Battling effects of fatherlessness inspires Michael Fineman’s purpose

It’s no secret that fatherlessness is a crisis. Half of America’s kids are growing up without their biological father in the home. Those fathers who remain are many times aloof and distant.

The subject concerned Michael Fineman, and inspired him to motivate men to become better fathers through his platform at The Dad Link.

“The sting of fatherlessness never really goes away,” he explained. “I talked to men who were in their 50s and 60s who were still struggling from growing up without a father. Those men never heard their dads say how proud they were of them. They were still seeking approval from their fathers decades later.

“In prayer, I realized it wasn’t just the fatherless who I was passionate about helping. It was also the fathers who were not serving well in their role as a father,” he added.

Those men may have been in touch with their father on a regular basis. But, if he was not doing his job in fathering his sons, the damage occurred again and again. It is the father who instills identity in young children.

“I also had a heart for kids who could be considered ‘fathered-less,’“ said Michael. “I mentor young people every chance I get about how to receive God as their father. But when I was journaling about that, God showed me I was stepping on those fathers’ toes. What I needed to do was to come alongside those fathers and help them become the best dads they could be for their children.”

He was deeply saddened by knowing men and women who had been poorly fathered often had difficulty developing a healthy relationship with their heavenly father.

Historical breakdown of fatherhood

When people do not have strong, healthy relationships with their own fathers, it carries the sting of abandonment and rejection, Michael explained.

He studied the Great Depression and noticed a breakdown of traditional family. Prior to that, many people grew up on farms where fathers were present in their children’s lives every day. They would work together and eat together all the time.

During the Great Depression, some fathers could not take care of their families. As breadwinners, the fathers had a sense of responsibility to be the central provider.

“Out of economic necessity, fathers left the house looking for work they knew wasn’t there,” said Michael. “But, sitting home and facing their families as a failure was not acceptable in their minds.

“So, the destitute men would go out and sit with other men in hopes they would be able to pick up a little bit of work in order to get some bread for their families,” he added. “Because they could barely face themselves, the men didn’t have the ability to face or connect with their children or their wives. Fathers feeling like they were failing their families started the disconnect.”

The situation was exacerbated when fathers found work in factories and, later, offices. They left home at dawn and weren’t seen again until nighttime. On the weekends, the men were worn out from the stress of a job, said Michael.

The men who were gone all day where checked out on weekends, too. So, the father’s role devolved into simply being the primary breadwinner and chief disciplinarian. How many kids grew up hearing the words, “Just wait until your father comes home?”

“All the other important things fathers did for their families were left behind,” said Michael. “Children who grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II eventually became fathers themselves. Without strong role models, many men never learned to be good fathers either.”

Baby boomers produced the latchkey children of Generation X, who learned to fend for themselves because they were often alone. Then, when Generation X boys became parents themselves, they overcompensated for not being fathered properly by becoming too involved in the lives of their children.

“The term ‘helicopter parent’ describes fathers and mothers who hover over their children by smothering them with attention,” said Michael. “Even worse, men are being emasculated by society, and we’re paying for that right now. Boys who did not grow up with a solid father really don’t know how to be dads themselves.”

Different values

Michael said he grew up with a father who was present, but he wasn’t the father Michael needed him to be.

“To this day, many fathers don’t approve of the things their children do unless they believe it is what their child should be doing,” he explained. “My dad had a mindset that it was critically important to have a career and stay there for 30 years. Anything outside of that parameter was not really legit.

“I have so many entrepreneurial ventures in my life, and The Dad Link is just one of them,” he added. “My father never understood my passion for being in business for myself. When I’d describe what I wanted to do, his response was not one of approval.”

Michael said he has completely forgiven his father for everything their relationship has been through.

“Hopefully, he has forgiven me for my behavior through it all as well,” he explained. “The truth of the matter is I have a great relationship with my dad today.”

Struggling as a single-father

When Michael got married, his wife had three children from a previous relationship. So he jumped into parenting with both feet. Later, they had a son together. But, he admits he was not the type of dad he wanted to be.

“I tried, but I didn’t have really good father training myself. I didn’t know how to be a great dad,” he confessed. “I supplied all their needs and loved them in every way I could, but my discipline was very strict. I learned that from the way I was parented.

“When I was being strict with my children, I thought I was doing the right thing, and in many ways I was. But, I allowed my frustration and anger to be a part of discipline, and that caused a breakdown of trust.” he added. “Five years after we had a biological son, unfortunately, the marriage failed.”

Michael lost the ability to see his son for a short time while the case waited for a court date. However, that wait proved to be a blessing in disguise.

“The loss was so great in my life that it opened my eyes,” Michael explained. “I realized how much I enjoyed being a dad and I was passionate about pouring into the lives of my son and stepkids.

“But, some of the relationships beyond repair,” he admitted. “That loss made me realize two things. First, I love being a father even though I was always afraid of the role. Second, I want to be the best father I can be.”

The first step for Michael was to envision what type of man his young son would be when he was an adult. Then, Michael reverse-engineered the process to ensure it would happen.

“I developed the action steps I needed to help him become the kind of man I wanted him to be. But, that required me to look in the mirror and determine what type of man I needed to become first,” he explained.

“No matter what I said, my son was going to follow whatever I actually did,” he added. “I realized if I could not become the man of integrity, honor and self-discipline that I wanted my son to be, then he would probably never reach that place on his own. He would struggle in life without that framework.”

The Dad Link

One of the biggest travesties in society today is how fathers are portrayed in the media as being buffoons, irrelevant and in the dark.

“It’s sad to watch. The whole family seems to keep things from fathers who don’t know anything about what’s going on in their family’s lives,” said Michael. “It’s not true and we know it’s not true.

“We have an enemy, Satan, who is trying to break up families and eliminate the essential role of fathers,” he added. “Countering that is my motivation for creating The Dad Link, and I have started building it rather slowly.”

Michael joined an online mastermind group called Membership Freedom and he is being mentored by its founder, Vincent Pugliese, who is teaching him to build a powerful network of members.

“I am busy connecting with other men, speaking into their lives and helping them realize what kind of fathers they could be if they applied some solid principles,” said Michael. “I developed a website and launched social media platforms to connect with other dads wherever they may hangout online.”

He never turns down an opportunity to speak with others about the important role of fatherhood and sharing ideas on ways men can become better dads.

“I find myself meeting with men and women to talk about their kids. I love to brag about my kids and I want to hear about theirs,” said Michael. “I love to learn from other parents. By comparing stories, I realize we all face the same struggle with the same responsibilities. But, we are approaching the situation from a place of joy.”

Fathered by God

Sadly, the relationship many people have with their earthly fathers greatly influences the type of relationship they have with their heavenly father.

“If you didn’t trust your father when you were growing up, it is very hard to trust God,” said Michael. “If you were abused by your father growing up, then you often assume God has no love for you, only wrath.

“We can break that cycle when we understand there really is a perfect father who loves you and wants a relationship with you,” he explained. “God is not a figure in the sky, but rather a tangible being who can father you in all the ways you always need to be fathered.

“I don’t care how old you are. When you get a hold of that truth, it changes everything,” he added. “It brings you to a point of understanding.”

Michael said he learned how to be a father by watching the reciprocal relationship God had with his own son, Jesus.

“I saw instant obedience and I saw how Jesus only spoke of what he saw or heard his father do,” he explained. “I realized that boys, especially, are led by example. You can say anything to young people about what they should do, but they’re only going to do what they see you doing.

“I know my son is going to be an amazing father – better than I ever was,” said Michael. “My ceiling will be his floor when it comes to overall success in life.”

As his son gets older, Michael’s role is pivoting toward allowing the teen to fail.

“I tell him he is my son and, as such, it is my role to encourage him, teach him and guide him,” he explained. “Now that he is 17, my role is to allow him to fail. It’s hard to do, but a very necessary step.

“I started a process when he was about 12 or 13 to require my son to take on more responsibility. That means, he is going to make mistakes,” said Michael. “I can watch and see it coming. I can even point out the pit, but he’s still going to fall in it. I can’t stop him because he needs to fall into it.”

He believes that’s the only way his son will know to try again when he fails, but by taking a different approach the next time.

“He also knows how it feels to be redeemed after making a mistake,” Michael explained. “I realize I can’t pull him out of the hole every time. Sometimes I have to cheer him from the top so he can climb his way out. That way, he knows how to do it himself when I am no longer here.

“I want my son to truly understand even though I will not be with him for the rest of his life, I am going to be here for him the rest of my life,” said Michael. “It is essential that my son understand  when I leave this place to go to where my real home is, that he has the same access to God, the father, and his truth that I have now.”

Mothers unintentionally fall short

Many boys are being raised by their mothers today, and it shows. The moms are doing the best jobs they can to guide boys into men, but it is impossible for femininity to bestow masculinity.

“Mothers are nurturers, and they do exactly what they should be doing,” Michael explained. “But boys need to explore and experience tough lessons that teach them to become men.

“Once we become men, our role is to take the brunt of everything and shield our family from it,” he added. “We are made to carry the load because we are bigger, stronger and tougher. We are able to compartmentalize things going on in life.

“All those things women are complaining about in the media today are the very things that keep them safe and cared for,” said Michael. “If women would just see that, it would change family dynamics for the better.

“Women need to fall into their feminine role and men have to be in their masculine role. But, she needs to trust him enough to allow him to do that,” he added. “I realize why we have all these single moms, and women trying to take on masculine roles is because the men in their lives were not doing what they were supposed to do.”

For whatever reason, women didn’t trust, respect or feel safe being around men, so the women took on the man’s role, too. In fact, they were pretty much forced into it.

“I have been dating single moms and it’s hard for them to come into their feminine nature because they have had to be the provider, protector and all those things they were never build to be,” said Michael. “It’s hard for women to break out of those roles. It takes a real man to come in and change their mindset so they can just breathe, be themselves and be the nurturer.”

Men need support

Running The Dad Link is just a part-time venture for Michael, who still works a corporate job as he develops the platform.

“I have an entrepreneurial venture in speaking, teaching and things of those nature,” he explained. “But, The Dad Link isn’t something I really had a choice in starting. My passion was so strong and powerful, I had to move into it.

“I’ve been tiptoeing around it since 2017,” he added. “I have built a community of men who can come together in a safe place to talk, share with one another and hold each other accountable to their goals.”

Women have a plethora of groups in churches and in the community where they can support one another. Unfortunately, men often lack that same opportunity.

“It is difficult for men to be vulnerable in front of women,” said Michael. “We think we have to be careful about how much we show of ourselves even to our families. When men show vulnerability, they think it’s an expression of weakness. As a result, they think their families may not feel safe or well-protected.

“A lot of men just hold in their fears and concerns. They were taught from a young age that big boys don’t cry, so they hold it in and act tough,” he added. “They are suffering as a result.”

Michael explained the suicide rate has gone up considerably among married men, pastors and businessmen – all people who portray an image of strength and success on the outside, but are desperately in need of love on the inside.

Some people think that’s ridiculous because men have always led hard lives. They are right in that men always worked tough jobs. But, those men always had the support of their communities and the admiration of others to lift them up.

Today, shouts of “toxic masculinity” are often lobbed at men who try to act like men. Boys are taught at a young age they need to be more like girls by just sitting still and paying attention. Boys who don’t are often medicated to make them more compliant. A quote circulating on social media suggests a recurring cycle:

  • Hard times make hard men.
  • Hard men create good times.
  • Good times make soft men.
  • Soft men create hard times.

“I don’t like to use the term ‘safe space,’ but I want to create a place where men are welcome to be strong in their masculinity, but also able to share their struggles with another man who may be older or who has already been through a lot,” said Michael. “With so many men growing up without genuine fathers, they really need strong mentors who understand what they’re going through and can guide them appropriately.”

Mentoring younger men

“In order for our ceiling to be the floor for the next generation, we need men who are willing to share what they have with others,” Michael stressed.

He recalled doing a speaking series a few years ago titled “Time is on Your Side.” He would talk about exceptional business leaders who did great things in their careers, but devoted their older years to mentoring younger people.

“The graveyard is the wealthiest place on the planet,” said Michael. “That’s the resting place for writers who were never published, speakers who never spoke, people who never advanced their ideas and, more importantly, where history and wisdom disappear, like grandma’s recipes.”

Society has already lost so much compared to life 50 years ago. Society has lost manners, chivalry, industrial skills and even conversation.

“People don’t even communicate any more. They would rather send a text to someone sitting across the room rather than engage in conversation,” said Michael.

“We all know fundamentals and old school ways will never fail. Yet, younger generations always want to do things differently,” he explained. “They don’t have a real plan. They just want to do it differently. So they come up with all kinds of great ideas, but many of them fail miserably because they lack structure and guidelines.

“For a good majority of kids today, society and their parents have failed to prepare them. Kids have been told what to do and what to think, rather than shown how to do something or how to think,” Michael added. “When we take structure, guidelines and wisdom to the grave, younger generations will never get the information they need to be truly successful in life.”

Mentoring doesn’t need to take place in a formal setting, like a classroom. Younger people may not even know what questions to ask, so it’s up to older men to frame knowledge in a way that makes sense.

“Mentoring comes through relationships,” said Micheal. “It can take place on a boat when fishing, or sitting next to someone on an airplane.

“When you lecture people all day, then they’ll catch 10% of it. But, if you are side-by-side with them doing a task, then they’ll pick up and retain even more – especially boys,” he explained. “Whether it is getting groceries, going to the beach or spending a day in the woods, if you are side-by-side with kids, you have an open door to really pour into their lives.”

Mentoring doesn’t just apply to teaching kids. Younger people will come into a business, church, civic clubs, etc., but they still need to be mentored.

“Really, if you’re over 50 and on your way to retirement, there is no danger to your career if you teach someone younger how you arrived where you did,” said Michael. “Talk to them about the hard work you put in, and teach them the value of hard work. All those things are lost today.”

Michael finds opportunities to mentor teenagers when possible. Because his son is on a basketball team, Michael can encourage other players and remind them of their successes in spite of the final score.

“I remind players not to look at things they messed up doing. For example, I will point to a successful layup to provide encouragement and boost their confidence,” he explained. “I may be the only father-figure in their lives who will speak life into them.

“I know who they are because they’re the ones coming up to me after a game to say how well my son performed. But, I know they aren’t coming to me for that,” he added. “They are coming because they know I’m going to encourage them, too, and give them approval. So, I make sure I provide it.”

Being an older dad

Michael is 54 and his son is a very athletic 17-year old. That has created several challenges, but in a good way.

“I was out of shape for a long time, but I’m starting to get in shape now,” he explained. “Yes, I have some wisdom to share, but I’m also learning every day. I will never stop learning while on my quest to be a better dad.”

Michael is also modeling a more healthy diet and exercise program which he hopes his son will mimic for years to come.

“If you are out of shape as a parent or grandparent, I implore you to find a way to get in shape so you can play with the kids,” he explained. “It’s just as important for you to interact with your kids when they are older than it was when they were 2 years old and wanting to play with cars on the floor.

“When kids are in their formative years, you really need to pour time into their lives,” said Michael. “But the final stretch, where they are about to go out on their own, is just as important.”

That’s a stage when men can talk to young people about big, important issues. As mentors, men can help youngsters not only understand a global picture of the world, but explain how it was designed to look. There will be no shortage of volunteers willing to recruit young minds into unbiblical worldviews.

“I am an open source for communication. My son can ask me anything at any time,” said Michael. “He knows he can even wake me up, if he needs me.”

Michael has a simple test to show fathers how important they are to the lives of their children. It also applies to grandfathers.

“To teach fathers how important their approval is to children, I tell them to go to the playground with their kids. Then, close their eyes and bow their head for a minute,” he explained. “Then listen for how many times your child yells your name and asks you to watch them do something.”

A father’s approval – or lack of it – can have lifelong consequences on children.

“Without a father’s approval, boys will often strive to succeed. They’ll use success to gain approval of others. They may become highly successful, but very lonely,” said Michael. “Girls who don’t get approval from their fathers may go seek it from other men, which can be very unhealthy for them. Girls will often marry a man just like their father, so dads need to be the kind of man they want their daughters to marry.”

Advice for people over 50

Michael said there are many avenues for people over 50, especially men, to help younger people. Churches are a good starting point.

“There are very few men teaching in kids ministry. Churches would welcome strong men in a heartbeat,” said Michael. “Youth groups are always looking for men who command a certain amount of respect.

“When kids are being taught and trained only by women, it is hard on the women because kids can be disrespectful at times,” he added. “The women may be in authority, but children often respect men.

“Men are able to pour into the lives of children in ways women can’t. As soon as a man walks into the room, kids sense he is the alpha who commands respect from them,” he explained. “It’s the same way in the animal kingdom. Watch when a dog comes into a house. It doesn’t matter whose dog it is, eventually, the dog will go toward the man because it instinctively knows he’s the alpha.”

Michael recalled a study released in 2000 pertaining to elephants in South Africa. A new preserve was being created, but it was too difficult to bring larger male elephants with the herd, so officials only moved juvenile males along with the females.

After a short-time, the juvenile males were acting up by killing white rhinoceroses, destroying huts and crops, and assaulting female elephants. The behavior was confounding naturalists because it was highly unusual.

So, using heavy slings, three mature bull elephants were reintroduced to the herd. Within weeks, the bad behavior had stopped because the bull elephants started disciplining the juveniles.

“Eventually, the younger males learned by example how they were supposed to act, and the bad behavior never occurred again,” said Michael. “It just proves how valuable males are to maintaining the natural order of life.”

Older men can educate younger people on important life skills, too, such as changing a tire, checking oil or fixing a leaky faucet. All those skills were once readily taught in high schools, but are no longer part of the curriculum.

Connecting with Michael

People can connect with Michael in several ways: