THE LIFE CYCLE OF FATHER-SON RELATIONSHIPS
D. Charles Williams, Ph.D.
you ever noticed how children want to be just like their parents when
they are young, nothing like their parents when they are teens, and then
become just like their parents for better and worse when they become
adults? This could not be more evident than in the relationship between
fathers and sons. From the evolution of childhood through older adult,
predictable stages occur in the way sons view and relate to their
fathers. The acronym that will be used to capture these evolving stages
children, sons idolize
their dads and think they can do anything. This identification is most
often demonstrated by a son’s imitation of his father’s behavior by
walking like him, talking like him or wearing his clothes or shoes. At
this age, a son wants so much to please his father and receive his
approval and acceptance.
sons experience a period of discord
in which conflict is the central theme they share. They often reject the
expectations, values and directions their fathers have embraced and take
on more non-traditional philosophies, placing them regularly at odds
with one other. The teen may resent or even fear his father depending on
the intensity of their differences, at times, carrying over into the
son’s early twenties.
As young adults,
the father-son relationship enters into a period of evolving.
Distance may still exist emotionally and they may even ignore each
other. The conscious attempts at being different than one’s father so
characteristic in the discord stage begin to appear more like
competition. Competition with another can be viewed as one of the most
indirect but highest forms of flattery that exists. Mark Twain once
said, “ When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I
could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be
twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven
in their 30’s and 40’s, sons begin to move into the stage of acceptance toward
their fathers. They have begun to forgive, recognize strengths and even
admire the qualities that once seemed so out of step with their previous
“know it all” manner of thinking. They begin to accept each
other’s differences. Fathers and sons often become friends during this
time, share common interests and express opinions without heated
exchanges. The son may even experience challenges as a father with his
own son. Charles Wadsworth once said, “ By the time a man realizes
that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s
50’s, older adult sons become a legacy
of their father’s influence for better and worse. Time tempers painful
memories and in their place often remains admiration and respect for the
difficult job being a father must have been. Older adult sons who have
not yet resolved those issues with their elderly or deceased fathers,
however, typically see them replayed with their teenage or young adult
sons. If elderly fathers are still living, an ironic role reversal
occurs with older adult sons beginning to take care of their aging
fathers. Perhaps the best revenge is to live long enough to be a problem
to your children.
Life gives us
numerous opportunities in key relationships to learn from our
experiences, work out our differences and pass on those legacies that
are truly worth living.
pass through these stages of idolizing, discord, evolving, acceptance
and becoming a legacy, is an “ideal” goal for every father and son.
Dr. D. Charles Williams is a psychologist and marriage and family therapist in private practice with the Atlanta Network for Individual and Family Therapy in Dunwoody, Georgia. He is author of the book, Forever a Father, Always a Son: Discovering the Difference a Dad Can Make