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Fathers and Sons

by Kevin B. Burk, author of The Relationship Handbook: How to Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life.

One of the differences between modern astrology and classical astrology is which parent is associated with which house. In modern astrology, the mother is associated with the 4th house, while the father is associated with the 10th house. In classical astrology, the reverse is true. In classical astrology, the father is associated with the 4th house, which represents our foundation, our connection to our past and our ancestors, and how we are anchored in the world. The mother is linked to the 10th house of our life path, and how we express ourselves as individuals in society.

Iím so drawn to classical astrology because it gets so many things right. The father belongs in the 4th house. In our culture, in our society, our fathers are the ones that show us how to live in the world. Our fathers give us our foundation and provide us with support. Our mothers teach us how to be in society; our fathers teach us how to be in the world.

To many of you, this may seem terribly politically incorrect. But the truth is that most of us are hard-coded with our beliefs about the roles our parents were meant to play. I know I am. Much as I do believe in equality for all humans, much as I know that gender roles are largely irrelevant, this truth stops short of my parents. Weíre no longer talking about men and women, weíre talking about Mom and Dad.

We may, in fact, be dealing with archetypes: The Mother and The Father. No matter what roles society has created for Dad, whether he goes to work to support the family or stays home to support the family, he embodies the Father archetype for us. He is the protector and the provider. He is the hero, the king, the God. He takes on a powerful, mythological role, and whether or not he is able to embody that role, his destiny is linked to it. He must eventually suffer the same fate of every hero, king and God. We build up our idols only to tear them down again in the end. When we understand this, we can begin to appreciate the triumph and the tragedy inherent in fatherhood.

The more I explore the question of fatherhood and our relationships with our fathers, the less objective I become. My intention when I write is to connect with as many individuals as I can by addressing bigger concepts and sharing my personal perspective on them. Iím usually able to stay close to universal, spiritual and metaphysical principles that I know to be true, and when I explore an idea or observation that may only apply to me, I generally identify it as such.

I donít have that perspective here. I canít talk about our relationships with our fathers objectively, because all I know is my relationship with my father. My relationship with my father is without question, the most significant relationship in my life. Itís definitely been the most complex and challenging relationship for me (and Iím sure it hasnít been a walk in the park for my father, either). This particular relationship is so inexorably linked with my relationship with myself, with who I believe I am, with how I am in the world, that I find it very difficult to use it to explore relationships with our fathers in general.

Be warned then, that my thoughts, ideas and ramblings are entirely biased and lack perspective. They are unable to escape the gravitational pull of my own relationship with my father. And, if Iím to be perfectly honest, they represent an attempt to make sense of this relationship, to place it in a larger perspective; to heal it a bit, perhaps. I hope that my sharing my personal experiences with this relationship may provide insight or support to others in strengthening their relationships with their fathers. But mainly, I hope that in some way, this article helps me to understand my father on a deeper level, and perhaps helps him to understand me on a deeper level as well.

One challenge I anticipate is that this article will not connect with women in the way that it will connect with men. Boys have an entirely different relationship with their fathers than girls do. I think this is much less the case with mothers. Mothers teach their children the same things regardless of their gender. Fathers, however, teach different lessons to their sons than they do to their daughters. These lessons have little to do with gender, and everything to do with archetypes. Fathers, remember, teach us how to be in the world. Our fathers teach us, consciously and unconsciously, what it means to be a Man and what it means to be a Woman. (Mothers teach their daughters how to be a woman, but Fathers teach their daughters what being a woman in the world means.)

Itís often said that a girlís relationship with her father is the single most influential factor in her adult romantic relationships with men. I canít speak to this personally, for obvious reasons, although Iíve had many straight women friends discuss this theory at length. I wonder, however, how this relationship influences women who are not interested in a romantic relationship with a man. Do beliefs that ďall men leaveĒ or ďmen are responsible for protecting and providing for usĒ cross gender roles and influence our romantic relationships regardless of the gender of our partner? Iím not even qualified to hazard a guess.

The fact remains that girls have very different relationships with their fathers than boys do. Girls love and idolize their fathers in different ways and for different reasons.

Every son initially idolizes his father. His father is his hero, his protector, his role model. His father is what he will become one day. A son only sees the perfection in his father. To the son, the father is God. A sonís love for his father is pure, and trusting, and this is very intoxicating. When a father basks in his sonís love, he almost becomes the hero his son believes him to be. He can believe that he is good, and powerful, and most importantly, he can keep his son safe from harm. To the son, the father is infallible and invincible, and capable of amazing feats of magic.

This may last for three years, or five, or seven, but at some point things will change. At some point, every son discovers his father is flawed, human, and fallible. At some point, every son realizes that his father might not, in fact, be able to beat up your father. Sometimes this shock is mild, and other times it is truly traumatic. But it is inevitable, and once it occurs, the relationship will never be the same. Itís not that the relationship will necessarily become strained or difficult; only that the quality of the relationship will change. The innocence is lost and the magic is gone.

Hard as this moment is for the son, I believe that itís even harder for the father. In fact, the fear of the devastating pain of this moment may be so great that it causes many fathers to push their sons away from them, to limit and filter their sonsí love so that when the quality of that love inevitably changes, it will not be so painful.

I donít know when this moment occurred for me. My father probably knows, on some level, but I donít think I could ever ask him about it. I donít remember much about my early relationship with my father, although I can see it in family photographsóone in particular, of my father and I at the beach, where my love and admiration for him is so tangible it almost casts a shadow in the photo. I remember him singing to me at night (ďWaltzing MathildaĒ and ďJimmy Crack CornĒ), with me on his lap in an old rocking chair. But these are the only memories I have of the time when he was still my hero.

I have no idea how old I was when my father failed to live up to my expectations of him (or, for that matter, when I first failed to live up to my fatherís expectations of me). The timing is largely irrelevant; what matters is that from that point on, our expectations of each other got in the way of us enjoying the kind of open, accepting, loving relationship that we each desperately wanted.

I believe this to be a universal truth. We each expect that our personal father will successfully embody the archetypal Father. We expect that our fathers will be all-powerful and all-knowing; that they will always be able to protect us, that they will automatically know exactly how to support us. We expect them to know when we need discipline and when we need a friend; when we need boundaries and when we need to be indulged.

We hold our fathers to an impossible standard, and then blame them when they fail. As children, and even as adults, we fail to appreciate the burden of fatherhood. The archetypal myths of fatherhood always involve tragedy and loss; the father is always defeated, always reduced, often by the son. Often, the tragic flaw in the father hero is not even his own; often, the flaw is something he inherited from his father.

What makes this burden even heavier is that our fathers are meant to be the heroes in our story, not theirs. When a man becomes a father, he steps out of his own story and into the story of his son. He is responsible for clearing the path, for introducing his son to the heroís journey, and there is magic and power and joy in this task. But there is also a price: When a man becomes a father and paves the way for his sonís journey, he is prevented from completing his own journey. His son will take over the story, and the father may never know how it ends. And whatís even worse is that the sonís journey may be so different from the fatherís that the father despairs of his sacrifice. If the son doesnít complete what the father started, what was the point of the fatherís journey in the first place?

I donít want to paint too bleak of a picture of my relationship with my father. There have always been parts of the relationship that have been spectacular. My father has an incredible sense of humor, and my own sense of humor was nurtured and developed by himósomething for which I am eternally grateful. My father encouraged and shared my love of the theatre, and was completely supportive of my educational goals. And, if my father was not my father and I met him socially, I would very much enjoy his company. On the whole, Iím incredibly fortunate that my father is my father. Iíve never once wished it were otherwise, no matter how angry or frustrated I was at him. Itís just that our relationship has always beenÖcomplicated.

And perhaps thatís the pointÖperhaps ďcomplicatedĒ describes everyoneís relationship with his (or her) father. Our parents are some of our most powerful teachers in life, which frequently creates periods of ďcomplicationsĒ in our relationships with them. This could well be a universal truth; however, I experience it on such a personal level that I lack the perspective to know.

I believe that fathers long for sons because raising a son gives them the chance to parent the little boy inside them. They want to be the father to their son that they wish their father had been to them. I believe this to be true for others, because it has always been true for me. I simply have the courage to admit itóand it takes considerable courage, because there is a great deal of emotion, much of it painful, tied up in this desire.

For as long as I can remember, Iíve wanted to be a parent. Specifically, I want to raise a son. This desire is somewhat complicated by a number of factors in my life, not the least of which is that Iím very attached to the idea of a biological child. Iím not interested in adopting or becoming a foster parent. At the present time, raising a child would be impractical for me (and thatís putting it very mildly), so I simply hold this intention for my future. But I also have to acknowledge whatís behind this desire and recognize how insidious of a trap it is.

If I had a son, and set out to be the father to him that I wanted my father to be to me, I would be screwing up at least two relationships (my relationship with my son and my relationship with my father), and ensuring that this cycle of frustration continued for yet another generation. When I do have a son, I intend to do my level best to be the father to him that he needs me to be, not the father that I needed my father to be to me. (I fully accept that Iíll still fall short of my sonís expectationsóthatís part of what being a father is about. Even so, I believe itís a more healing and supportive intention.) In the meantime, itís my own responsibility to be the father I wanted to my inner child, and to forgive my own father for not living up to my expectations of what he should have been.

My father was the best father he knew how to be (and still is). Iíve never questioned his love or support. The issue is, and has always been, that the ways in which he supports me are not always the ways in which I want or need to be supported. In any number of important areas, he and I do not speak the same language.

Iíve tried to understand my father as a man. My grandfather (my fatherís father) died before I was born, so I never new him. The last time I was in town visiting my family, I asked my father to tell me about my grandfather, and his relationship with him. I wanted to try to understand my father more; to appreciate why he made some of the choices he made in his life. It was a nice conversation, but on some level, I was disappointed by it. I suppose I was expecting some revelation, some story that would put my entire life, my entire relationship with my father into sharp relief. I was hoping for an answer, even though Iím not sure I could articulate the nature of the question.

Part of the challenge was that I didnít feel that I could be up front with my father about my motives for that conversation. I couldnít tell him that I was, and am, working on healing our relationship as part of my own spiritual growth, and that I wanted to understand him better. I suspect he knew that then (and he certainly knows it now), but this just felt like another area where he and I donít share a common language. I know that we both experience our emotions very deeply; however, I process my emotions externally and need to express them, while he processes his emotions internally and rarely expresses his. This has been a source of frustration for me (and for my mother, who, like me, processes her emotions externally). I respect that this is how my father is, and love him for it. Even so, it makes forming new connections with himóparticularly after all this timeórather challenging.

Byron Katie, in her truly outstanding book, Loving What Is, describes a process that allows us to investigate our attachments and beliefs that are at odds with reality, and therefore create large amounts of optional suffering in our lives. For me, one of the most powerful beliefs that Iíve had to question and release is that belief that my father should understand me. This belief has caused me tremendous pain and suffering over the course of my life, and releasing it (which is an ongoing process for me right now) has been a powerful and life-altering experience.

When I let go of these expectations, and accept that itís okay if my father doesnít understand me (not to mention the fact that I canít absolutely know for certain that he doesnít understand me, because he just might), Iím free to simply love my father for who he is. I do know that there are parts of my life that he does not want to know about, and I still hold expectations and judgments about this that create a certain amount of suffering in my life; however, I also know that I can release these expectations whenever I choose to.

I am who I am, in ways I canít even begin to understand or appreciate, because of my father. My values, my integrity, my sense of duty and responsibility, not to mention my sense of humor, all come from him. I am the man I am today because of my father. Many of the lessons were unconscious and even unintentional, but they were learned nonetheless. My father continues to teach me how to be in the world. For this, and for so many other things, he has my gratitude, my respect, and my love.

This article was prompted by Fatherís Day, and in some strange way, I mean it to be a gift to my father. I have no idea how heíll receive it, or how much of what I hope to convey will be conveyed. After all, Iím writing this in my language and heíll be reading it in his. I guess Iíd like him to know that I love him, and that no matter how complicated our relationship got, I never once regretted that he is my father.

I want him to know that, at least on some level, I understand what he had to give up in order to become a father. I know how seriously he takes his responsibilities to his family, and even as I know the joy he receives from his family, I also have a sense of the price he paid for it. Iím sorry that I didnít live out his dreams for him; however, my heroís journey is different than his. Iím sorry that I havenít been able to give him the sense of completion of his own journey that he wanted. I hope someday he will appreciate my own journey, and know that it is because of him that I am able to do the work that I do. Even though he may not understand the whys and wherefores of what I do, Iíd like him to know that my life is dedicated to making the world a better place to live for everyone, and that I succeed at this, to whatever extent I do, because of him.

Iíd like him to know that when I consider my life, and his life, and our relationship from this perspective, that he is still my hero, and I love him very much.

Anything else I could say would pretty much boil down to that.

 


Kevin B. Burk is the author of The Relationship Handbook: How to Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life. Visit http://www.EveryRelationship.com for a FREE Report on creating Amazing Relationships.

©2006 Kevin B. Burk, all rights reserved. If you would like to reprint this article in your publication, web page, or eZine (which you may do for free!), click here for details.

 

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