Saturday, September 25, 2021

“Like father like son: Every good tree maketh good fruits”

Issues that often come up in men’s careers or relationships can often be traced back to their relationships with their fathers.

Most father’s method of upbringing saddles their sons with a load of fear, weakness and self-contempt and growing up as adults they become haunted by their father’s hostile and impatient presence in their minds.  But even more striking than the obvious damage is the repressed longing.  Many men are love-starved for their fathers (and fathers for their sons) and deny it.  To let this out of the bag is to face a great deal of anger, rejection, and sadness.

Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says, “The father and son relationship may shape a young man’s attitudes, values and beliefs. It is one factor which determines his tolerance or prejudice, his behaviour towards women, his expression of aggression, his views of marriage, of divorce, of love, of sex-roles, of self-esteem. A father’s desire for his son is usually nothing but the wish to duplicate him so that such a noteworthy pattern of DNA lives in future. The only exception is a bad habit/vice in a father, which is never wished by him to be in his son. The father-son relationship can be a complex one in patches. Fathers and sons with widely different interests can find it hard, more often, to relate to one another. They may have different passions, age group and different hobbies.”

Adult men often try to pretend away old unresolved wounds but these hurts eventually resurface in other areas of their lives.  The unexpressed hurt and anger often transfers onto their love relationships, parenting, challenges at work, and problems with authority. Most men will try salvaging something of a relationship with “the old man.” They may still have a desire to address the damage, and try to have a more personal relationship with their fathers.

Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “Fathers provide kids with a broader diversity of social experiences and introduce them to a wider variety of methods of dealing with life. By stressing rules, justice, fairness, and duty in discipline, they teach their sons the objectivity and consequences of right and wrong. They give them insight into the world of men, prepare them for the challenges of life, and demonstrate by example the meaning of respect between the sexes. Many men don’t seem to understand how desperately their sons need their love, affection, approval, and verbal affirmation. Boys even need a certain amount of appropriate physical touch from their dads. There is a tendency among some fathers to downplay the importance of emotion, tenderness, and understanding in their interactions with their sons. This however, can be dangerous and potentially damaging.”

Father-son relationships are tricky and just as loaded with expectations and fears as mother-daughter. For so long, a son idolizes his dad. Most sons embrace their fathers as the biggest, strongest caregiver in their lives for years. However, there is a point at which this narrative gets challenged. A boy goes from wanting to be just like his father to wanting to be his own person. When a son realizes his father is just a man, mortal and flawed, he begins to assert his own identity and challenge his father’s authority and knowledge. A battle of ego and blooming manhood collides with wisdom and command.

All too often interactions between men breaks down into competition. This dynamic can occur even between fathers and sons. To a certain extent competition can be healthy, and everyone involved is the better for it. The real dark side of the father-son dynamic occurs when the competitive side of men becomes the dominant mode of relating. In the son it leads to a sense of shame, and not feeling good enough. The source in the father is, well, a sense of shame and not feeling good enough. The father likely grew up under similar relational circumstances with his father, and it is passed on inter-generationally. The cycle will continue until someone decides that there is a better way and breaks the cycle, or after the emotional consequences become too much.

This unfortunately is another cause of strained father and son relationships. Many young men ascribe to their fathers based on interpretations they have made about what their father wanted from them. Many men get stuck in this phase and see every part of their life as a competition. This can play out in many ways: men can become jealous of their girlfriend having been with another man and decide to break up a great relationship on that basis alone or competing with friends feeling the need to try to outdo them on the career front.

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