Acknowledging Father Wounds
About the Guest
Are memories of your father good or bad? Roland Warren, the former President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, recalls his parents split when he was seven and the shaky relationship he had with his father thereafter. Roland recognizes that his father wounded him deeply, and tells how he decided to change his legacy for the better.
Roland WarrenRoland C. Warren is the former President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and currently the President & CEO of Care Net, the nation’s largest network of pregnancy resource centers. He has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, CNN, Focus on the Family, Dateline NBC, BET, Fox News Channel, Janet Parshall’s America and others speaking on issues of marriage and fatherhood. His writing has also appeared in numerous publications such as The Washington Post, Christianity Toda...more
Are memories of your father good or bad?
Acknowledging Father Wounds
Bob: It was not long ago that Roland Warren got a fresh reminder of why our relationship with our earthly father is so significant.
Roland: My wife had a friend of hers whom she had taken out to lunch some years ago. She said, “Can I bless the meal?” She said, “Sure.” My wife launches into this prayer—she starts, “Dear Heavenly Father,” and she goes through. When she’s done, she looks up at her friend. Her friend has this very strange look on her face. She said to her, “Well, I hope the prayer was okay.”
The woman says: “No, the prayer was wonderful. I just could never pray that prayer because my father was such a…”—insert your curse word here. I thought: “My gosh! Earthly fathers can be a stumbling block for someone connecting with a heavenly reality. See, if you don’t care about this fatherhood issue—just for all the social science reasons—you should care about it because it has an eternal impact.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
You may never, in this life, be perfect like your Heavenly Father is perfect; but it still makes sense for you to be as good a dad as you can be. We’re going to talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I get tripped up on this “bad”—the word bad. I just—I never know what to make of it anymore; you know? Somebody says, “Man, that was bad.”
Bob: I just don’t know what they are talking about.
Dennis: It could be good!
Bob: Well, I saw this book, Bad Dads of the Bible. I thought, “So, are they bad; or are they bad?” You know? I don’t know.
Dennis: I think they are bad. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay; alright.
Dennis: I think they are bad, and they are not all that bad. They still passed on some good legacies. Let me just give our male listeners a heads-up—and maybe some moms, too, who are listening as well, looking out for the next generation. What we’re going to talk about today is going to motivate you to want to do something about being a man—
—if you’re a man—because the guy we are about to introduce to you is electrifying. He’s going to motivate you. Roland Warren joins us on FamilyLife Today. Roland, welcome to the broadcast.
Roland: Well, delighted to be here, Dennis.
Dennis: Roland is the current President and CEO of Care Net which is the nation’s largest network of pregnancy resource centers. He’s appeared on Oprah’s show, The Today Show, Dateline NBC, Fox News Channel, and written for The Washington Post and The Wall Street—
Bob: And now, he’s reached the pinnacle of his media career. [Laughter]
Dennis: —Wall Street Journal, and now, FamilyLife Today!
Roland: It was all a climb to get to you, Dennis.
Dennis: It was. It was. [Laughter] He lives in Maryland with his wife, Yvette; and together, they have two grown sons.
You gave leadership for a number of years to the Fatherhood Initiative. This whole thing of being a father is something that is on your heart and imbedded in your life. Take us back to your dad and really how this all started in your life.
Roland: Yes, it’s a really good question because people, all the time, ask me: “So, how did you get focused on this fatherhood stuff? When did you start doing the work?” I tell them, all the time, that I started fatherhood work when I was probably seven years old and my family split up. My mother had four kids under the age of eight, and she left my dad.
Dennis: Where’d you grow up?
Roland: I grew up in Toledo, Ohio.
Dennis: Why did your dad leave?
Roland: My parents were essentially teen parents. My mom got pregnant when she was 16/17—something like that. And they got married and it went well for a bit. I was very young. So, I don’t remember all of that; but I do kind of remember him not really being there. My dad was life-of-the-party kind of a guy. When he was there, you knew it. He was one of those guys that came in and would energize you. He just started not being there. So, they started having problems in their marriage. Eventually, my mother said, “That’s it”; and she packed us up. I was the second oldest. She packed us up, and she moved out.
Bob: From age seven on, what was your relationship with your dad like?
Roland: Gosh, I hate to say it this way; but it’s accurate. It was kind of a veneer relationship. You know, you put veneer over plywood—it could be mahogany, it could be whatever—and it looks really good until you peel it underneath. That was really our relationship.
We really didn’t talk about deep things. I think, at critical points of my life coming up, he wasn’t really around. I call them holy days of fathering obligation—you know, birthdays, graduation, stuff like that—he was there, but in terms of doing life deeply and connecting, heart to heart, he wasn’t really there.
Dennis: When a dad isn’t there, a boy ultimately grows up to become a man who is wounded.
Dennis: There are scars that occur in a man’s life. How would you say you were wounded by the whole set of circumstances?
Roland: I have a saying—I say, “The kids have a hole in their soul in the shape of their dad.” If their father is unable or unwilling to fill that hole, it can leave a wound that’s not easily healed.
I learned—over the years doing work at National Fatherhood Initiative—
—I was basically on a couch for twelve years—basically working on all my issues—[Laughter] ——but, you know, I was a wounded soul. There are just thousands and millions of wounded souls around this issue. I mean, only someone who should love you deeply can hurt you deeply. I think, when you have a situation where a father—or a mother for that matter—doesn’t connect with you, it’s absolutely going to leave a wound.
Dennis: So, what was one of your wounds? I mean, one of the most—maybe that impacted you most, as a man, husband, father.
Roland: I think probably the biggest thing was difficulty with vulnerability. I was actually thinking about this a couple of days ago—more a sort of “Go your own…”—sort of isolation kind of perspective. I just really started to close in. I was thinking about just some critical disappointments recently that I had in my life and remembered that I didn’t talk to anybody about anything.
I have to tell you a story which will connect the dots to this. I always try to tell these stories in a way that’s respectful to my dad—
—because, in a lot of ways, he was a great guy; but he just kind of missed it on this particular piece. I remember when I was—I guess I must have been—my mother had recently left my dad, and we’d moved to a new place. I remember my father telling me that he was going to come and get me for ice cream or something like that. I remember that. I must have been—I was probably like maybe 8 / maybe 9—somewhere in that range, right—fourth/fifth grade——somewhere in that range. I told some friends on the block that my dad was going to do this.
So, we are all waiting by the curb. He was supposed to pick us up at 5 o’clock or something like that. I remember sitting out there with my friends, and 5 o’clock becomes 6 o’clock. They just kind of drift off—I’m sitting there, under this big tree in front of our house,—
Dennis: By yourself.
Roland: —by myself. He never showed up. I remember thinking to myself: “That’s it. I’m done. I’ll never let this happen to me again. I’ll never allow myself to kind of emotionally put myself out there like that.” I think, even as a kid, I grew up with that kind of—
—it sounds like independence, but it’s really not.
Dennis: That’s protection.
Roland: Absolutely, you just won’t let people get close to you. So, it took a while. Fortunately, I have a great wife who really helped me in a lot of different ways.
Here’s another little story that also illustrates the point. When my oldest son, Jamin, was about three or four, I started having a difficult time hugging him and kissing him. Sounds maybe bizarre, but it just felt weird to me. So, I went to my wife, who is a Texan, by the way, and very direct. [Laughter] I said to her—
Dennis: I was going to ask you, “What does Texas have to do with any of this?”
Roland: You’ll see in a minute. You know, “You don’t mess with Texas.” [Laughter] So—[Laughter]
Dennis: We’re getting the picture!
Roland: You get the picture. So, I went to her; and I said, “Hon, I just don’t—this hugging and kissing stuff—I just don’t like it.” She just looked me straight in the face and said, “Well, you’re just going to have to hold your nose and do it because they need it.”
You know, I had the presence of mind to listen to her because I knew, deep down inside, that they did. Intellectually, I got there. So, I started hugging them and kissing them.
Over time, it got better and I was able to do it. Now, they’re 31, 28. I hug them and kiss them all the time. It’s not a real issue, but what I realized was that I was about to pass on a legacy that I had inherited. See, when I was a kid that age, no one hugged and kissed me. That wasn’t modeled for me.
It’s difficult to be what you don’t see, and it’s difficult to give what you didn’t have. As a result, I was about to pass on something—and my kids would be ones that were sitting here, at whatever age, saying, “My dad never hugged me, never kissed me,”—that kind of thing—and not because of something that was wrong with them—but because of something that was wrong with me.
You know, when I think about that absence—a lot of guys don’t really go there because, if you do go there, you’re going to have to go to some places that are painful places. You’re going to have to deal with the fact that you were rejected by someone who should have loved you like no other. If there is a wound there—and I think for a lot of guys—that’s a very, very emotional place to go. It’s easier just to discount it. If you do that, a lot of times, you’ll end up being a guy who does exactly what your father did—
—which is not connect with your kids or abandon your kids because, in order for you to connect, you actually have to realize, “That wasn’t good what happened to me”; you know?
Bob: You wound up at Princeton—
Bob: —played football for Princeton for four years.
Bob: So, you are an achiever. You’re working hard.
Roland: Yes; yes.
Bob: And your path to fatherhood happened a little more quickly than you had planned.
Roland: That’s right. Yes, that’s right.
Bob: And you start your book by telling this story.
Roland: I do because it was a link to a potential bad dad mistake in the making; but yes, my girlfriend, at the time, got pregnant—it’s my wife, Yvette, now. We ended up getting pregnant.
Here I was—a guy who grew up without a dad—and now, was basically replicating what had happened with my father and my mother. We decided—despite folks who were trying to encourage us to have an abortion and just kind of make the whole thing go away. We, by the grace of God, decided to have our child—our oldest son, Jamin. We’ve been married for 31 years, as a result of that.
Bob: And you decided that why? Because you see the default position in that moment would be what you saw modeled—what the culture is encouraging—somehow, you said, “No, I don’t think that’s…” Your wife said it, and you agreed with her; right?
Dennis: In fact, I wonder, “Why were you not a victim?” because a lot of guys, who have grown up without a model, could just play the victim card and say: “You know, I don’t know what this is all about. Let’s hit the eject button.”
Roland: You know—there’s kind of—to Bob’s question and yours—there’s kind of an interesting answer to that on two fronts. One, I longed to be married. You know, I used to watch television. I’d watch shows like Good Times and The Brady Bunch, and I wanted that. You know, the culture was such that there was still a high sort of marriage ethic that was there. My grandparents were married.
So, for me, when we got pregnant, there wasn’t a big question about what the right thing was. I kind of knew that, and there was a desire in my heart for that—but the other thing, though—going back to your question, Dennis—about the victim thing.
I thought about that a lot too. When I was with National Fatherhood Initiative, we did a lot of work with incarcerated fathers. One of the things that I figured out, by going into prisons and talking to guys who are incarcerated, was that there wasn’t a big difference between them and me. Most guys who are incarcerated are growing up without dads. They have the same hole.
But for me, what I did, in order to get my father’s attention, was focused on achievement. That was my deal—so doing well in football and doing well academically. So, the path I went on was an achievement path; but you meet the wrong people at the right time, I could have been on another path.
For some guys—you know, their path was gangs or some other types of things; but the source of all that is this desire—to be affirmed, to be loved, to be connected—and to have that kind of affirmation. You know, outside of God’s design, it can take you a lot of different places.
Bob: Did you have surrogates?—coaches, or mentors, or teammates, or guys who stepped in and played the role?
Roland: Well, I had a stepfather, who came along at a very important time.
Most of my firsts that I had—that would be dad firsts—my first pitch, my first baseball mitt—those things—he stepped along. So, it was great there. Then, I had coaches, along the way, at different points, that came along in the line that really helped me at different points in my life. But there is not—there is not a long-term and sustained person that was there the way that a father should be.
Dennis: So, where were you and God in the midst of all this? I mean, when did He show up in your life and you recognized He showed up? I’m sure He was there on numerous occasions as you grew up.
Roland: Our family was a churched family. My grandfather was a pastor. There were ministers on my father’s side as well. So, we were always “churched.” Every year, I went to church camp; but I guess the real time when I really owned it was probably my junior year of high school.
I went to a Catholic high school—and my big red Catholic Bible. I had a coach that just came on board for one season. I never saw him again after that year. He really discipled me during that year and that was when I kind of say that I really made the decision to really walk with the Lord.
Dennis: I just want to say, at this point, Bob, your question talks about other men intersecting a young man’s life that can mentor him / they can coach him—as you just said this coach discipled you.
The Stepping Up® video series is designed to collect men together so that men and younger men can rub shoulders together and find out what it means to be a man. That’s really what happened with that coach. He began to disciple you, not only in the Scriptures, but how you could step up and grow up as a man; right?
Roland: Yes, absolutely. And that is so critical that you have people that step in. You know, at the time I was going through it, I didn’t know any of this that was going on—you know, this patchwork of different folks that came in at different periods of time. I have to tell you, though, even with that, I still always longed for a dad. I longed for a dad that would connect.
So, I try to help people understand is—that God can be a father to the fatherless.
He is; and really, in a lot of ways—obviously, as Scripture says—but He doesn’t want to be. That’s why he gives you fathers. There is a role for that guy that’s the father of that child to be stepping in their life in a very big way, and it’s hard to really replace that.
Dennis: So, in the midst of—your losses, the wounds, the scars, and the hurt you felt as a young man growing up—you assumed the mantle and responsibility of being a husband. You got married; and then, of becoming a dad. Is that really, do you think, what ultimately drew you to write a book about Bad Dads of the Bible and go study some of the most famous dads of Scripture who didn’t do it all right either?
Roland: Yes, that was part of the path. I mean, I think one of the things that certainly drew me to the fatherhood work—because I had worked in the corporate world—was this hole in my soul and this desire to help folks, maybe, not make some of the mistakes that I made, you know, coming up, for sure.
But what really brought me to the bad dads concept was that there was sort of a misconception out there that:
“If you helped a guy become a good Christian, he’d automatically become a good dad.
My son told me something that I thought was really powerful. Jesus started with men’s ministry. And with men, you have to call them and then you have to mission them: “You, in the tree, come down,” “You, with the nets, drop those.” He calls them; and then, He missions them. I think, when it comes to fathers, you have to do this same thing. You have to call to them, and you have to mission them.
What I found, more often than not, specifically, around helping men be better fathers, that wasn’t happening. There’s a big difference between being a father and a man. Manhood, in a lot of ways, can be very self-centered. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I mean that you’re focused on “yourself.” That’s kind of the way that it is, but fatherhood is other-centered in a way that manhood is not. In some ways, it’s not intuitive for men to do that.
So, the culture—and specifically, from a Christian perspective, folks that are focusing on men’s ministry, have to call specifically to men and the roles of fathers. You have equip them and engage them to do that.
So, I found that that wasn’t happening and that was—
Dennis: I really like that because I think it takes a man to call a man—not that a man can’t respond to a woman—he can—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with—but it takes an older man to step into a guy’s life and say, “Step up!”
One other comment I want you to make, and that is you really went to the Scriptures to study some of the most famous dads of history to discover the patterns of where they blew it so that those of us who are still in the process of being a dad—whether you are a dad of toddlers or all the way to adult children—you can learn from the mistakes of others.
Roland: You absolutely can. And there is a reason—certainly, from a biblical perspective—why you want to be focused this way. My wife had a friend of hers whom she had taken out to lunch some years ago. It was a beautiful spring day, and they are out having lunch. My wife is one of those folks who will—certainly, wants to bless a meal. When she does, she prays for everything—mosquitoes are God’s blessed blood-suckers. [Laughter] I mean, she really has a gift for that.
So, she’s got this friend, who is not a Christian. She says, “Can I bless the meal?” She says, “Sure.” So, my wife launches into this prayer. She starts, “Dear Heavenly Father,” and she goes through it. When she’s done, she looks up at her friend. Her friend has this very strange look on her face.
She’s like: “Oh my gosh! Did I offend her? What happened?” And she says to her, “Well, I hope the prayer was okay.” And the woman says: “No, the prayer was wonderful. I just could never pray that prayer because my father was such a…”—insert your curse word here. This was even before I went to work for National Fatherhood Initiative. I thought: “My gosh! Earthly father can be a stumbling block for someone connecting with a heavenly reality.”
See, if you don’t care about this fatherhood issue—just for all the social science reasons—you should care about it because it has an eternal impact. When you look at the Ten Commandments, you see exactly this same thing. The first four commandments are about our relationship with God.
Roland: The last five commandments are about our relationship with man. The fifth commandment is this relationship about honoring your father and your mother.
I actually started to think about that from the concept of the cross; right? So, you’ve got the first four that are pointing up. The last ones that are kind of the cross beam—if you will—and then, that middle command that actually holds those two pieces together, like a cross—it’s that cross section of the cross—is honoring your father and your mother.
Where do you learn how to have that relationship with God? It’s supposed to happen around the dinner table. Where do you learn to have a right relationship with man? It’s supposed to happen around the dinner table.
If you think about that: “If you were going to make a cross, and you had two pieces of wood, and you’re going to nail them together”—there are two nails; right?—“you can’t do it. You can’t make a cross with one nail because it’ll just keep swinging around. With two nails, you’ll hold it in place.”
I really think, from a biblical perspective, that first nail—“Honor your mother”—is the nail that goes in—is biologically-constructed. It’s in there. God kind of put that one in deep for us. But the “Honor your father” one—really, the fatherhood piece of that is kind of one that the culture holds in its hand. It used to be—we just nailed that one in; but now, we kind of say, “Well, do we really need that nail or not?” It’s the disconnection of fathers.
I really believe, in a big way, that if the enemy really wants to make sure that we do not move into having a relationship with the Heavenly Father—and every movement that is seeking to sort of take us away from a Judeo-Christian ethic has fatherhood in its crosshairs. I believe that’s a key piece. So, if you don’t care about the social science data, you should care about it, certainly, from a Christian perspective—from the spiritual data. It’s a temporal relationship that has an eternal significance. That was one of the other reasons I thought it was really important to kind of get this information out there and write this book.
Dennis: And it’s interesting that, right before God goes silent—when the Old Testament closes and He goes silent for 400 years—His last words through the Prophet Malachi are these: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Lest, I come and smite the land with a curse.”
“Lest, I strike the land with a decree of utter destruction”—one translation reads.
Dennis: That’s a heavy pronouncement that really is upon the shoulders of dads to be connected to their kids.
Bob: Well, and it really points us to the awesome responsibility we have, as dads, to shepherd the next generation. Of course, moms are involved in that as well; but I think there is a unique role—a unique calling, I think, as men—we have unique responsibilities. And Roland, you really touch on the heart of these issues in the book that you’ve written called Bad Dads of the Bible: 8 Mistakes Every Good Dad Can Avoid. I want to encourage our listeners, “Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of Roland’s book.” This would be a great book for a dad to read around Father’s Day; right?
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. On the upper left-hand corner of the page, you’ll see a tab that says, “Go Deeper.”
When you click on that tab, there is information on Roland Warren’s book, Bad Dads of the Bible and other books that are available for dads for Father’s Day as well. You can also get in touch with us and order a copy of the book when you call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Of course, if we’re going to understand our roles as dads, we first do have to wrestle with our role as men. And Dennis, you wrote the book, Stepping Up; and there’s a video series that our team has put together—ten sessions to take guys through to help them understand what biblical manhood really looks like: “What are the core issues that define us, as men?” And our team is hoping that, this summer, some of our listeners will decide to take guys through the material.
In fact, here’s what they’ve agreed to do—anybody who gets the video series this week—you get the DVDs, and we’ll send you five workbooks at no additional cost. So, if you’d like to—this summer or next fall—take a group of men through the Stepping Up video series, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper left-hand corner that says, “Go Deeper”; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and just say: “I heard about the Stepping Up special offer. I want to take advantage of it.” And we’ll get you all fixed up over the phone. So, either way, we hope you’ll take a group of guys through this Stepping Up material. It’ll be good for them, and it’ll be good for you too.
You know, this issue that we’re talking about today—being the kind of dad that God has called us to be, as men, is really one of the core messages we have, as a ministry here at FamilyLife. We’re committed to calling men and women to, first of all, be rightly related to God; secondly, to have strong, healthy marriages; thirdly, to live out their responsibilities, as men and women, in a marriage relationship and in a family;
—and then fourthly, to pass on a legacy of spiritual vitality to the next generation. We want to effectively develop godly families who change the world, one home at a time.
And we appreciate those of you who share our passion for seeing strong healthy families developed in our country and in our world. And those of you who support this ministry, financially, we’re grateful for your financial support. Right now, when you make a donation to support FamilyLife Today, your donation is going to be doubled. We’ve had some friends of the ministry come along; and they have agreed to match every donation we receive, between now and Father’s Day, up to a total of $410,000. Obviously, we are excited about the opportunity that provides for us.
So, would you consider going online today, at FamilyLifeToday.com, click the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I Care,” and make an online donation, knowing that that donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar?
Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone. We do hope to hear from you. And thanks, in advance, for your financial support. We really do appreciate it.
And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Roland Warren is going to be here again. We’re going to talk more about good dads and bad dads, and how we can avoid the mistakes, and how we can do what we ought to be doing, as men. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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