A young man writes a letter to his dying father.
A father who raised him alone after his wife left him. A man stricken with mild autism, lost in his obsessive hobby of coin collecting, so much so, his son felt his only parent had not been much of a father figure.
A son filled with remorse at running away from the pain and separation he felt in his father’s presence, and now filled with guilt that had he been there at the moment of his father’s greatest weakness, the outcome for the dying man would have been better.
A father/son relationship that is by all accounts fractured, stilted and simmering with emotions and tension unspoken.
A young man who then chooses love over self-preservation, and spends the last few days of his father’s life by his side, finally handing to the dying man a letter he’d been writing on his journey to the hospital.
A father at the end of a difficult life. His gnarled fingers can’t grip the fragile paper, so his son reads it out to him. The poignant words relive the few and far between moments of closeness they shared – memories, laughter and the story of the first unique coin that begun the father’s hobby and remains the favourite of his entire collection.
Father and son finally connect in a deeply moving and tearful moment. The father dies soon after, and the son is left behind to follow his heart and honour his father’s legacy.
Panned by critics and criticised for its cliched framework, ‘Dear John’, (Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, directed by Lasse Hallström) is a 2009 film, that, although filled with enough tear jerking scenes to satisfy the deepest, darkest cravings for a sob session, brings to life the dilemma of millions of men secretly struggling to work through their boyhood love for and often disappointment in their fathers.
Alienated from the love of a father either by divorce, illegitimacy or absenteeism due to their father prioritising anything and everything else over family, many men grow up longing for more emotional contact with a man.
The Western Culture has played a major part in the breakdown of relationship between sons and fathers. Capitalism, greed and a shrinking sense of community means that a father’s legacy has passed on less and less to his sons – not just less in power but less in wisdom and love.
Masculinity has increasingly become less defined in terms of domestic involvement – that is, skills at fathering and husbanding – and more characterised in terms of making money.
Men are now primarily “Father the Provider” – bringing things home to the family rather than living and working at home within the family. This has led fathers to find other roles to fulfill when they visited home after working somewhere else: Father the Disciplinarian: “Wait till your father comes home!” and Father the Audience: “Tell Daddy what you did today.”
If a father’s functions are purely economic, then in his eye, his status is then measured by how well he provides.
The flip side is that the rich and economically powerful father becomes a potential tyrant; and the father who isn’t rich and famous, an inescapable failure, a disappointment, a buffoon.
In this regard, the father’s position in the family is no longer determined by how well he functions as a father, but is scored by his status in the eyes of the world, in a set of economic contests in which there are few men winning by being the richest of them all, and most men losing.
So the father moves out of family life and becomes part of the rat race, family values can easily cease to be his primary definers of himself. He adopts the values and job descriptions of the other workers and his work becomes work for the sake of work.
In the endeavors and identity dearest to his heart and heaviest on his schedule, he is a working man, and he may feel that his family should understand that their claims on his time came second best. In his mind, he has moved out. He’s gone to conquer the world.
Life for most boys and men who grow up with ‘absent’ fathers, then becomes a frustrating search for the lost father who has not yet offered protection, nurturing, modeling, or, especially, anointment. All those tough guys who want to scare the world into seeing them as men and who fill up the jails; all whose men who don’t know how to be a man with a woman and who fill up the divorce courts; all those corporate raiders who want more in hopes that more will make them feel better; most of them suffer from Father Hunger.
They go through their adolescent rituals day after day for a lifetime, waiting for a father to anoint them and treat them as good enough to be considered a man.
They call attention to their pain; getting into trouble, getting hurt, doing things that are bad for them, as if they are calling for a father to come take them in hand and straighten them out or at least tell them how a grown man would handle the pain.
They compete with other boys who don’t get close enough to let them see their shame over not feeling like men, over not having been anointed, and so they don’t know that the other boys feel the same way.
In a scant 200 years – in some families in a scant two generations – we’ve gone from a toxic overdose of fathering to a fatal deficiency. It’s not that we have too much mother but too little father.
A new generation of fathers and sons
What goes on between the father and son – and what does not go on between them – is surely the most important determinant of whether the boy will become a man capable of giving life to others or whether he will go through life ashamed and pulling back from exposure to intimacy with men, women, and children.
It takes the fulfillment of all these relationships for a boy to become a man who is able to live in peace and cooperation with his community and to give something back to his family. Fathering makes a man – whatever his standing in the eyes of the world – feel strong and good and important, just as he makes his child feel loved and valued.
A father who gets to hang out with his children is reliving the joys of his own childhood. The play is the thing. Becoming Father the Nurturer rather than just Father the Provider enables a man to fully feet and express his humanity and masculinity. Fathering is the most masculine thing a man can do.
Will this new generation discover the healing power of fatherhood? It does seem that many young men coming into manhood now are willing to risk being hands-on fathers in a way that was rare in past generations. Young men, for instance, are yearning for children, not just children to have but children to raise, and boys who got fathered want to be fathers, and boys who didn’t, fear it.
However, men can overcome their fear and commit to being great fathers.
Here are seven great ideas to help dads form a closer relationship with their kids:
1. Find something you have in common with your kids: Dads will relate a lot better with their kids if there is a shared interest. This can sometimes be tricky, as most men tend to relate better when being active and tend to teach through games. If sport is not something you have an interest in, than you need to find something that your child enjoys doing, and take an active interest in that. Let your child involve you in their hobbies or sporting activities.
2. Spend quality time with your sons: From the age of five, a boy thinks their dad is much like Superman or their favourite superhero, and so dads need to find the time to spend as much time with their sons as possible in these years, and not make each game a lesson or push them too hard.
3. Share the discipline: Dads are traditionally the ones that get to do all the fun play but they also tend to miss out when it comes to disciplining their children. Some dads are great at getting their kids excited before bedtime, and then expect their partner to settle them down. Both parents should take a more active part in disciplining their children’s behaviour as it’s not only the mother’s role.
4. Treat your daughters with respect: Daughters that have strong links with their dads tend to have a much healthier outlook. Dads should teach their daughters about how they should be treated by males and they should also treat their daughters with respect – value and compliment them, so they learn to expect this in their future relationships with men.
5. Learning to let go of your Superman persona: Most teenage boys will be programmed to challenge their dads, and it’s all part of their development and growing up phase. Most sons will take great pleasure in verbal jousting matches with their dads, where they delight in proving their dads fallibility. Dads at this stage need to maintain a sense of humour and a willingness to stand back and also allow other male mentors to come into their son’s life.
6. Be supportive of your wife/partner: Many dads play an important and integral part in their children’s lives, as well as a profound effect on the mothering that their children receive. A mother that can share the emotional and financial burdens of raising children with a supportive and understanding partner is more likely to be a loving and much stronger mother.
7. Adapt as your child changes: One day they’re children, and the next they’re teenagers. The most effective dads are those that can change their parenting style to suit their child’s developmental and growing stages. Fathers who lack confidence in their parenting skills, especially as their children become older should seek parenting advice and also become more involved in as many aspects of parenting as they can, as this allows them to actually learn through ongoing parenting.
And here’s how you can be a great son:
1. Visit your parents. Nothing says “I love you” more than spending time with someone. Parents spend their lives giving you their time. Be a good son and give some time back to them.
2. Help around at home. Pitch in with house and car repairs and the yard work. Your parents will be grateful when you offer to share in the hard work around the house. Come by to change the car oil, fill up the wiper fluid and wash the car.
3. Get a good education. Most parents dream of their child going out into the world with an education that can help them start a career.
4. Find a fulfilling career. Show your parents that you can support yourself. A good son can take care of himself and those he loves. Let your parents see the time and effort they spent raising you helped create a good person who can live independently.
5. Be kind to your siblings. Help them in any way your can. Parents want their children to get along. It’s comforting for them to know you will have each other after they are gone.
6. Remember anniversaries and birthdays. Call your parents on special days and visit when you can. Bring your children if you have any. Your parents will love having you and your family around.
7. Thank your parents for all they have done for you. Tell them how you feel and how much they mean to you. People often forget to say, “I love you and you’re important to me.” Tell your parents you care and tell them often.