Almost all men yearn for a son. Often, however, fathers clash with their sons and end up being closer to their daughters. When the sons become fathers and the fathers become grandfathers, such clashes can end up affecting the closeness of the whole family unit.
Some insights can be gained by looking at how the father-son relationship evolves and changes.
Early Father-Son Relationships
Father-son relationships typically go through several stages.
When sons are young, they tend to idolize their fathers. Many fathers also take great pride in their sons.
As their sons grow, fathers may expect them to exhibit behavior that is traditionally masculine. Fathers may be disappointed if their sons fail to share their fathers' interests. This scenario is often played out in the realm of sports, but it may also involve lack of interest or ability in other traditionally masculine fields, such as fishing, hunting or automobiles.
When the sons enter adolescence, they often become the ones who are dissatisfied with their fathers. They are searching for their own identities, which often means rejecting their fathers' patterns. In addition, they experience the urge to make their own decisions, which may bring them into conflict with both parents.
In this effort to create a separate identity, sons often fail to appreciate their fathers' accomplishments.
Fathers may be stung by their sons' lack of respect for their hard work and achievements. One father with a successful career observed with a touch of bitterness, "My son doesn't want my job. He wants to start out as my boss."
How Fatherhood Changes the Relationship
When a son becomes a father, his attitude toward his father often changes, moving in one of two directions.
Sometimes the new father gains an appreciation for the demands of fatherhood and recognizes the effort that his own father put into parenting. Typically parent and son become closer.
Less often, young fathers filled with adoration of their offspring wonder how their own fathers could have been so seemingly unfeeling. Those in this group may fail to recognize how much our concept of masculinity has changed in a relatively short time. Not long ago, child care was largely left in the hands of mothers while fathers focused on jobs and careers. When a father did interact with a son, he might be harsh or might try to "make a man" of his son. Many fathers never openly professed their love for their children.
When the son becomes a father and the father becomes a grandfather, often the grandfather has mellowed a bit. Although the son may joke about how much of a pushover his father has become, the son may also be more at ease with a father who is more laid back than his younger self.
We've all known the "man of few words." Some of us have lived with one! Individuals differ, of course, but men typically use about half as many words as women to negotiate their daily lives.
In addition, especially when around other men, men use words for a special purpose, to establish their status. That's why when men are together, you'll frequently hear teasing and put-downs. That's why almost everything they do, from grilling a steak to watching sports on television, rapidly acquires a tone of competition.
These male patterns affect the father-son relationship. Sometimes something that really needs to be said goes unsaid. And the verbal sparring that passes for normal discourse among many men can be hurtful to the father-son relationship when one party or the other takes a remark to heart.
The Role of Shared Interests
When fathers and sons have a good relationship, they often engage in a slightly different pattern of communication, one in which they seek areas of commonality.
It helps when the generations share interests. Often fathers and sons share traditional hobbies, such as sports, hunting, fishing, cars, guns and motorcycles. Sometimes they share an interest in cooking, gardening or crafts.
Another pattern of father-son communication involves advice-giving or learning from one another. Helping each other with household projects is a great bonding activity. Sometimes fathers and sons share financial strategies or investment advice. Another hot topic for discussion is work, with father and son often comparing notes and "war stories."
Many fathers and sons do talk about relationships, but some are uncomfortable with the topic. .
Hints for Stronger Relationships
Because adult children have their own families, they may be less invested in maintaining relationships with their parents. It may, therefore, fall to the older generation to nurture their relationship with adult children.
Every family is different, but It helps to understand some of the causes of conflicts with adult children. These hints may help, too.
- Grandfathers who would like a stronger relationship with an adult son should look for some common interest they can enjoy together.
- It's natural to want to share one's accumulated wisdom, but grandfathers should avoid the urge to hand down wisdom like a guru on a hilltop. Generally speaking, if a son wants advice, he will ask for it.
- Grandfathers should look for opportunities to give authentic praise. Even adult sons hunger for praise from their fathers.
- Just as fathers and sons often compete against each other, the competition between male siblings often lasts a lifetime. Grandparents should always avoid favoritism, but favoring one of their sons over another can be really toxic.
- If a grandfather doesn't approve of a son's wife or significant other, he should try not to show it. A recent study of family estrangement showed that criticism of a son's partner is a significant cause of family breakdown.
- Grandfathers should share their love for their son and their son's family. If they are uncomfortable verbalizing their feelings or can't find the right moment to do so, a letter, card, email or text message will work.
- If unresolved conflicts or old hurts are sabotaging the relationship, it's essential to address them. Often these situations can be sorted out with a few words if both sides acknowledge that harm was done and that they wish they could do things over and do them better. More serious conflicts may require some type of counseling.