Monday, August 07, 2006

Fathers and Sons

If there is one thing that completely baffles me, it is the relationship between fathers and their sons. I cannot wrap my mind around why it is that sometimes they just do not get along. However, I will attempt to gain more understanding on this subject by reviewing the case. In my limited experience of the workings of the father-son relationship, I have gleaned a few facts about it. One, fathers expect a lot from their sons. Somehow, all that is wrapped up in being a man, all that it took the fathers themselves years to learn and digest, should immediately begin to take root when a son reaches pre-adolescence. As Aristotle puts it, "Men have a natural desire to leave behind an image of themselves." Unfortunately, too often I think the father imagines he is a much better example than he really is and therefore his expectation of his son's excellence becomes even more unreasonable. I don't say that to judge, but simply to point out that children pick up the bad habits of their parents twice as fast as they pick up the good ones. This is all the more true in sons, who really do idolize their fathers as masculine role models, to an extent that I think even they do not realize. This leads me to my second observation, that sons cannot bear to disappoint their fathers. A young boy's reaction to the expressed disapproval of his father is usually to cry, but as the boy grows older he no longer feels he has this recourse. Therefore, his frustration at his perceived inability to please his father vents itself in fits of temper and defiance. Should the son be honest with himself about why he feels the way he does about his father? Sure he should, and he should also keep in mind St. Paul's injunction in Colossians 3 to "obey your parents in all things;" in trying to please his father, a son's true aim should be pleasing God. In rebuking his son, a father should take even more to heart St. Paul's words, "Fathers, provoke not your children to indignation, lest they be discouraged." Parents have the responsiblity to encourage their children in virtue, and they must take into account the impact their words or actions have on their children. After all, they are adults, whereas the children are just children. However, the third thing is that it is extremely difficult for men to express affection for each other, and when applied to the father-son dynamic already discussed, this may prove the solution to the strained situation that results from both parties' natural pride (as a side point, Dr. Phil has said that one of the key facets of the male character is pride--and though I will not attempt to argue that men are prouder than women, it certainly does solve a lot of things to consider that most men do struggle to keep their opinion of themselves very much afloat). Fathers simply must tell their sons that they are proud of them, that they have done a good job, that their efforts have been noticed, that they love them ultimately, or else they are failing in their job as parents. I know that the confidence I have in the world stems in no large part from my dad having given me these words of encouragement, and it pains me that he has such trouble doing the same for my younger brother. I can try to see why, but I still find it unfair. My mom cannot make up for this lack on my dad's part, because it just isn't the same to have a mother's esteem and affection. Although equally necessary, there is always a sense that mom loves you just because she is mom and it is her office to love, whereas with dad it is more because you have proven yourself. This too is a delighful illusion, because a good father's love is as unconditional as a good mother's. On the other side of the coin, sons should also make an effort to tell their dads that they are sorry for their failings, that they look up to them and need their help, that they love them as well. I don't know how this may be done, to be honest, but from my womanly perspective I can't see how a relationship between any two people can thrive without at least occasional words of love, in some form or another. So to conclude, life is hard. Life is hard for boys and men, and it is also hard for women who must perpetually resist the impulse to tell them what to do (which is exactly what I have done here). If there is anything men cannot stand, it is to receive commands from a woman, so always phrase it as a request or suggestion. That one came out of nowhere. Ok, and with that, my "deep" thoughts have come to an end. :)

_~Sylvia

11 comments:

Fidelio said...

Merry Christmas, Sylvia.

:-D

Baron von Winchester said...

I did not read your post because I do not like the topic. That is just how strange these relationships are; men usually do not like them addressed in such an analytical way, and it makes me uncomfortable to try to read what you said. So I didn't. Not that there is a problem with it or that it isn't interesting or good etc.

bakerstreetrider said...

Interesting, though I hold that the father-son relationship is not as weird as the mother-daughter. Mothers seem to want to leave behind an image of their husband just as badly as men want to leave behind an image of themselves, but in this case it encourages coddling, not harshness. Most mothers I've known want a son more than a daughter, and are much easier on their sons than their daughters.

Mothers seem to try to instill their own emotional issues in their daughters, while trying to avoid doing so in their sons.

healthily sanguine said...

I don't think parents try to instill their emotional issues in their children. It just happens.

healthily sanguine said...

Jonathan, I can see where you're coming from . . . I guess one of the reasons I chose to write about this is that sons go through all of this agony when they're growing up, and then they go on to commit the same mistakes when they get married and have kids. The cycle has to end somewhere, doesn't it? It takes deliberation and deliberate action not to follow in your parents' footsteps, because naturally you will end up a lot like them.

Baron von Winchester said...

That's true, and growing up I've always made a point of remembering my experiences so that when and if I became a parent I could try to recall them and be a better parent since having a good understanding of your children would make a world of difference. And I have good parents, but they always say, and one usually can learn and figure out ways to improve.

It may be impossible to do impeccably, but I have always thought and certainly intend to not repeat mistakes as much as possible, and constantly remind myself to stay focused on this amongst other things if I become a parent. It can never be easy!

Geoff said...

That's a phenomenal post, Sylvia. You hit a lot of nails right on the heads. An excellent book you might like to peruse is "Wild At Heart: Discovering the Secrets of a Man's Soul" by John Eldredge. He and his wife Stasi did another one along the same lines for the XX-chromosome contingent. "Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul." They're written by non-Catholic Christians, but are very down to earth in their wisdom, and hey, truth is truth.

ATB said...

From my (limited) perspective, to try to posit certain problems in such a universal way seems an overgeneralization that I am uncomfortable with. Within my own life, the situation was far different than what you describe.

Concerning yor comment about pride, I believe that you are pointing to something very true. Consider Col 3:18-19:

3:18. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as it behoveth in the Lord. 3:19. Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter towards them.

Eph. 5 is similar. The man is commanded to love. The woman is not. That is simple because women by nature give love. They don't need to be told to. They also need love.

The woman is commanded to submit. This is an issue of respect. The woman is commanded to respect the man. This is because men by nature give respect and men seek respect. The author I read about this (Thanks Sarah for leaving the book out) insited that in a marriage, the woman is to give uncondition respect as the man is to give unconditional love.

Ah, the mysteries of life.

fwgruber said...

J.M.J.
Sylvia, I think that your post addresses an important and timely topic, considering the overall crisis of fatherhood in modern society. I would like to respond to several points in your post:

A. "Fathers expect a lot from their sons."
I think that this is true, but more so if there are fewer sons. In large families, the burden of the sons to live up to the father's dreams is divided to some extent.

B. "Fathers simply must tell their sons that they are proud of them, that they have done a good job, that their efforts have been noticed, that they love them ultimately, or else they are failing in their job as parents."
I agree that verbal affirmation is helpful, but it must be sincere and it ought to be earned. The father that does not correct and admonish his son when necessary is failing in his vocation as a father. (I say “vocation” because fathers are called by God to be an image of God the Father to their children. It is so much more than just a job.)

C. “I can't see how a relationship between any two people can thrive without at least occasional words of love, in some form or another.”
I think there is much to be said for the so-called “languages” of love. Acts of service and time spent together are important ways that fathers and sons show affection without words, though I agree that words of love should not be altogether dispensed with.

D. "sons go through all of this agony when they're growing up, and then they go on to commit the same mistakes when they get married and have kids. The cycle has to end somewhere, doesn't it?"
A wise old Benedictine monk once explained to me that if a son does not forgive or resents the faults of his father, then he will be put on a downward spiral toward imitating those same faults in himself. If a son forgives his father's faults, that puts him on an upward spiral towards transcending the faults in himself. I suppose that this follows from the nature of forgiveness and of sonship. Biblically, sonship is likeness to the father. Now, forgiveness involves separation of the evil done from the person who commits the evil. (cf. Ps. 102 "As far as the east is from the west; so far hath he removed our iniquities from us.") When the son refuses to forgive his father, he identifies his father’s fault with his father. Then, as he matures in his sonship, he comes to be similar to his view of his father, i.e. with the same vices. On the other hand, when the son forgives his father, his image of his father contains only the good and so he is able to mature as a son into the image of his father, overcoming the faults his father had.

E. “If there is anything men cannot stand, it is to receive commands from a woman, so always phrase it as a request or suggestion.”
This is an interesting point. The reason for this perhaps is twofold:
1. Men might be too proud to be willing to accept commands from a woman.
2. A command from a woman implies that the man would not respond except to a command; that seems to leave less room for a man to manifest love, i.e. to show that so much does he love and care about the desires of the woman that he would gladly fulfill the mere suggestion or request from the woman.

healthily sanguine said...

Fred, those are some great insights! I really appreciate your words of wisdom; although all of it hit the mark, the part about forgiveness especially struck me, as it certainly extends into mother-daughter relationships as well (and probably mother-son, father-daughter relationships too, though obviously not in the same way). I hoped my post would spark such criticism and reflection, because I spoke from the depths of my ignorance and was aware while writing it that I was likely committing the error of hasty generalization, as Andy aptly pointed out. Geoff, I will look for that book, it sounds like a good one.

Geoff said...

Fred, two very valid points. But as a priest I know expounded upon Ephesians 5.... Point 3: Men are stupid and have to be told. ;)