Family relationships are important, worth the investment of time and energy they require. But, sometimes, it’s hard to get them just right. I am still trying to figure it out with my older son.
I think my heart is in the right place, but it seems I often wind up irritating him rather than really connecting. I keep looking for the balance between being there for him and stepping back, but I seem to miss the mark too often. Being a dad, I probably try too hard.
He came out fighting. The umbilical cord had wrapped around his tiny neck, cutting off the flow of oxygen. The doctors operated frantically, and soon an eight-pound baby boy was born, loud and energetic, and a little blue for a few minutes. At that moment, my life changed. I was a dad, and he was my son.
Not Quite So Simple
Relationships between guys are normally pretty simple. You say what you feel and like what you like; maybe that connects with the other guy, maybe not. Either way is sort of okay.
Not so with dads and sons.
Unlike most male relationships, the connections between a father and son can be layered and nuanced. You can love each other and be proud of, frustrated with, anxious about, and excited for each other all at the same time.
A young man wants to make his own way and show his dad (frankly) that he really doesn’t need him anymore, while the dad must deal with the mixed feelings this bitter-sweet aloofness brings. Being a dad means balancing a relentless drive to help with the son’s desire to go it on his own.
I was scared. He was mad. He had again broken the rules I had so carefully set. The events of the last two years had spawned fear in me as I watched the trajectory of his adolescence. Too often, frustration trumped the calm approach I had pledged to take, and soon I was yelling too.
Dropping the Baggage
Guys don’t normally carry baggage around with their relationships. They get mad at each other, but get over it. It’s fairly cut-and-dried, and neither of them dwell much on whatever happens.
But between dads and sons, there can be residual “stuff” that hangs around, some of it understood and some not, that subliminally nudges the relationship in conflicting directions.
My son and I had some tumultuous times while he was a teenager, and there must be some left-over stuff there. It catches me by surprise when it appears, such as when he says I am the only person who “gets to him.” I hope we can drop that baggage, including making amends if we need to.
I desperately want to be a good father to this young man and be there for him. Often, we have great conversations where we really connect. Other times, the talks sort of get away from us.
Being a Dad
I am trying hard with my son. I tell him I love him, and that works okay.
I tell him I’m proud of him, and that seems to be sinking in. My son, like most guys, doesn’t appreciate insincere flattery. It took him a while to internalize how much I mean it when I say I’m proud of him. I think he gets it now–I hope he does–because it’s true. I am very, very proud of him.
I want to be a good dad, including being the “right dad” for my sons. Sometimes, it’s harder than it seems it should be, but I’ll keep trying. We are on the right path, but still have a ways to go.
Moving forward, I want to keep letting my son know I love him, and I hope he accepts how unconditional that love is intended to be.
But I need to slow down, become more patient and less earnest, and let the relationship evolve as it will. Like it or not, he sets the terms now.
Such is the journey as a son becomes his own man. And it’s part of the job of being a dad.
Question: Is there baggage you need to drop in your family relationships?
Action: If you are a Dad, tell your son you love him. If you are a son, let him.