John Eldredge, in his book The Way of the Wild Heart explains the developmental progression all men experience from boyhood to maturity. Not all men experience this progression in a healthy way. He points out that there are two key questions asked by the heart of every man, answered during childhood and adolescence, which, if not answered positively, lie near the root of most issues men face.
The first question “Am I loved?” is the key question during childhood. The second question “Do I have what it takes?” emerges during adolescence. A fathers role in determining how these questions are answered cannot be overstated. Acceptance and Competence are at the heart of a man’s identity and fathers are designed to impart identity as a man to his sons. When acceptance and competence are not imparted to a man in childhood and adolescence by a present and fully engaged father, rejection and inadequacy grow in the heart of a young man’s sense of self.
Man was made for intimacy – intimacy with God, with a wife, with family, with others. Of course there are levels of intimacy appropriate in each context. Intimacy always makes a demand on a man. Intimacy requires risk. Intimacy requires a man to be fully present and engaged. Intimacy excludes passivity and fear. Though a man is made for intimacy, intimacy requires strength. Strength comes from identity. Identity is all about a firm sense of acceptance that is not performance based and a sense of competence proven in the company of other men, especially a father. When instead of acceptance and competence a man’s identity becomes defined by rejection and inadequacy he has no strength to give. Intimacy is not an option. Intimacy is what he fears. If intimacy demands strength then strength is the one thing a man marked by rejection and inadequacy is convinved he lacks.
But a man still needs intimacy. In a healthy experience of life a man will emerge into adulthood convinced he is both accepted and competent. He will then bring this identity based strength to his marriage and offer his wife the strength imparted to him by his father. His wife will respond to him with respect and love in a life of genuine intimacy. This experience will reinforce his sense of acceptance and competence as a man.
When a man’s identity is distorted through rejection and inadequacy, he brings weakness to the marriage instead of strength. Instead of genuine intimacy, he is unable to fully engage. The wife then is unable to reflect his strength back to him with honor and love. Marriage then can serve to reinforce his rejection and incompetence as a man. A wife will often simply reflect back to the man the identity he brings to the marriage. My friend Bob Hamp says this is exactly what she is designed to do. She is a suitable helper.
When a man whose identity is marked by rejection and inadequacy lives in the fear of intimacy he will still look to get his need for intimacy met. He will still look for something that will make him feel, if even for a moment, accepted and competent. Genuine intimacy with the Father is the only place a man can find and sustain this. Genuine intimacy with a woman is the place this can be supported and reinforced. But genuine intimacy is the thing he fears the most. It demands too much. It exposes his sense of rejection and incompetence. So a man looks for the illusion of intimacy. He looks for the illusion of acceptance and competence.
Pornography and lust provide this illusion of acceptance and competence in the form of digital images. Affairs provide this in the arms of one who accepts and affirms without the demands that come from actually sharing a life together. Isn’t it amazing how once a man leaves his wife for the other woman, that second relationship simply becomes another version of the first? Once the new woman moves from being simply the illusion of intimacy to the reality, once she is no longer simply the greener grass on the other side of the fense and she becomes the field a man must live in, the new woman becomes another opportunity for genuine intimacy, the thing he fears the most.
All of this is rooted in fatherlessness. The answer is not in accountability for men that modifies their behaviors. The answer isn’t in teaching men the techniques and skills of genuine intimacy of body, soul and spirit. The answer isn’t to tell men to try harder and do better. The answer is for men to experience the reality of a Heavenly Father who alone is able to impart true manhood and thereby freedom from the fear of intimacy, freeing them to invest their strength born in true acceptance and proven competence as men in the experience of genuine intimacy.