Why Are Men Often Silent? (Part 1)

"That’s my dad over there."  I looked and finally saw the gray hair gentleman sitting at a table, waiting for the next lecture to begin.  We were all at a preaching seminar in Austin.  (I was there Monday through Wednesday of this week).  The break was almost over and I was talking to a younger guy who I have known for a few years.  Seeing them together reminded me of a gathering a few years ago, where a friend of mine (a minister) brought his dad, who was also a long time minister.  It seemed that both of these guys had special relationships with their dads.


On the other hand, far too many males, are gripped by by the "Silence of Adam." (To borrow a book title from Larry Crabb).  Many males are passive.  They are emotionally distant from their children.  They tend not to be engaged emotionally with their sons or daughters.  It is not that they say the wrong thing to their children.  They just say nothing.


I hear the stories from lots of men.  Some of these guys had fathers who were (are) disengaged from them emotionally.  Sons in particular long for a "well done" from their dads.  Many guys never receive this.  Instead, they get silence. 

The silent father may never gives his son or daughter a "well done." The silent father may not allow his children see or know his heart. The silent father might back away from his children (emotionally) as they become adolescents.


This is one reason why the movie "Field of Dreams" was so emotional for a lot of guys.  There was a scene in the movie in which Kevin Costner steps onto the baseball field behind his house.  Out of the cornfield (which surrounds the ball field), comes his father.  Now his father had been dead for many years.  But at this moment, his dad has come back as a young man again.  He is dressed in a baseball uniform and is wearing a baseball glove.  Costner steps onto the field and realizes this is his dad.  There are few words spoken and then they begin to play "catch."  I was with a group a guys a number of years ago when this scene from the movie was being shown.  It was emotional for many of these guys–especially those who longed to connect with their Dads.  It was an emotional moment for me as well.


I don’t have sons but I do have two wonderful daughters.  When they were small, very small, I began thinking about this.  I did not want them to grow up with a silent dad.  Yet, I knew that silence would be the easiest way for me to function:


Silence is safe.
Silence is low risk.
Silence requires little or no vulnerability.


es, silence does feel safe–for me.  But for children, silence can be deadly.  A dad’s passivity and silence leaves a daughter or son or feeling alone and wondering if she or he is "OK".   A girl may grow up longing to hear from her dad that she is just right.  She may wonder about her competence, her beauty, or her worth in general as a young woman. 


Meanwhile, a young man may wonder about his competence as well.  He may wonder if he is an "OK" guy or if he is "different" from other guys.  He may wonder if he really measures up.  He sees other guys who are close to their dads and wonders why he and his dad are not close.  He is left to fend for himself in the confusing world of adolescence.  He is left as a boy to figure out his questions, his sexual desires, and the pressures he is feeling.  He may grow up with an emptiness and longing to hear a "well done."  Or, he may grow up and just become silent himself, repeating the deadly cycle all over again.


Thankfully, we are not doomed to repeat this cycle.  But–it must be intentional.  I can tell you this does not come "naturally" for me with my two daughters.   It has taken work, intent, and years of prayer.  It has taken a willingness to be uncomfortable at times in order to be the dad they needed me to be.  More later…


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21 thoughts on “Why Are Men Often Silent? (Part 1)

  1. Good topic with Father’s Day approaching soon. My father was a quiet man, but not silent on the things that mattered. I know that my relationship with him set me up to have an easier time with my relationship with God. For those who didn’t have this experience, my prayer is that they will find it with godly men in the church. I thank God for the mentors in my son’s life and pray for more to come.

  2. Very good topic. I thank God everyday for my Dad. My parents divorced when I was 5, but he was very invovlved. I moved in with him when I was 14. I remember always talking with my Dad and him showing us affection with hugs and a peck on the cheek(and still get these to this day and I’m 34). Even now, there is no one, save my wife, that I am closer to. I am so thankful because my kids now reap the benefit of what he sowed in me.

  3. You have described my dad so well that I have tears in my eyes. He never once hugged or kissed me and never once told me he loved me. After years of psychiatric help, I finally did as they encouraged and confronted him (by phone from a psychiatric unit.) When I said “You have never said you love me”, he replied “You know I love you just like that puppy out there playing in the yard.” I was 46 years old at the time. I am 62 now and he is long gone, having died from a stroke not long after that conversation. God always seemed so distant, cold and silent to me… so unaproachable. It was a full 10 years after my earthly father died before I realized that he was the pattern I was using for my feelings about my heavenly Father. I’m hear to tell you men out there to remember EVERY day that YOU are the patterns your children are using to form their feelings about THEIR heavenly Father. I’m still not completely comfortable with God; but thanks to some godly men in my church family, I’ve made great strides in that direction.

  4. Because I didn’t have such a great relationship w/ my dad (not adversarial, just sort of shallow), I’ve been very intentional about making a great relationship with my children. They are my best friends and we have tons of fun together, even to this day with them both adults. There are few people I’d rather hang out with than my children. And Janice has the same kind of relationship with them. We are blessed.

    Good reminder!!

  5. Thanks Connie–I think more and more godly men are going to have opportunities for friendship and ministry who will mentor and encourage young men within the body of Christ.

  6. Nancy,
    Thanks for sharing a part of your story regarding your dad and yourself. Wow…I think many, many people can identify with your openning lines.

    Thanks also for the reminder to all men regarding influence we are having.

  7. Thanks Rich for those words about a good relationship with your Dad.

    Thanks Greg–I am really big on the word you used–intentional…. Is that ever important on a lot of fronts.

  8. I am so thankful for the relationship I had with my dad. Daddy always let me know that he was proud of me in a way without saying a lot. Thanks for writing something that let me think of him.

  9. Jim,

    If you have not done so, you need to read “Wild at Heart” by John Eldridge. It deals with this subject in a masculine, emotional and profound way.
    We used that book for a men’s study at church and it opened a lot of hearts and allowed men to bond in ways I have never seen.

  10. What timing! A friend at work was telling me yesterday how she wished her husband and grown son could talk to each other and after going home and telling my husband about it he told me an employee of his voiced the same thing yesterday. This guy didn’t know what to say to his son who was headed for Iraq. I am so thankful for my husband and son’s closeness. But I understand the difficulty men have also. Thanks for starting the ball rolling on this need.

  11. Leadership Journal (Spring 2006) contains a cartoon with a men’s group, each man with a hammer in hand, watching a clock on the wall. The caption says: “Instead of discussing emotional and spiritual intimacy, the men’s group decided to hit themselves on the forehead every three minutes with ball-peen hammers.”

  12. Hollis,
    Your Dad was such a good man. I have great memories of him. I will always remember fishing with you and him one afternoon. So good to see you recently.

  13. I wonder if there are a couple of things at work here. The first is, as you say, that far too many of us men are silent. At the same time, I think we need to be careful how we judge “silence” and “closeness.” Too often, it seems to me, we take the way women relate as being the emotional gold standard and apply it uncritically to men. Men have a lot to learn about developing and sustaining relationships — with their children, with women, with other men — but being compared unfavourably with norms for women probably won’t help much.

  14. Alan,
    So glad you brought up the way a discussion of this issue sometimes compares men to women as the norm. I think you make a good point. Men and women are capable of sustaining good, healthy, close relationships with others though they may look very different.

  15. My father is silent. He has never voluntarily given any indication of his feelings for me and if questioned he clams up and makes me feel even less worthy.
    I feel alone. I work as an artist and now lead a hermitic lifestyle. i have no children nor girlfriend. recently I have quit drinking (4 years ago)I throw all my energy into my work.
    My father is slowly dying of stomach cancer.
    I tried to talk recently, but got the same old reaction. I don’t know what to do!
    Can you suggest anything? I live in France and have only seen him once in ten years.

  16. I know this is an old post but I just found it tonight.  The comment by Nancy (#3)…ditto for me.  Except my dad is still living but chooses to be a hermit.  I don’t know where my brothers are, and no one in my family is close.  There are seven kids.  I am completely disconnected from everyone.  Family, my dog, God, everyone.  I know God exists, but I think He has withdrawn from me and I suppose it’s because I can’t connect with Him or anyone else for that matter.
    I just wait until time ends…either through death or through when the Lord returns.  You get just so much of rejection in life and you shut down.  The best thing about blogging is you can be what people expect even if you aren’t a happy go lucky person inside, you have to at least be happy in your blog at least you have virtual "connections" with people.  It’s better than the alternate.
    I suppose I see God and Jesus the same way I see my family.  Disconnected.

  17. Invisible,I am so glad you wrote (sorry for the delay in any sort of response.  I have been in the middle of a death/funeral situation.)I felt sad after reading your comment.  From the description of your life, you must feel totally disconnected from most everyone/everything.  Anyway, I hope you will continue to comment on this blog.I do not know you or your family but strike me as someone who has something important to say about the sadness of being disconnected (and at the same time perhaps the value of being connected).I hope you will write again and give your opinion and thoughts on whatever is being discussed on this blog.Thanks.