Father’s Day (3 September) is our latest gift-giving challenge, and I can offer one suggestion if you stick around.
When it comes to gift-buying, there are two basic options: the practical route, often pooling money to soften the blow of an expensive necessity, or the superfluous route, which has left my parents with a dozen varieties of barbeque sauce.
But Pastor Wayne Alcorn says there is one thing that every man wants for Father’s Day – a gift designed not to meet a momentary desire or a practical preference, but to satisfy a deep longing and to fill a gap in many men’s lives. This is the only gift that can heal the ‘father wound’.
The father wound
“The number one thing that the father wound looks like,” Alcorn explains, “is longing – longing for the love that an earthly father could and should give.”
Fuel your faith every Friday with our weekly newsletter
Many are left wounded by an absent or abusive father, or one who is “around, but not present and not functioning in their God-given role to train, to nurture and to encourage.”
Despite their tough exteriors, Alcorn says countless men long for the affirmation, respect and attention withheld by their fathers. He regularly sees grown men brought to tears by the pain they still experience decades after a wounding childhood. Many of these experiences are retold in Alcorn’s book, My Father’s Son: A Generational Journey. Amidst these dramatic stories of family dysfunction, each poignantly deep and vulnerable, one wounded son takes centre stage.
“My father’s father,” Alcorn tells Eternity, “was a World War I returned vet. The things men and women see on the battlefield scar them for life. Add to that the fact that my father’s natural mother died soon after he was born. So my grandfather was dealing with that. He went through three marriages, divorce, pain, all the disappointments – layers upon layers – and I don’t even have a clue what his father was like.”
The result was a man who worked hard to put food on the table, but showed no affection to his son. As Alex Alcorn later told Wayne, he felt like an unwanted inconvenience.
Alex’s father died young, leaving behind a 19-year-old son – a chronic alcoholic who regularly spent time in jail, desperate to numb the pain of a deep father wound.
Bandaid-ing the wound
When people long for the love of a father, says Wayne Alcorn, they’ll try almost anything to fill the gap.
“The number of people I know with addictions of all kinds, simply as an attempt to numb the pain, it’s off the charts.”
For some, the father wound becomes a longing for attention, often resulting in juvenile crime. In decades of work with youth discipleship organisation Youth Alive, Alcorn says, “I never went to court with a young man or woman who was in trouble with the law that had a good relationship with their father.”
Others pursue affirmation by climbing the ladder or achieving notoriety.
But all these efforts to numb the pain are bandaids. In fact, far from healing the father wound, they often perpetuate a generational cycle.
“The simple adage is, ‘hurt people hurt people’,” Alcorn says, before quoting a line from the book: “We learn to be a father through being a son.” He continues, “Schools have kids 30-something hours a week; the rest of the week – the 130-something hours – is in the home. Where are most things learned in life? In the family home. Things we see; things that were never said to us, but we caught it. More is caught than taught.”
“If you’re not happy with your family tree, plant a new one in the most fertile soil of all.” – Wayne Alcorn
What Alex Alcorn caught hadn’t set him up well. Chronic alcoholic: tick. Juvenile crime: tick. He seemed destined to repeat what he’d experienced as a child.
“But one day in a little country town,” Wayne marvels, “he heard a preacher preach a simple text: ‘Whom the Son sets free is free indeed’ (John 8:36), and a choir began to sing a simple old song: ‘Come home, all who are weary’.
Barefoot, shirtless and drunk, Alex had been released from jail earlier that day. As he walked forward, the crowd thought he was going to cause trouble, says Wayne, “but they didn’t know what was happening in his heart.”
“He knelt down, literally in the gutter, in a little street up on the Darling Downs, in a town called Dalby. That’s now 72 or more years ago; he made a decision to become a follower of Jesus. And because his life was changed, the generations that followed have been changed.
“I tell people all the time, if you’re not happy with your family tree, plant a new one in the most fertile soil of all: the love of God. In one decision, our whole family line was changed forever.”
Healing the wound
What can break the cycle? What can fill the void? What can heal the father wound?
“I say over and over,” Alcorn insists, “nothing and no one can fill that, until you discover the love of a God who says, ‘Call me Dad.'”
Many men can’t say ‘father’ without thinking ‘wound’.
Naturally, this is “one of the great roadblocks” for men experiencing family dysfunction. Not long ago, Alcorn told a friend in his 40s that he was amazed how many people can’t relate to God as Father. The man replied, “I’m one of them. I can’t call God ‘Father’. So I talk to Jesus, and hope he passes it on.”
Many men can’t say ‘father’ without thinking ‘wound’. “Just the thought of Father’s Day leaves some people paralysed and in pain,” Alcorn reflects. “It’s not a day they can celebrate because their memories and their experiences with the one they call Father are painful and tragic.”
In a sense, of course countless men struggle with the concept of God as Father. But Alcorn wants to help them hear Jesus’ message: You can relate to God not as a distant Judge; not just as the Creator of the universe; but as a Father who loves you dearly.
In My Father’s Son, Alcorn unpacks the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), which he calls “one of the most magnificent pictures in the scriptures”: a father with every reason to reject his son, who instead runs to welcome him home, showering him with compassion, affection and honour.
The God of the Bible is a God who meets our father wound – our longing for real love – with a longing of his own: to welcome us like the father in this parable welcomed his son home; he is a God who, in Jesus, takes every wound onto himself, so that we might be fully healed.
What every man wants on Father’s Day is, in Alcorn’s words, “unconditional love that flows from a Father’s heart”.
Visit our competition page for your chance to win a free copy of My Father’s Son: a Generational Journey!
Wayne Alcorn is senior pastor of the multi-campus Hope Centre and national president of the Australian Christian Churches movement. His book, published through Acorn Press, is available (currently at 20 percent off) through Koorong.