I really love my dad. He is a good man.

Odd though, I cannot remember my dad ever playing baseball with me as I was growing up — and I loved baseball. I played a lot of it with my brothers and friends, but not with dad. And growing up, I also loved school; it was my thing, but I cannot think of any conversations with my dad about school, or any particular excitement from him about my academic accomplishments, or about going to college. I pretty much went to the university alone, on my own, with my own initiative, my own encouragement and my own money.

I love my mom. She loved my so much as a little child. But the other day I was thinking about how challenging my teen years were, especially my years trying to negotiate my relationships with girls. There was an emotional gap in those years for me, between my mom and I, and we didn’t talk much about how to process life and emotions and love. We loved each other, but I cannot think of one time my mom ever talked to me about girls, about relationships, about dating or about what women need from men.

As I grew into manhood, I did so without having gotten all I needed from my family. I was loved, but I was in part, insecurely, and anxiously attached.

Sue Johnson, an expert in the field of attachment theory explains what I experienced. From birth, from our earliest years, “we have a wired-in need for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others.”

And when we don’t get that, when we are isolated, it messes with us. Sue explains. “Isolation—not just physical isolation but emotional isolation—is traumatizing for human beings. The brain actually codes it as danger.”

I experienced some emotional isolation in my teen years, and in my college years I actually became afraid of negotiating close relationships, especially with girls. And so my need remained. The research shows that the deep need and longing for a secure attachment never goes away. It just evolves, and the need of the child for the parent becomes the need of the adult for the lover.

Despite the deficit I brought along with me from my childhood, in my twenties I met a girl that met the need I had for emotional safety. She became my confidant, then my best friend, then my wife.

But our early years of marriage were rough. Like me, she came from a family where she didn’t get some of her very basic needs met, the need to be heard, to be loved and to be listened to. And so because of how we grew up, neither of us knew how to talk about our emotional needs very well. We battled. I was critical. She was angry. I tried to fix things. It made them worse.

What eventually helped?

We went through some hard things together — a birth of a disabled daughter, a dramatic career change, some medical problems — and we began to learn to tell each other how we really felt. We learned how to be broken, together, and to accept that as okay. Through difficult times we learned to listen to each other and to listen to our own needs, and to finally, just understand.

With a therapists help, I began to understand my own deep need for love, for connection, for attachment. My therapist helped me to learn to see that I was — like my wife — weak, vulnerable, helpless, needy, and to learn to be okay with that, and to communicate that, first to myself and then in my wife and to others. I learned to bond, over weakness, and to make being human, normal.

And it is at this level of weakness and vulnerability, that we really bond with other people, emotionally and deeply. At the level of complete emotional honesty, we become securely attached. This happens when we are safe to say and feel anything, without judgment or disapproval.

This is what we all need.

  1. Marilynn Calderon says:

    Amen.it’s our weaknesses not our strengths that bind us together. I’m not ashamed or afraid of that any more. God is good and we are precious in His sight. I do feel very vulnerable today. I miss my husband very much. But, I’m willing to suit up and show up today and see what God has for me. I have lots of loving people in my life to help when the going gets tough.

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