The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Father and Son

Last year I read a book called “Manhood” by Steve Biddulph and I would heartily recommend it to any guy who has wondered about what his role as father, husband and worker is all about, and why he feels his life just doesn’t match up to how he thought it would turn out. As middle-aged-midlife-crisis-man, it felt like it had been written especially for me.

I would refer directly to some of the stuff in it, but my copy seems to be on permanent loan to 30 and 40 something guys I know. As soon as it comes back to me it ends up being lent to someone else.

However, seeing my father in shop window reflections since I got the hat (see last post), and reading BStrong’s moving post last week has had me mulling over one aspect of Biddulph’s book in particular.

A son’s relationship to his father is a very powerful influence on how he turns out. Many men spend their entire lives trying to live up to their father’s expectations and others spend their entire lives kicking against the old bastard.

According to Biddulph’s experiences through many workshops, about 30% of men have such a dire relationship with their father that they have absolutely nothing to do with him and haven’t spoken to him in years. Another 30% are in contact with their father but every time they speak it breaks down into a blazing argument. 30% more are in relatively frequent contact with their father but conversation never gets deep or significant. It never really progresses much beyond talking about the weather, the match or everyday stuff.

Apparently only 10% of men actually talk of their father as a friend, someone for whom they have the greatest respect and a great relationship.

Only 10%

I would love my relationship with my father to be in that 10%, but truth be told it isn’t. We don’t fight or argue, but he has always been distant. Many times I have tried to bridge that gap, and we have had the occasional deep and emotional talk, but it has always come from me, and he has always been guarded about revealing himself. That’s part of who he is, how he has responded to his upbringing and the events in his life. His relationship with his own father was caustic and hostile, so at least he made progress with us.

But what does this 10% figure say about our chances, as fathers, of having the kind of bond with our sons that we intend? How does it all go so wrong?

When Rogan was born, my sense of fatherly pride was overwhelming. I knew that I was going to show him how to live life to the full, how to make the most of his talents, how to be a good person, how to be successful in any endeavour, how to be an inspiration to others. In other words, how to be the kind of guy I wish I could be.

But what happens as they grow up? Where are we as fathers? We are working all the hours available to try and provide for our children. We are tired when we get home and just want to watch the TV, eat and unwind. By the time we are feeling human again, the kids are usually in bed. So instead of being this guiding light, teacher, inspiration and mentor, we end up being a distant figure that moans about the bills and is frequently grumpy. Not the role model we ever intended to be.

By the time our son is a teenager and turning into a man, right at the point when we feel we have so much knowledge that we could impart to make his life so much easier, we find that we don’t have the direct influence we expected. He will be making his own, often completely stupid, decisions and will refuse to take our advice. The relationship breaks down further, all our great intentions have vanished into the ether, and the time for being the kind of father we always meant to be has gone forever.

My son is now 10 and is one of the contributing reasons to why I sold my business and we changed our lifestyle so completely. I remember last year when he turned 9 and all I could think was “Nine? How the bloody hell did he get to be nine? He wasn’t yet three when I started up my business!”

So now I’m trying to be more a part of his life, but already I can feel my influence slipping. Puberty is in the air and he’s not so keen to give me a hug, be tickled, or say hello to me in the playground when I go to collect Meg from school.

I remember my mother once saying to me that you don’t really get to know whether you’ve brought your kids up right until they’re about 35. Then you can see how well adjusted they are. Of course it’s a bit late by then to make any corrections.


BStrong said...

Nice post Kim.
One of the things that I always think about is how the relationship between my father and I would have progressed if my father hadn’t died when I was young boy. True, I was 14 at the time of his passing; already a teenager, our relationship with each other was extraordinarily close. I say extraordinary because I can remember my friends always complaining about their dads, which at the time bothered because I can recall thinking “at least you have a father”. I never once had any ill words about my dad; he was my best friend and hero. I always wanted to grow up to be just like him. But, who’s to say that if my father was alive today that our relationship would have been as strong as it was 20 years ago, I often wonder.

I am still trying to learn today who my father was even though I spent my first 14 years with him. I know my father as a father, now I want to know the person. My father had many friends and when ever I run in to one of them his name is usually brought up in glorious light. I always ask the person to tell me about him and if they can recall a specific interaction or story about him.

I can tell you that I am like my dad in many ways but I guess you can say I’m a modern day version of him. I suppose we had the typical family for the times where my father, a business owner, would go off to work while my mother raised us. He would leave about 8am and return home for lunch and dinner and then go back to the store until 9:30pm. My sisters and I would see my father for about an hour to an hour and half for dinner then maybe 30 minutes in the evening because after he would come home from a long days work he would eat something and unwind for a little while and then head to his home office to do more work. However, Sunday was the day when he would spend all his time with us, whether it was going to the football game or spending the weekend on our boat, he always made sure to be our dad. I suppose dads in those days were not responsible for many of the parenting duties that a mother and father now share.

I can only dream that my father and I would be in that 10% that share the closeness you speak of in your post if he were alive today.

Pardon me for the lengthy comment.

Ramana Siddharth said...

ur posts are so introspective and leave a lot of food for thought.u heard the song father and son.luckily i have a solid relationship with my dad.even at 23 i do very few things which my old man does not know abt!

i welcome u 2 visit my blog if ur interested!

Kim Ayres said...

BStrong - thank you for your long, but thoughtful comment. By the sound of it I'm sure the relationship with your father would have been in that 10%. Too often there are people in our lives who, only once it's too late, do we only realise that we really wanted to know more about them. I am glad you managed to enjoy the time you did have with him.

Siddharth - thank you for your comments. I have been to your site and left a comment. I realise that there is much that I could not follow because of my lack of cultural references to Indian life, politics and cricket. However, there was still much to be enjoyed and I shall be back :)

Lord Lessismore said...

Kim, there's about a dozen things I want to say but they all distill into "excellent post." It's very hard for me to come to grips with how defining the father-son relationship is, particularly now that I'm on the responsible side. I was incredibly angry at my dad for about 30 years and only in the last 5 years of his life did I loosen up and meet him on his terms a little more. We were far from best pals -- not quite in the 10% -- but, by the time he died, I had at least put all of the anger away and was able to love him for who he was.

Now I have two boys five and almost two. The eldest had a wicked couple of years after the youngest was born and I raged at him frequently. Then I started to see my father in my behavior and it was like a slap to the face. He still tries my patience but I try to take more deep breaths these days. And occasionally, if I let him, he can baffle me with how smart, funny, and insightful he can be.

Your post was a good reminder for me to "stay the course" and a good reflection of what's at stake. Thanks!

PS: Will you be getting a kick-back from all the sales of "Manhood" you generate? Based on your recommendation, I'll definitely be picking it up.

Kim Ayres said...

Thank you for your comment Lord Lessismore.

I have also found it frightening just how much we fallback into a default discipline reaction to our children when we first become fathers. Under stress we end up reacting the only way we know how - the way our parents reacted to us when we made them angry.

Pretty soon this becomes habit and unless we catch ourselves and make the conscious effort to change, we can end up continuing the cycle.

I'm not on any commission for the book Manhood, although maybe I should look into that ;) But if you enjoy it, you'll probably get a lot out of another of Steve Biddulph's books, "Raising Boys"

Anonymous said...

what of the fathers who want to parent but are denied. does the child suffer from the absence of this bond and hopefully positive experience. who does have the right to deny the child of his father especially when the father wants this role

Kim Ayres said...

Anonymous - I would prefer you sign with some kind of name. I allow the anonymous function on this blog so that some of my less technically literate friends can leave comments, but I always ask that they at least leave a name so that I know who it's from. If you will not give me the courtesy of a name, then why should I give you the courtesy of an answer?

However, it is an interesting comment so I will give it some thought and perhaps write something about it.

Anonymous said...

forgot to sign off

mamma mia

Charlie said...

Too often (most often), male issues take a back seat to the female. A way, way back seat.

This subject, of course, is one of them, and you have read my essay about my father, the man who never was.

Another is male child molestation (other than headline), incest, rape, and abuse. I was amazed, in a not good way, when men would open up and talk about these horrors in my mens' group in drug treatment.

I had a female "professor", however, who sniffed at the notion that these things occur.

I am off the subject, but thank you for referring me to this essay. You are a learned, thoughtful man.

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