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Dealing with Father-Son Conflicts: The FQ Guide, Part 1

Why Fathers and Sons Fight
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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

The apple might fall right next to the tree, or it might roll its way to an orange grove. Either way, dads shouldn’t close themselves off.

An image search for ‘Father and Son’ (with caveats: I’m looking for large pictures labelled for reuse – FQ has an article to beautify) gives a slightly skewed view of one of our most important relationships. The most common type of picture depicts fathers and sons in the military.

It seems like Google thinks war is the best place for fathers and sons to spend time together. Maybe, to stop ourselves fighting each other, we just need to fight someone else.

This implication isn’t Google’s alone. The military stands for order, discipline and clear chains of command. Sounds a lot like a traditional view of fatherhood, doesn’t it?

How should fathers try to relate to their sons?

Whether fathers and sons are carbon copies or complete opposites, there are lots of reasons that they might not get along. A military insistence on discipline can only get you so far.

Here’s an extract from Franz Kafka’s remarkable ‘Letter to His Father‘, a devastating account of a particularly traumatic upbringing, but, equally, an important resource for everyone who wants to make themselves a better dad.

What I would have needed was a little encouragement, a little friendliness, a little keeping open of my road, instead of which you blocked it for me, though of course with the good intention of making me go another road. But I was not fit for that… At that time, and at that time in every way, I would have needed encouragement.

It is a complex, difficult process, but the best fathers learn who they need to be for their children, and don’t simply try to shape them. We’re raising people, not soldiers.

Can fathers and sons maintain strong relationships despite irreconcilable differences?

We all know Cat Stevens’ masterpiece ‘Father and Son’. Although it doesn’t give any contextual clues, the song is about a young boy who, against the wishes of his father, wants to join the Russian Revolution.

Looking back on the song, Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) says: ‘that was my father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father speaking’. He’s right. Giving equal weight to both perspectives and refusing to pretend that there’s an easy solution, the song is timeless. It’s true to life, too: father and son even sing over each other.

There are no easy answers for fathers and sons with completely different ideas and expectations. If the song has anything to teach us, it’s that tenderness and care can survive things that seem irresolvable. Through the battle for independence, you can hear love.

Check back with FQ over the next few days and weeks as we continue to detail practical advice for dads who want to manage and resolve conflicts with their sons.