Fathers and Sons
Table of Contents
Men all over the country find themselves struggling with talking to, being with, or
caring for their fathers. Fathers and sons often spend very little time talking to one
another, however, they often say plenty during this silence. This workshop is designed to
explore why so many fathers and sons seem to find it so hard to communicate with and
understand one another.
Boys imprint themselves onto the men in their lives, copying them and looking to them
as important sources for forming an identity and building self-esteem. Mothers can provide
(or deny) love, affection, guidance, and knowledge, and they may represent an important
model of womanhood for their sons. however, they cannot provide the same basis for
identity development that fathers can with their sons. Boys seek to model themselves after
males. Boys early relationships with significant men not only teaches him the how-to of
manhood, but also establishes the orientation toward self and others that he will use in
building his own self-esteem.
Examples Competitive, strong, in control, in charge, achievement oriented, intelligent,
non-feeling, doesn't cry, mechanical, dominant, protective, all knowing, logical, stud,
breadwinner, independent, authority, athletic, sex = accomplishment, etc.
Men's Attitudes Towards Self
A male's gender identity - his masculinity - has been and continues to be volatile. It
has to be earned and proved on a day-to-day basis. A man can't just be masculine, he must
constantly "prove" it. Masculine attainment refers to this persistent, lifelong
quest for gender identity among American males. Being a man means achieving,
accomplishing, having a good job, and providing adequately for oneself and one's family.
Gender-role strains are the difference between individuals' views of their personal
characteristics and the norms taken from gender-role standards. Gender-role strain is seen
as an intra-psychic process that can lead to psychological maladjustment, especially low
self-esteem. Men are being forced to face issues about themselves that heretofore were
accepted without question: place and role in society, patterns of relating to women and to
other men, ways of expressing themselves; in a word, their very male identity.
The socially prescribed male behaviors require men to work against the fulfillment of
certain needs, to be competitive, aggressive, and to evaluate their life successes in
terms of external satisfaction. Every man is caught in this no-win bind: if he lives out
society's prescribed role requirements his basic human needs are unfulfilled. On the other
hand, if these human needs are satisfied there is a chance that he may be judged, or may
judge himself, not to be a real man. Being emotionally inexpressive is a vital part of the
very nature of "manliness. Many men are socialized to ignore feelings and become out
of touch with their bodies, not to recognize internal stress, strain, and symptoms of
sickness. If men are aware of these inner distress signals, they refuse to accept these
signs of poor health, thus opening themselves up for cancer, strokes, breakdowns, heart
attacks, and even suicide.
The male sex-role requires that men be independent, strong, self-reliant, competitive,
achievement-oriented, powerful, adventurous, and emotionally restrained. These
characteristics both take a toll on men's physical and mental health, and make it
difficult for men to seek and utilize psychological services. The traditional male role is
self-denying and stoic-heroic combination of characteristics.
Boys search deeply throughout his childhood for a masculine model on which to build his
sense of self. The press to identify with father creates the crucial dilemma for boys.
Fathers should provide safety, warmth, and affection. Fathers should support the need for
autonomy and separation in their sons. Fathers should promote self-esteem and a sense of
worth in their sons. Boys have to give up mother, in a sense, for father, but who is
Positional Identity: Self-esteem which is tied to
achieving and maintaining credentials and signs of status. When these conditions are met
one can feel pride: When one fails they feel shame. It is important first to appreciate
that men view the social world in terms of relative position. Virtually all of men's
relationships, from the most competitive to their most intimate, are colored to some
degree by perceptions of differences and differentials. At the bottom line it is power or
status for many men that forms the basis for men's self-esteem and their orientation of
themselves in relation to others.
Relational Identity: Self-esteem from this identity is
considerably less conditional than is Positional identity. It is not dependent on
performance, or on maintaining some position of hierarchy. It is based instead on
maintaining the relationship itself, in affirming the attachment that bonds two people
Absent Fathers: refers to both the psychological and the
physical absence of fathers and implies both spiritual and emotional absence. It also
suggests the notion of fathers who, although physically present, behave in ways that are
unacceptable (i.e., authoritarian, alcoholic, or physically abusive)
Lost Sons: Underscores the lack of emotional connections
between fathers and sons. Sometimes sons are lost to their fathers they unconsciously look
for. This lack of attention from fathers results in the son's inability to identify with
his father as a means of establishing his own masculine identity. A son deprived of the
confirmation and security that might have been provided by father's presence is unable to
advance to adulthood.
Homosexual men can be a father and/or a son. The coming out process can send their
relationship into a high speed dive. There are several stages that family members tend to
progress through as they struggle with having a gay family member. A father or sons
coming out is sometimes greeted with hostility, anger, and rejection. If this happens it
makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a father a son to feel close to one
another. Sons invariably loses their first and main teacher of manhood. A question
of ones manhood lingers unanswered.
We are taught that Gay Oppression affects only homosexual men. Every man, regardless of
sexual preference, is hit hard with Gay oppression. Its major purpose is to create and
maintain a rigid, dehumanizing, unattainable model of what it means to be a man and it
keeps men effectively isolated and fearful of close and loving relationships with other
men. It is also intimately linked with the oppression of women.
An inadequate father is one who behaves in unacceptable ways towards his son.
Prolonged absence of the father for whatever reason. Unresponsiveness to the child's
need for affection and attachment. The father's threats of abandonment, which are used to
coerce or discipline the child. The father's induction of guilt onto the child. The father
clinging on to the child. Fathers who regularly beat their sons. Fathers who make their
sons into scapegoats for everything that is wrong in the family.
Absent Fathers, Lost Sons: The search for masculine identity by Guy Corneau (Boston:
Finding Our Fathers: The unfinished business of manhood by Samuel Osherson (New York:
The Free Press, 1986)
Hungry Hearts: On men, intimacy, self-esteem, and addiction by Joseph Nowinski (New
York: Lexington Books, 1993).
The New Male: From macho to sensitive but still all male by Herb Goldberg (New York:
New American Library, 1980).
The McGill Report on Male Intimacy by Michael E. McGill (New York: Harper & Row,