Tips for a Healthy Relationship Between Fathers and Adult Sons
According to experts, the father-son relationship has the greatest influence on the ability of sons to tackle and survive the challenges of adult life.
In the process of growing up, sons find several reasons to disagree with their fathers, but Neil Chethik, author of FatherLoss (Hyperion 2001) states the following:
We don’t really grow up until we have come to terms with our fathers. We need our fathers to bless us in a way that brings us into adulthood.
In The Blessing (Thomas Nelson 1982) by John Trent and Gary Smalley, the authors emphasize the importance of that blessing. Examples are found in the Bible—in (Genesis 27) where Esau begs his father Isaac to give him the blessing which his brother Jacob stole and in Genesis 49 where Jacob blesses his twelve sons. It is the father’s approval of his son’s effort to be successful.
The blessing includes:
- A meaningful touch – for example, a hug or holding his hand
- Spoken words—communication addressed to the son
- Expression of high value—affirmation of the child’s worth
- Prediction of a special future—based on the skills and talents demonstrated by the son
- An active commitment—on the part of the parent to make the prediction come true.
Jacob Blesses His Twelve Sons
Tips Addressed to Fathers
The following five tips for healthy relationships between fathers and sons create opportunity to include this blessing. The tips are addressed to fathers because:
- The relationship is primarily the father's responsibility.
- It is the father who initiates love, forgiveness or any other prevailing attitude (positive or negative) into the relationship.
- The father is the more mature and stable individual while the son is still figuring out what works and what doesn't in the relationship.
- The father is obligated to work toward the healthy relationship for the well-being of his child.
(1) Embrace Fatherhood
You are the father; act like it. Be available:
- to love your son and receive his love;
- to mentor him in wisdom and to discipline him in folly;
- to cheer him on when he makes you proud and forgive him when he disappoints you;
- to caution him when he is over-ambitious and encourage him when he is scared;
- to provide for him as much as you’re able and work toward improving when your provision falls short;
One of the worst vices a man could have is to play dead and deprive his child of a father-son relationship. One of the noblest commendations a man could have is the praise of his son. Professional credits, service awards and names on buildings may be meaningless based on the declaration of a son about his father.
(2) Be Honestly Human
Practice honest, open communication with your son. Be vulnerable. He wants to hear about your efforts:
- to establish your individuality
- to form worthy friendships
- to make decisions in love relationships
- to advance in your career
- to save money
- to persevere in spite of obstacles
Don’t give the impression that all your attempts were successful and that you never had your share of failures. Let him know that you struggled through and survived your rough patches, and that you are committed to helping him make it through his. Create a mood which allows him to be also vulnerable, to ask questions, to confide and develop trust. You were his first hero; you can maintain that role in your relationship with your adult son.
(3) Give Up the Control
Your role as a father is to help your son become a man. You teach him and demonstrate to him what productive manhood looks like. At the point where his decisions become primarily his to live with, you hand over the controls. For example, it is entirely his choice to make concerning:
- the spiritual path he wants to walk
- the career he wants to pursue
- the woman he wants to marry
- where he wants to live
Your role of fatherhood is not terminated when he does not allow you to choose for him, or he does not accept your suggestions on these matters. You are still obligated to love him and to be interested in his welfare. You are still responsible for maintaining a relationship with him.
Your son’s success in life is not guaranteed by following every advice you give. You taught him to be an individual and make wise choices. Give him the opportunity to practice what you taught him.
(4) Refuse to Play One-Up
One-Up is a game in which one person reports a personal accomplishment, and another person states his accomplishment which, in his opinion, is one step above on the ladder toward greatest achievements. The aim is to establish superiority. Some fathers engage in this one-up mind game without being aware of their folly.
The son reports, “Daddy, this is only my second year on the job, and I’ve been nominated for this year’s highest performance award.”
The ideal response is something like, “I’m proud of you, son. Congratulations!”
Imagine this response: “Well, you’re almost as good as I was. Did you know that I was nominated for that same award in my first year on the job?” You may not want to believe it, but it happens.
A father who finds himself engaging in this immature form of competition with his son may not be aware of his insecurity, his narcissism or plain ignorance. He needs to accept the supporting role and let the son have his day.
Wise parents play push-up. They want to see their children climb higher than they did. They rejoice and celebrate when their children excel.
(5) Learn From Your Son
What father does not expect his son to surpass him in some skills? Let your son know that you admire his progress and express your desire for him to teach you some of what he learned. If you live long enough for him to take care of you, this spirit of humility will serve you well.
Your admiration and willingness to learn from him empowers your son to lead, to teach, and to add to your legacy of success.
Healthy relationships between fathers and sons are easy when the children are infants and toddlers. By the time the sons become adults, hopefully the fathers would have become wiser and more mature. By then, the relationships may take more effort, but they will be much more enjoyable.
© 2013 Dora Weithers