While I admit that it took more than a few tries and some persistence, my relationship with my son has embraced intimacy in a manner I never experienced with my father. I wasn’t able to relate to my father in any significant ways, and worse, I didn’t respect him as a man. The vacuum that was the relationship he and I struggled so hard to live in together was suffocating and embarrassing at times. I didn’t introduce my father to my friends.
When my son was born, I wanted him to be proud of me, to introduce me to people he knew with some amount of joy. I knew from my own experience that wasn’t going to just happen on its own. What was going to be required between my son and me was a kind of openness and honesty unimaginable for many dads. I learned to admit when I was wrong, and I apologized when it was appropriate. I tried not to act like I wrote the book on how to live, and instead, listened to my son’s dreams and aspirations without judgment. I told him that if he were honest with me, nothing he did would affect our relationship. I let him know that my goal wasn’t to tell him how to live, but rather to help him make choices.
My first test was when my son graduated high school and wanted to join the Marines. He needed my signature because he was only seventeen. I listened to his impassioned reasons for wanting to be a Marine, and while it was clear he’d been indoctrinated by a recruiter, this was his life to live, not mine. I respected and loved him enough to be not just his father, but his friend. I wouldn’t think to try to talk a friend of mine out of something he felt passionate about, and I couldn’t insult my son by doing that either. Trust is easily destroyed when a father tells his son how it’s going to be, instead of respecting his son’s integrity and intelligence.
I’ve had many tests in the following three decades, and I’m proud that I passed them all and kept the intimacy in our relationship viable and strong. My son is an incredible father to his son, and I know that didn’t just magically happen. He is showing my grandson the love and respect I showed him, and I notice that when possible, he lets my grandson make his own choices. He explains to his son that he’ll have to live with those choices, and when his son chooses badly, he doesn’t make a big deal of it. He gently reminds his son that perhaps there were better choices and to consider all his option the next time he had to make a decision.
Respect your son and he will respect you. If you criticize aspects of his life that are out of your domain, like hair styles, clothing, music, girlfriends, etc, you will destroy trust and intimacy, and without any gain whatsoever. I don’t know what kind of boy you were, but I pushed every corner of every envelope and refused to be bound by anyone’s notion of who I should be, especially my father’s. Had he made an effort to understand who I was and who I wanted to become, we might have had a chance, but his violent and angry demeanor didn’t leave room for intimacy.
When I was raising my son I discovered that what he needed most was a parent, not a friend. But that didn’t mean our relationship had to be one sided. A firm but loving father can also be his son’s friend, but only if he shows his son the respect he deserves.
Act like a man!