manhood they are familiar with. We can TELL them they need to find someone that acts a certain way…but that will usually fall on deaf ears. Little girls look up to their daddies. They see us as superman and Prince Charming, and all of those guys in between. They need us to show them what the standard is. Can we “man up” and stop using excuses as to why we are not doing these things? Our excuses don’t help anyone…they simply make us feel less guilty…and that’s a pretty wimpy reason to keep using them.
Ladies, if any of you have been in the path of my destructive behavior, then I truly apologize, and I wouldn’t presume to think that an apology is enough. It’s simply all I have to give. If I could go back and do things over, I would hope that things would be different.
Men, we have to take this seriously, and it’s not just involving our little girls, but also our little boys. If we want to see the tide turned in our culture, then we must begin to live as the examples of what we would like for our sons to become. The greatest resource is usually the lady we sleep beside each night. Let’s be man enough to have some transparent conversations and listen to what they say…not defending ourselves nor correcting them…but just listening…and even getting some counseling if necessary.
Amy, I love you. Thank you so much for being so committed to our marriage…even when I know that at times it has been nearly impossible. Keep helping me, even when I tell you I don’t need it because I’m still struggling with jackassery.
Anna and Ellie, I am continually committing to this course of action. Things have been better in recent history, but it’s still not enough. I want so much better for you than what your mother has had to deal with. I love you with a nearly painful love. We are going to work harder and harder on this. You two are incredible girls. You are so good to me. This one’s for you.