The Father Effect: Why John Finch Dedicated His Life to Help Us Heal The Father Wound

One of the basic facts of life is that each of has had a father and a mother. Most men and women can picture our mothers in great detail, but our memories of our fathers are more vague, shadowy, and troubling. That was certainly true for me. When I was five years old, my mid-life father became increasingly depressed because he couldn’t make a living to support his family. He took an overdose of sleeping pills and ended up in a mental hospital.

John Finch had a similar experience with his father, but with a much more tragic ending. In his book with Blake Atwood, The Father Effect: Hope and Healing From a Dad’s Absence, he begins with a letter he received from his father on April 10, 1979:

To My Darlin Wife & Sons whom I dearly love,

I couldn’t do something illegal & immoral to get money to pay the bills. It would hurt you all so much more and God might not forgive me. I know of no other way to keep from hurting you more. I don’t understand why other than from my own weakness that this has come to this. I ask for your love, forgiveness, and pray for God’s forgiveness. My last thoughts are of each of you and I pray that each of you Pattye, Larry, Scott, and John will live this life in truth and love and that you will know that I truly loved you with all my heart.

All My Love,


John was eleven years old on that tragic day and he remembers his tears as a forty-year old man holding a picture of his lost father. “It’s not the picture itself that makes me cry. It’s knowing what I now know about my dad: how the lack of a father in his life led him to make many bad choices that eventually sent him to prison and ultimately, I believe, drove him to suicide.”

I first met John through a brilliant film he made about his father, the day he took his life, and how it impacted John and his family. He also interviewed many experts who help men and women deal with the impact of lost fathers on our lives. You can learn more about the film and the book here: Contrary to what you might think, the film and the book are full of hope and healing with lessons for the millions of men and women who have grown up with a physically or emotionally absent father.

I believe there is one problem that surpasses all others in its impact on men, women, and society. It is the father wound. We focus on the importance of mothers in determining the well-being of children. However, the father wound, resulting from physical or emotional absence of the father, has been largely ignored. The father wound may be the most pervasive, most important, and least recognized problem facing men and their families today.

“Kids have a hole in their soul in the shape of their dad,” says Roland Warren, past president of National Fatherhood Initiative. “And if a father is unwilling or unable to fill that role, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed.”

According to the National Center for Fathering, “More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.”

The father wound impacts four critical areas of our lives:

  • Our physical health
  • Our emotional health
  • Our relationship health
  • Our social and political health

The effects of growing up without a loving, engaged, father ripple through the generations and contribute to many of the most serious problems we face in our society today including:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Depression and suicide
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Sexual addiction
  • Poverty
  • Divorce
  • Crime
  • Broken marriages

In order to help people, we need to understand why most people don’t recognize that they have a father wound or that it is the cause of many of the problems they experience in their lives. It’s difficult to believe that childhood trauma can be at the root of problems that occur thirty, forty, or fifty years later.

The life-long impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has been demonstrated in landmark studies by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that have been conducted over the last twenty years. According to the CDC, “Adverse Childhood Experiences have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death.”

The father wound, whether the result of a father’s physical or emotional absence, is one of the critical ACEs that have been largely overlooked. As a result, millions of men and women suffer from physical, emotional, and relationship problems, but are not aware of the causes.

John Finch has made it his life work to heal the father wound and to help others heal as well. In his book, he describes the father wound this way:

It is something a father has said or done (or hasn’t said or done) that has left a lasting negative effect on the child.

The wound can be inflicted in a shocking variety of ways Finch tells us:

  • A dad can hit a child.
  • A dad can curse a child with his words.
  • A dad can set impossible-to-achieve expectations.
  • A dad can work too much and justify his time away because he’s financially supporting the household.
  • A dad can be home all the time but emotionally checked out, more interested in checking e-mail than in being intentionally present with his wife and children.
  • A dad can even be physically and emotionally present, yet never say the words every child needs to and longs to hear from their dad: “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” and “I believe in you.”

“The father wound shows no bias to male or female, or to age, race, or religion,” says Finch. “No matter who you are, what you do for a living, or how much money you make, if your father hurt you by effectively abandoning his duties as your dad, you’ve suffered a father wound.”

There are two important things we need to know about the father wound. First, fathers who wound their children were themselves wounded as children. We must accept that we were wounded, but also learn to forgive our fathers for the wounds they inflicted. Blaming ourselves or blaming others perpetuates the wound. Second, it’s never too late to heal the father wound.

John Finch was in his forties before he began the process of healing. I was in my fifties. Many of us never realized we were wounded. Other’s knew we experienced trauma as children, but didn’t recognize that our later problems in life were directly related to those childhood wounds. Still others knew they were wounded, understood that their childhood wounds were related to their adult problems, but didn’t feel there was anything that could be done to heal now.

Often, we don’t deal with the father wound until we’ve lost our fathers, but healing can occur at any time in our lives.

Many of us believe that the past is the past and can’t be changed. But, truly the past is always present in our lives and the father wound is waiting for us to heal it whenever we are ready. I look forward to hearing your own experiences.

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  1. Charles Halderman says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I can relate. I had an emotionally unavailable father. I left home 28 years ago. He’s never called to ask how are you, I love you, I’m proud of you. I was that way with my children. I’m currently in therapy and praying, working on my relationship with my children. As a result of my actions my marriage is in trouble. I pray that it is not too late. I pray that God can heal my wife’s heart. I’ve forgiven my father. God Bless John for bringing this to our attention.

    • Charles, Thanks for writing. The father wounds can devastate a relationship and often lie hidden until there is a major problem. I, too, pray, that you can regain your true self and that your wife recognizes that healing can occur and your marriage is worth saving. My own book, From Madness to Manhood: Healing the Father Wound You Never Knew You Had, will be out next year. Its my own story of healing and how I healed the wounds and saved my marriage. If you’re on my mailing list or check on my website, I’ll have details on how people can get it when it comes out. Hang in there, my friend. The healing is worth it.

  2. Thank you for opening this topic that is deeply troubling and glossed over – I have never liked the term “daddy issues” jokingly used in mainstream society.
    My father was verbally and emotionally abusive as well emotionally and physically not there when he was feeling ” happy”. His father, my grandfather, was a tyrant. My mother was neglected by her father and thus was taken away as a baby to a home for children. She chose my father. Then she chose my stepfather who was very tough on me and my brother and set such a high bar of expectations so we would fail time and again and then he could show his superiority as he was very successful. I then was in a relationship with a man and we have 2 boys. His father was angry a lot of his childhood. The father of my children left when our boys were 1 and 3 and then moved to Europe when they were 5 and 3 and barely sees or speaks with them now. My sons are 11 and 13 and I have put all these pieces together a few years back about this perpetual father wound that has been on a repeat cycle. The pain that I feel for my son’s future and well being is tremendous at times. I feel very guilt. I want them to feel Whole and loved and able to show up in their lives fully and be able to be in an all in loving relationship if they decide to get married and have children. As a mother watching and raising her sons, it’s not all the mother and her fault. The hole of a father missing is a very big piece in children but it is so interesting how as my son’s get older they seem to be getting numb and don’t feel it or notice it really that their father is not there. Thank you for giving voice to this silent and invisible wound. I wonder how much of industrialized society has contributed to this. ( I have a brother who has been greatly hurt and damaged by this but his story is not mine to tell). Namaste

  3. Larry Potts says:

    I fell that I may have caused this in my children because of my history. They are currently 29, 27 and 25. How do I change this and turn it around?