Julie Ferman

Looking for Permission in All the Right Places
by Wayne M. Levine, M.A.
As a counselor and workshop leader, I specialize in helping men make important changes in their lives. Although I have worked with many men from different backgrounds and cultures, I have noticed a striking similarity in the needs of the men who come for help. Although unaware of it, they are all seeking permission to be the men they have always wanted to be. They look for validation in a number of places. They seek it from their girlfriends and wives, from their co-workers, from their children, even from total strangers. There may be temporary moments of satisfaction, but they soon fade. Marriages fail, jobs are lost, and others are to blame. Anger and depression are sure to follow. These men are in search of something more potent, more elusive and far more essential. They are seeking the approval of their fathers.

These men need to hear something from their fathers before they can move forward. There is a need to hear something very specific from their fathers that will enable them to release the firm grip they have on counterproductive behaviors. These behaviors are familiar, but they no longer serve them. Inside of these men is a burning desire to hear words of assurance from their fathers. They need to hear that it is okay, that they are good, valuable men worthy of happiness.

I have seen this gift-giving take place in counseling sessions with adult sons and their fathers. It is painful, awkward and extremely touching. I have seen a 50-year-ol “boy” finally say to his father that he is tired of being a second-class citizen, tired of taking a back seat to his long dead, “high maintenance” mother. He is tired of being a little boy in his adult long-term relationships. His father finally heard him. His father told him that he is a good man and he is proud of his son. In the end, his father told him that there is happiness out there for him and he would do anything to help him find that happiness. This son is one of the lucky ones. Perhaps now he can stop his futile attempts at pleasing his demanding fourth wife at the expense of his own self-esteem.

But what about the other sons? What about the sons whose fathers are gone, missing, or otherwise unavailable? Who will be there to give these men permission to be the men they have always wanted to be? Who is going to release those men from their unhappy lives filled with addictions, denial, excuses and lies? The only people who can give that permission to these men is other men.

Men need the support of other men. They may find this support in a male counselor who is comfortable with his own sense of being a man and specializes in men’s issues. They may find support from men in the community who are committed to working with and supporting men in their efforts to make changes in their lives. It can be a brother, a friend or a son.

Men need the father energy that is not available even from the most loving and caring women. A woman cannot give to a man what he yearns for from his father. It is a responsibility that can only be accepted by men who have the courage and the compassion to sit with the loss and pain of other men. They will tell one another that there is freedom awaiting them on the other side of the pain.

To the men whose fathers are no longer around, I say, “You have my permission. You have my permission to be angry, sad, or confused. You have my permission to make changes in your life and to be courageous enough to ask for help from other men. You have my permission to be happy. You have your father’s permission to be happy.”

Wayne M. Levine, M.A. is the director of the West Coast Men’s Center in Agoura Hills, CA, offering individual, couples and group counseling as well as the BetterMen weekend retreats for men. Wayne can be reached at 818-879-1600 or at www.westcoastmenscenter.com .

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