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What Fathers Need to Know
Copyright 2006 Cole’s Poetic License
Effects of the Subconscious Mind on Fathers
Many fathers grew up without fathers of their own. As a result, they have no subconscious clues to guide them in day to day interactions with growing, changing children. Some react with raging voices and punishment to regain a semblance of control. Others withdraw into silence and distance.
Girls who grew up with mothers train their children as they were trained unless they make a conscious decision to do exactly the opposite. Even then their mothers’ words slip off their tongues unwonted.
When my teen-aged daughters started swearing at each other in a grocery store parking lot I yelled at them, “Stop that! You sound like a couple of fish wives.”
Their mouths dropped open. “What’s a fish wife?” one asked. My words in the heat of the moment were not mine. They were my mother’s and grandmother’s. We all laughed at my attempt to answer her question.
Silent and absent fathers leave their sons no phrases or ideas to rebel against and then later repeat to their children. Worse, the sons have no foundation for their identity. They seek it instead on the street or on the battlefield.
Stepfathers of sons usually have two strikes against them: 1. Competition for the mother and 2. Confusion about their power in the relationship. If they don’t recognize these strikes to begin with, they suffer the pain of helplessness. None of us likes to feel helpless and out of control. It enrages us. Children often arouse that feeling and get the brunt of the rage.
Mainstream American Culture
In a highly competitive society, fathers often find themselves competing with their growing sons. Sons, seeking their own identity and respect, reject their fathers even as they compete with them. They NEED fathers to push against. Absent or silent fathers do not provide the essential battering ram boys need to form their specific identities.
According to the National Society for Fathering, the average age that sons most dislike their fathers is 17. This is both normal and healthy. Unfortunately, most fathers don’t recognize the importance of this period of dislike. Too often, love is the last feeling fathers and sons let themselves feel for each other or express.
Stories abound about famous men and their sons. Kirk Douglas loved and competed with his two sons. Only one, Michael, competed with him enough to equal his success. The other died in middle age from alcohol-related disease. Michael turned out to be as famous and respected as his father. At middle and old age these two are free to love each other.
My father loved all three of his sons, but only two competed with him successfully. However, he wept with love when the son who did not compete came home from the war. It was the only time I saw my father openly express his love for a son.
Our former president, George Bush, loved his sons, too. One competed the most and became president, too. But the competition continues beyond middle and old age. When George senior was president, George W. said in a 1989 interview, “I have to make a fairly big splash in the pool for people to recognize me. My pool has been expanded so much because of who my Dad is. The advantage is that everybody knows who I am. The disadvantage is that no matter how great my accomplishments may be, no one is going to give me credit for them.” (Newsday, Long Island newspaper)
To compete with his father, George junior had to behave outrageously—be more decisive, more bullish than his father had been as president.
George senior maintained the competition as evidenced by his presentation to Ted Kennedy of the 2003 George Bush award for Excellence in Public Service. The award announcement praised Kennedy as an “inspiration to all Americans”. (10/18/03 Boston Globe) Certainly Ted Kennedy’s principles do not resemble those of George W. Bush. In similar subtle ways George senior shows his disapproval. (He is now friends with Bill Clinton.)
This father-son ongoing competition is pretty well hidden, yet bits and pieces sneak out to the press often enough to know it’s still active.
Recognition of the role of one’s subconscious mind can ease the resolution of conflict, rendering conflict unnecessary rather than unavoidable.
The poets of San Luis Obispo, California conducted an informal survey at the local Farmers’ Market. When asked the question, “How well do you know your father on a scale of one to ten, 100 randomly selected adults answered:
With one standing for “Who?” and ten for “very well” 11 respondents chose 10, 7 chose 9, 15 chose 8, 12 chose 7, 3 chose 6, 3 chose 5, 17 chose 4, 9 chose 3, 13 chose 2, 10 chose 1
The younger the respondent, the more likely came the question, “Which father?”
One comment that came back by email seemed most typical. An adult son wrote, “Both my bio dad and step dad are gone from this earth. And I never really knew either one. They were men troubled all their lives and suffered ‘John Wayne Syndrome’!”
Another: “What an interesting question. I neither knew my father nor my father-in-law despite years with them”
The National “Write-to-your-Father’s Day” one week before Father’s Day encourages an end to silent suffering, to John Wayne syndromes, to bitterness and loneliness. Writing letters to fathers whether or not they are still alive, whether or not there’s a known address, changes the writer for the better. And delivered letters change the fathers.
Here is one that came by email. This writer didn’t ask his father the prescribed question: “What do you do that is most enjoyable, most scary, most exciting, and most satisfying?” Because he was one of the few that chose number ten on the scale, he felt that he knew the answers. Feel what happened, though, when he wrote to his long dead father:
How is the weather down there? I know it must be particularly hot this time of year. I was asked by someone how well I know my father. I know you well enough to know that if they have an air conditioning concession down there, then you have total distribution rights and you have by now probably cornered the market on ice cream as well.
I am sorry it took me so long to write. If that poet had come up with her “Write Your Father” holiday earlier, I would have written you sooner. I hope you do OK down there. I know it is probably too hot for you to throw those tantrums you used to throw when I would demonstrate my extreme absent-mindedness. I have not gotten any better by the way.
Remember how you used to call me all those names wrapped in epithets when I would forget something? Well, I tell you what, Dad. If you can forgive my absentmindedness, I will forgive you your tantrums. Let’s call it even. I love you as much as you loved me, Dad, and you know that is more than zero. Wishing you a hell of a time,
When a son knows his father’s love is more than zero, he knows something truly significant no matter how late he discovers it. When all of us recognize the role of our fathers in our subconscious thoughts about ourselves, we gain greater control of our lives.
Here is my list suggesting the ten best and worst things fathers do:
BEST TEN THINGS A FATHER CAN DO
1. Know himself to the core 2. Recognize his hot buttons 3. Recognize the source of his hot buttons 4. Accept his hot buttons 5. Feed himself–physically and emotionally 6. Forgive himself 7. Laugh with, not at 8. Walk a wavering middle line with discipline 9. Lead by example more than by words 10. Understand his child’s need to push against him at each stage of pending separation
WORSE TEN MISTAKES A FATHER CAN MAKE
1. Hit his children 2. Yell, shout, rant and rave 3. Apologize frequently 4. Lecture his children 5. Run away, physically or emotionally 6. Tease his children 7. Demand respect 8. Lie to his children in any way 9. Lie to himself 10. Berate himself
Happy write-to-your-Father’s Day. The holiday becomes official one week before father’s Day, June 11, 2006.