It’s hard to be a father, and I can say that with confidence because I have made it hard for my own.
Part of the reason is that I’m flawed. But part relates to a paradox at the heart of the father-son relationship:
- Good fathers want to teach their sons.
- Good sons want to make their fathers proud.
- When good fathers teach or correct their good sons, the sons feel that they have failed to make their fathers proud.
This line of thinking may be wrong, but it is powerful. The more desperate you are to make your father proud, the more unavoidable is the sting of correction. I know I have rejected my father’s attempts to teach and help and correct many times because of this sting, or because of a desire to please him by figuring things out on my own.
This is foolish of course, and all along he wants to give instruction and I need to receive it. But it is also true that he does respect me more when I do things for myself, and our relationship does improve based upon my independent mastery.
What is the solution? As with most paradoxes, I don’t think there is one. Some level of “breaking away” must always cooexist with “coming together” where father-son relationships are concerned. But at least by understanding each other, my father and I can bear those cycles with patience.