Growing Up With "Father Hunger"

Les AuCoin By Les AuCoin, 6th Jul 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Parenting

A kid without a dad at home makes up for it by being a real father to his own kids.

"Father" Is The Best Title I Ever Earned

One morning when I was in Congress, I stopped by a day care center. As soon as the director escorted me into the playroom, six or seven little shavers shot across the room, flung themselves at me, and locked on like barnacles to a ship’s hull.

Unable to move, I shot a look at the teachers, who unwrapped the boys from my legs. I played with the kids until it was time to head for my next stop. Before leaving, I paused in the hallway. The headmaster answered my question before I could ask. Thumbing over her shoulder at the playroom window, she said, “Those boys have no dad. At the age of four or five, as you can see, boys often crave contact with adult males.”

Her words sliced my heart. The boys were me! I was their very age when my dad deserted my family. The hole he left in my chest is still with me today.

On this Fathers’ Day, I’ve been thinking about those boys. I’d like to believe they got a step dad who taught them to swing a bat, or an uncle who explained how to dribble and shoot, or a big-hearted neighbor who showed how to play a fish. Or a same sex family that did something equally thoughtful to assuage “father hunger.”

In the Ozzie and Harriet Fifties, to feel severe “father hunger” was to feel the frigid breath of exclusion and inferiority, especially a small town like Redmond, Oregon. When my pal couldn’t come out to play on Sunday because his family was celebrating Father’s Day, I remember feeling quite like an outcast, mentally pressing my nose against his living room window, yearning to be inside and wrapped in the warmth of “normal” family bonds.

In my early high school years, when the athletic department held its annual “Father-Son Dinner,” my best friend’s dad invited me at the last minute to join him and his son. As I searched the tables, I could not find another fatherless kid. I felt like a waif on alms.

It’s possible that some of the day care boys spent a good part of their youth like I did: timidly keeping one's nose down, not wanting to make a single mistake that would prove one's "disability." Fortunately, I became an all-state basketball forward and peer acceptance followed. Yet, even after I ascended to a seat in Congress—even after I’d slayed most of my demons—I almost always appeared in public in a coat and tie. Looking back on it, I’m sure they were body armor.

Fathers, when your family fetes you on Sunday, remember everything you can mean to a child. When Sue and I started our family, I said to myself, Now I’m going to show how fathering is supposed to be done. If the abiding love of my children is the test, then I succeeded.

In an event-filled life, I've had a lot of titles. But those I'm proudest of are “father” and “husband.”

Every one of them had to be earned.


Boys, Boys In School, Divorce, Divorce And Kids, Family Love, Family Story, Father, Fatherhood, Lack Of Confidence, Single Family Home, Single Mothers, Single Parent, Single Parents

Meet the author

author avatar Les AuCoin
A retired US congressman & 45-year award-winning journalist, my work has run in the Washington Post, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Oregonian, Stars & Stripes and other major publications.

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