A new book by Stephan Poulter, Ph.D., says there are five fundamental fathering styles. For your son's sake, you need to determine yours - and take steps to make it better. Do you make an effort to father your son? At first glance, this seems like a ludicrous question. Didn't you provide half his genetic material?
Don't you go out every day and earn a living to keep a roof over his head and food on his table? Don't you take him on vacation, teach him to ride a bike, and attend his Little League games? But there's a difference between being a father and actively, consciously, deliberately fathering. According to Stephan B. Poulter, Ph.D., most men put more thought into how they pursue their careers than into how they influence their sons. And that's the problem. If you don't pay attention, you will end up fathering by default - a mode that was most likely determined by your own father.
"It's not that men who are less-than-ideal fathers don't love their sons," explains Poulter, author of the new book Father Your Son: How to Become the Father You've Always Wanted to Be. "They do love them desperately. But fathering is a learned skill, and there's much more to it than paying the bills and playing an occasional game of catch in the backyard. Fathering your son means connecting with him on a deep, emotional level. The problem is that if your father didn't connect with you in this way, you're operating under a handicap. Whether you unconsciously repeat it or deliberately reject it, your father's parenting style does affect yours."
A big part of becoming a good father has to do with exploring your relationship with your own father. Poulter calls this process of introspection 'going into the cave.' Once you've confronted the sins of your father, grieved the hurt he caused and forgiven him, you can leave 'the cave' better equipped to forge a strong, healthy bond with your own son.
Father Your Son explains how to approach this often frightening process. First things first, however. Job number one is to get a handle on how you currently interact with your son. Poulter says there are five fundamental fathering styles, and while you may employ elements of all five, one of them will predominate.
Super Achiever: The super achiever father is a man who never received nurturing from his father. In order to compensate for this loss of emotional support, he develops a competitive nature that is always looking for perfection in work, relationships or anything else that will cover up the loss of a relationship with his father.Part and parcel of this competitiveness is a hypercritical nature. This is one reason men frequently engage in cruel teasing; such teasing is a way of unloading all the anger and self-hatred they harbor. It is also the reason they constantly criticize and are hostile to their sons. As fathers get in their verbal digs, spend little time with their sons and always ask for perfection, these sons feel like losers if they're not the best at whatever they're doing.
Time Bomb: This style of fathering is based solely on the fear factor. Authority in this house is maintained by sheer volume of emotional expression. The use of threatening language, anger, yelling, and promises of physical violence are the status quo. The norm is the unpredictability of this father's response to anything and everything. A harmless comment such as, "How was your day, Dad?" can set off an explosion. These explosions do not have to be alcohol related but many times are fueled by it.
The son of this father is also in a constant state of chaos and fear. He looks terrified and fearful much of the time and nothing feels safe for him. This boy is the first stop for the father's abuse in all its forms: physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and mental. It is not necessarily what the father says that is disturbing, but the way it is wrapped up in a ball of fire and hatred. Everyone in the house is sensitized to this phenomenon. In order to survive, the son learns to develop amazing people pleasing skills early on.
Passive Father: Mainstream culture refers to this father as the '1950s, Ozzie Nelson, Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best' type. He is stable, consistent, hard-working, calm and reserved. He would never contemplate or engage in any type of self-destructive behavior toward his son, family, or self. What is missing is a strong emotional connection between father and son. While they don't fight or have any animosity between them, they also lack energy, understanding and willingness to display love toward and support for one another.
Sons of passive fathers grow into men who, in their thirties and forties, find themselves unable to express themselves emotionally. Since mom handled the emotional expression duties in the family, the son assumes that his wife also will take on this role. In today's environment, however, Ozzie will not make Harriet happy; she expects him to be more emotionally involved in Ricky's and David's lives.
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