Father Hunger and the Search for Manhood

Father hunger is a deep, persistent desire for emotional connection with the father that is experienced by all children.1 I contend additional fallout from the father’s absence is the loss of what it means to become a man.

A friend with divorced parents affirmed this when he shared his annoyance with feeling the need to prove his masculinity. Though happily married with family and a successful career, he struggles with this nagging doubt. By sharing this, my similar struggle came bubbling up.

But let’s address a couple questions before we continue: Can a single dad adequately talk his daughter through her first period? Sure. Is it ideal? No. Why? You know why. Likewise, a mom can teach shaving, tying a tie, how to fish, or about girls and sex, but his model of manhood will come from his dad.

Unfortunately, that guidance often disappears when it’s needed most—during the teenage years. This can leave boys feeling inadequate, confused, and angry. Worse, an inadequate or distorted view of masculinity can develop. Unaltered, these feelings can persist into adulthood.

Maleness: a distorted view

I know being male isn’t popular these days, but Jesus said, “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.2 We’ll accept that God knew what He was doing when He made them both different.

We usually get our image of maleness from our father. I know there’s bad examples, but most dads do a good job. However after the divorce, limited access to dad combined with mom’s negative attitude toward him (and sometimes males in general), and the media’s portrayal of inept, irresponsible, and unnecessary husbands and fathers can cause our image of maleness to default to The Rock, Ryan Reynolds, or James Bond. Bulging muscles, sexual prowess, and a distain for weak handshakes, become the standard.

The dogging question

Guys are usually unaware of this aspect of father hunger and seek confirmation of maleness (whatever that is) in relationships and marriages—determinedly seeking a positive answer to, “Am I a real man?”

Dating provides mixed results to the question, but as dating becomes serious, the answer received is usually a resounding “Yes.” Unfortunately, after the ring goes on and real life takes over, without any malice on her part, he feels her “helpful” criticisms are more numerous than the affirmations. Add in male and female differences in sexual desires, and the fear of inadequacy (a hallmark of adults with divorced parents) creeps in. Confusion, anger, and other problematic behaviors like addictions or buying unneeded boy toys can also occur. I’m not justifying, just explaining.

So what can we do?

Seek God’s definition of manly. I believe that’s found in Ephesians 2:10.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Other versions say we are God’s workmanship, His masterpiece, or His handiwork.

Are you thinking, “That isn’t a specific definition!”? You’re right. That’s the point.

As you look in the mirror, if you’re pursuing the goal of being in the likeness of Jesus and living by biblical scriptures, the reflection you see is God’s desire of maleness for you. This overrides the definitions of Hollywood, your friends, past girlfriends, your buddies, your family, or even your wife.

You are the exact image of male God wanted you to be—warts and all.

Living in Ephesians 2:10

It’s not easy sometimes, but it is possible. For example, my wife loves to fish and has fished since childhood. I fished twice as a kid. Sometimes when we walk into a Pro Bass Shop type store, the salesperson starts talking to me. It takes everything in me NOT to fake my way through the encounter by regurgitating what she was looking for. Instead, now I just say, “I’m with her.”

When we are secure in God’s image of us, whether you’re a hunter, cook, mechanic, writer, airline pilot, or stay at home dad, if God thinks you’re man enough, you are!

Sign up to receive updates on new content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

  1. Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness. Margo Maine,2004
  2. Mark 10:6, ESV