Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Invisible Wall Between Fathers And Sons

My father followed in the footsteps of his father in many ways. However, unlike my grandfather who enlisted in the army, my father was drafted after he completed medical school and served in Vietnam in 1972 when my mother gave birth to me.

My father, like his father, and his father before him, shared a similar parenting style. While all were certainly warm and kind people, they were fathers who maintained the traditional distance from their sons; more likely to speak about current events than sharing their feelings or speaking about deeper matters.

Growing up, I was always amazed when I heard my father speaking with one of his friends or colleagues on a different level than how he spoke to me. I always wished that he would relate to me in a similar manner, and that I could talk to him in the way which I talked with my mother.

Since fathers tried to raise their sons to be men, perhaps he was raised with the belief that sharing emotions was a feminine activity. Perhaps he was just being the father that his father was to him; devoted yet somewhat detached.

I have only seen my father cry two times in my entire life; once on the day his father passed away, and once on the day his mother passed away. I was told, however, that he also cried on the day he that he left for Vietnam; leaving his pregnant wife behind.

While I cannot change the way my father relates to me, I can change the way I relate to my son. I strive to be the kind of father who is always accessible and willing to talk about deeper issues. I pray that one day my son will view me this way.

As for my father, I am not sure if I truly know the person he is on the inside. Despite the fact that I have made numerous attempts to speak to him on a deeper level, I am rarely successful. I love him dearly and hope that one day I will be able to break through this invisible wall separating father and son.


At January 24, 2006 at 6:55:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

Did we grow up in the same household?!

I, too, sense about my dear father what you describe about yours. The emotions are held deep in check -- anger rose to the surface much easier than the spilling of words that have to do with personal pain.

That is probably how my father has always thought he has to be, or has taught himself to be...as he lost his father when he was only 6 1/2 years old, and had to be the "man" of the family...and live through personal hell.

At January 24, 2006 at 6:59:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I read your words with great interest, Pearl. Many fathers of my father generation and before seemed to share many similarities.

You wrote that your father lost his father when he was only 6 1/2 years-old. Was this during the Holocaust?

At January 24, 2006 at 7:08:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

No, before. My father was born in 1920. So imagine that kind of personal hell, and then the Holocaust and a family ripped apart, in a different kind of hell.

Thus my father...my Yiddische phoenix. (I wrote and published a poem called "My Yiddische Phoenix" about guess who?)

Gotta go and get ready for work now.

At January 24, 2006 at 7:10:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

One more thing: my father's youngest sister was born 2 months after their father's death. Of course my father would take it upon himself then (as the oldest, and the only boy) to be "the man" of the family.

At January 24, 2006 at 7:15:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Pearl: From what you have told me about you father, I sense that the story of your father's life would make a facinating book.

At January 24, 2006 at 9:00:00 AM EST, Blogger Shoshana said...

Reading your post brings tears to my eyes. Like Pearl, my father lost his father at a very young age, and never could deal with emotions. We have always related on a fairly superficial level, since whenever I would get upset or emotional, my father would tell me that he wouldn't deal with me until I was under control. At this point, we get along ok, because I have learned to accept that my dad shows his love for me in the ways he can, but which are limited.

It is beautiful that you are striving so hard to have a different relationship with your son than you had with your father. I think he will be very lucky because of it.

At January 24, 2006 at 9:06:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Shoshana: I really appreciate your warm words.

At January 24, 2006 at 9:50:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand and pretty much agree with your point, but just to point out the flip side of the coin (as my situation is more-or-less the opposite of yours):

Father-son relationships seem to have changed drastically across the board over the past 30-40 years, at least here in the USA.

Parents who came of age in the age in the 60's tend to have rejected the norms and formalities of the culture in which they were raised and the role of the father went from being a patriarch to being their child's friend (or at least trying to be).

Both approaches have their benefits and shortcomings, but I think that today's posting reflects that change in our culture. The generation gap between parent and child is a lot smaller today (and with it the respect for a parent has dissolved somewhat as well), and I couldn't help but laugh (although it is indeed sad) when I heard this last year on NPR:

"Today's children often feel forced to rebel in far greater ways than they once were. The cause for this may be that because their parents try so hard to be hip, cool, with-it, tolerant and understanding, that adolescents need to work extra hard to get a rise out of them."

I agree with you though, and as a parent I try to be close to my children, however here is an interesting example of what I am missing:

R' Elazar Kenig Shlita, the leader of the Breslov community in Tzefas was asked why he doesn't know many of his father's customs and traditions that some others know. He responded that out of awe and reverence for his father he would never ask him questions that were not considered significantly important...

Perhaps my ability to joke around with my father is actually improper and a lack of Kibud Av?

At January 24, 2006 at 11:07:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chabakuk Elisha: You brought up a lot of interesting points. I thought you also might be interested to know that my envy of your relationship with your father is precisely what inspired me to write this posting.

At January 24, 2006 at 9:28:00 PM EST, Blogger Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear ASJ,

Without much time right now, I'll proudly point out that my father, 85 years young, still practicing dentistry after 55 years (he's bound to get it right, sooner or later! :)) still gives me these big blubbery kisses: i've never known any other way; so that for me is normal and quite nice actually! so I kissed my son Ben Z'L 22 years old and kiss Zac 18 and i am quite sure that zac will behave in a similar fashion some day ... and yes my lovely daughter Kimberly I kiss as well ... call it our feminine side if you must but a dad who so limits himself does a disservice to his children.

I remain,

Very Sincerely yours,

Ala D. Busch

At January 24, 2006 at 11:18:00 PM EST, Blogger Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear ASJ,

I apologize for the very hurried note above so much so that I even misspelled my name. I am,

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

At January 25, 2006 at 6:58:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Alan: I always appreciate your comments. Thank you.

At January 29, 2006 at 6:00:00 AM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

ASJ, this post resonates with me very strongly, as my father is also very distant emotionally. I know that he is there for me, and growing up, he always provide for me, but it has always been very hard for him to express his emotions. Though I have accepted this is the way he is, sometimes I really wish he would be able to express himself and that we could have a deeper relationship.

I used to think it was a generational thing until I saw friends who had fathers who were very demonstratively affectionate towards them. Now I think it is partly personality and partly the way my dad was raised.

While I agree with Chabakuk Elisha that trying to be "cool" or being your child's friend is dangerous, there is a lot of middle ground between that and being an emotionally distant father.

I know that I will (iyH if I am granted children) be a very different dad than my father is, because I have felt that lack in my relationship with him, and have worked hard to be open and accesable in all of my relationships.

Your children will truly benefit from having an affectionate and openly loving father. Once again, you inspire....kol hakavod!

At January 29, 2006 at 8:21:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

MCAryeh: I appreciate your comments. It looks like we share yet another thing in common.


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