Decoding the Father Son Relationship

Tackling Dadding Like a Jedi

As Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will attest, the father son relationship is complex. For most of us, our relationships with our Dads don’t involve a history of deception and having our hands severed. Still, for many of us, fatherhood is mired in a long history of stereotypes that no longer serve us.

Darth Vader is the perfect example of the stereotypical father-figure from the past when men weren’t socialized to show their full spectrum of emotions – only anger and happiness were socially acceptable. If they did show emotions like sadness or fear, they were stripped of their hunting and mating privileges and expelled from the village (or in Vader’s case stripped of his lightsaber and expelled from the Death Star).

Thankfully, those days are over. We’re experiencing a quantum leap in both social roles and mental health. While it’s great for our kids and us, it can create father son relationship issues as traditional stereotypes about men and their familial roles are thrown out the window. While modern men are being encouraged to develop their emotional spectrum and exercise their touchy-feely awareness, their fathers are often stuck in a more traditional mindset. Cue the generational gap.

Depression in men

DADDING DEFINITION: The act of keeping a child alive and in one piece whilst appearing not to embarrass them with dad jokes and bad dancing.

The Evolution of Dadding

Let’s first look at where the concept of fathers comes from, and you’ll see that Dadding isn’t a static entity – it changes with the societal expectations that surround it.

  • Tribal & Neanderthal Forebearers: Secure attachment between a baby and their parent was (and still is) a critical component of development with life-long implications. While the caveman was out hunting, the cavewoman was developing this crucial connection with their cave-children to ensure the long-term health of the offspring. The father figure was irrelevant at this point, but the evolutionary link of the attachment between caregiver and child was created.
  • Industrial Revolution Breadwinners: Similarly, in the industrial revolution, the father was at work (and/or in the pub) for 12-hour days. Children developed that critical connection with the mother, while the father son relationship was mostly a formal affair, or a good hiding. The role of the mother was as primary caregiver and nurturer. The concept of the father was grounded in fear, whose primary role was to administer discipline and provide for the family.
  • Present-Day Dads: Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, fathers moved from industrial jobs in factories and coal mines to office jobs and 9-to-5 schedules. With this shift came two significant changes in that fathers began to participate in the process of Dadding, and the concept of masculinity began to slowly change for the better.

If we look back over the last 100 years, a lot has changed. Our grandfathers might have seen the first motor car or fought in World War Two, and now we have Tesla Rockets. In the past 15 years, we’ve seen a rapid change in the concept of fatherhood with the introduction of much-needed acceptance of LGBTQ2S+, gender fluidity, racial equality, feminism, and blended home and work environments. Despite all this change, the crucial evolutionary attachment with our parents still remains, and fathers play an important role in society as they become more involved in parenting than ever before. With the incredible changes we’ve seen over the past years, the frustrations a lot of us feel towards our fathers and our upbringing could be to do with the then-accepted but now-outdated social norms for parenting when we were children.

This Isn’t the Dad You Were Looking For

Lots of guys feel animosity towards the way their fathers parented them, but not all of it is purely lousy parenting (although we understand that some parents do, in fact, get it wildly wrong). So what are some of the ways we might have skewed the perception of our fathers and their parenting style?

  • Memory Bias: Memories of your father may be somewhat inaccurate based on the way time distorts memories, and our perception of events can be influenced over time. This is especially the case if your memories of your father are influenced by suggestive feedback of others as you recount them.
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Competing with siblings for the feeling of connectedness with your father, most of us can remember that feeling of the desperate need for connection.
  • Negativity Bias: Evolution wired us to focus on negatives. It’s much harder to focus on positive stimuli than a negative as we’ve naturally developed to look for bad things in our environment for survival. The optimistic caveman didn’t live very long.
  • Observational Learning: We naturally take on the personality traits of our father, both good and bad, through observational learning and nurturing. Unfortunately, our fathers then may scorn us for having those negative traits that remind them of parts of themselves they don’t want to look at.
Moving Away From the Dark Side: Reconciling the Gap

Unlike Luke Skywalker, you don’t have to wait for a dramatic ending to find a way to connect with your father. To move forward, we need to be aware of the factors outside of Dadding that influence our appreciation (or lack thereof) of our fathers’ attempts to develop us. We also need to be aware that they had Dads that were probably men of a dramatically different set of social norms. In those times, society and expectations were very different, and they didn’t afford guys a vision for what parenting for the future might look like. Here are five things you can do to get things back on track with your Dad (choose the three that most resonate with you):

  • When communicating your point of view, be aware of the dramatically different context he may have grown up in, and be patient in giving him time to understand your perspective.
  • You will likely disagree on your perceptions of how things were back in the day, so if you cannot find common ground, find a way to accept the past and make plans for a better future together.
  • Ask your Dad about his Dad, and his upbringing to develop awareness and understand why he parented the way he did.
  • Consider taking accountability for your own biases towards your father and focus on developing understanding, acceptance and friendship.
  • Go to counselling for yourself and discuss these things further with a therapist to find tools and resources that will help you communicate, move on, and find peace.
Father-son relationship

“Do I want to be a hero to my son? No. I would like to be a very real human being. That’s hard enough.” – Robert Downey, Jr.

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Use the Force: Dadding for the Future

Father’s Day might bring up some difficult emotions for those of us who have a less-than-ideal relationship with our fathers. But it can be an opportunity for us to celebrate the contribution that our Dads have made to our lives and think about what kind of fathers we want to be to our children. If there were some father son relationship techniques your father employed you didn’t agree with, you don’t need to be like Anakin Skywalker and blindly follow in your father’s footsteps. It’s in our power to understand the best way to raise a child, and here are some ways to do it:

  • Take the best qualities of your father and think about how you will interact with your children or already do.
  • Think about the conversation your children will have with you, as the future will likely be remarkably different, and you may struggle to relate as your father did.
  • Stay open-minded. Keep learning and growing.

“The strongest, toughest men all have compassion. They’re not heartless and cold. You have to be man enough to have compassion – to care about people and your children.” – Denzel Washington

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