When my young son's teacher asked to see me, I reacted defensively. I was a 17-year-old girl thinking: "What had he done this time? What am I going to do with that boy?" The conversation was a rude awakening. "Your son pulls his pants down when he uses the bathroom," the teacher told me. "He doesn't know how to use a urinal." I turned my face to hide the tears of embarrassment. In that moment, as I explained our situation, the realization hit me like a ton of bricks: I am the mother of a fatherless son. Listening to the corrective measures offered by the teacher, it became clear that I was training my son from my perspective as a woman. There were some things that I just didn't know—and others I had failed to realize.
When a boy doesn't have a father to show him the way, he can never be quite sure about the manhood things he needs to know. He's never really clear about how strong is strong enough, how soft is too soft, or how much doing and giving is enough, from a man's point of view. A boy needs a man to teach him how to push forward and when to pull back. A man can demonstrate to a boy when to stand up—and for how long.
When a boy doesn't have a father to guide him, he's not sure when to speak up or when to shut up. A man who did not have the input of a father is never quite sure about what other men will think about what he has to say. When a boy doesn't have a father to show him the way to being a man, he's never quite sure who a man is or what a man does. A woman may cry when she's afraid, scream when she's angry, eat chocolate when she is depressed or off balance. What does a man do? How does a man handle turmoil in his mind or heart?
When a boy doesn't have a father, he grows up never feeling quite sure about himself, his life and what is expected of him. He may overcompensate, undercommit and, in some cases, just give up rather than fail. He may grieve silently what he missed and what he may be missing. He may quietly long for the love of a father. He may believe he lacks that special something that makes him worthy of love.
For years, I watched my fatherless son struggle. I cried about his failures. I took credit for his success. Like so many mothers raising fatherless sons, I made his life about me, failing to recognize there were things he needed that I just didn't have to give. It wasn't a failure on my part or his part. It was simply a reality, a truth that neither his father nor I considered.
My son's story is a familiar story. It is the story of hundreds of thousands of boys growing up without fathers, with only their mothers' perspectives of manhood to lean on. Some of those perspectives are clear, powerful and loving. They work well to shape a boy's mind and heart. Others do not. They are perspectives filled with anger, disappointment, vindictiveness, fear, shame and guilt that is impressed upon a boy's soul about who he better or better not be as a man. All too often, these are the perspectives that pave the road to prison, drugs, domestic violence and arrested manhood development.
Shall we blame the mothers? Shall we call the fathers guilty? I suspect that neither would be a good fix. What needs to happen quickly is that parents must become responsible and accountable for the lives that God has placed into their hands. The mother of a fatherless son must keep the door open. The father of a son must learn how to, and be willing to, walk through the open door to his son's heart and life. All boys need to know what it feels like to have a man—a father—love them.