Fathers and Sons: Competition

Dan Bolton


All too often interactions between men devolve into competition. This dynamic can occur between even the best of friends, and believe it or not, fathers and sons. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for healthy competition. To a certain extent competition can be healthy, and everyone involved is the better for it. The real Dark Side of father-son dynamic occurs when the competitive side of men becomes the dominant mode of relating. In the child it leads to a sense of shame, and not feeling good enough. The source in the father is, well, a sense of shame and not feeling good enough. The father likely grew up under similar relational circumstances with his father, and it is passed on inter-generationally. The cycle will continue until someone decides that there is a better way and breaks the cycle, or after the emotional consequences become too much to keep the cycle going because someone breaks down. The options available are to break the cycle or break down.

Keeping on with the metaphor Star Wars provides for us, let us look at the role the Emperor plays in this great metaphor for father-son relationships. Here the Emperor exemplifies the Dark Side of the father-son dynamic perfectly. In the example we examined last week the Emperor’s attempted dominion over the Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker relationship portrayed the push some men feel to overcome one’s father and be better than him (rather than just being their own person). The Emperor is the Superego that is punishing and seeks more: more from his apprentice, more control of the Galaxy, and ultimately more power through the action and achievement of his Sith apprentice (for purposes of the analogy you can substitute ‘son’ for ‘apprentice’). This is the way of the Sith. As Yoda described it, when it comes to Siths, there can only be two: a master and his apprentice. If you’ve watched the new trilogy, Episodes I-III, you will understand that when a new potential Sith apprentice comes along, the Emperor seduces him to the Dark Side, pits him against his current apprentice, and one or the other is killed with the survivor carrying on as the current apprentice to the Sith Lord. The only way for the apprentice to no longer be an apprentice and break this cycle of competition is to kill the Sith Lord. In the world of the Sith is kill or be killed. There is no army of Siths, no collective union of Siths fighting for a kindred purpose. The Sith relationship is defined by power/domination/control by one over another. 

We all have a Superego. It is that part of our mind that tells us what we are doing, and even who we are, is not enough. The Superego can be a voice of the father we introject, or can be an internal voice we ascribe to our father based on interpretations we’ve made about what our father wanted from us; usually some combination of the two. When it goes beyond that which pushes us to do better it drives the need to consume and get MORE (since alone we are not enough). Many men get stuck in this phase and see every part of their life as a competition. This can play out in many ways: men can become jealous of their girlfriend having been with another man and decide to break up a great relationship on that basis alone (instead of being in this moment recognizing that things are great because here she is with him, having chosen him), or competing with friends feeling the need to try to outdo them on the career front... What a way to ruin a good friendship!

When there is pathological competition, the attitude usually is defeat or be defeated. Let’s contrast the leadership of the Emperor to that of the coach of the Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers. Earlier in the season when the Celtics were struggling his message to his team was “don't compete against each other, compete against the other team.” Like a good father even says don't be angry at each other, be angry at me (taking the heat/being the bad guy so the symbolic brothers can cooperate with each other). Believe me, it was a frustrating point of the season if you were a Celtic or a Celtics fan. The tendency was to fight amongst your teammates, or as a fan turn against your team.

Why do men do this? The same reason men get angry after a break up... Men have a hard time enduring the message or the idea they are not good enough (often interpreted as not ‘man enough)’. This usually accompanies some seeking to compensate feeling not good enough or not ‘man enough’ through an attempted show of strength. But when we as men do this we more often put on a show in which we do things that make us look worse which we usually regret. These attempted shows of strength men make make a possible reunion with an ex one still loves impossible, leads to broken friendships, and deeper resentment in already damaged father-son relationship. 

Yoda was usually right, except about Anakin (Darth Vader), as it was Anakin who lived up to the Prophecy and ultimately restored balance to the force. Anakin broke the cycle of competition and dominance demanded by the Emperor. He, again broke the Jedi (and Sith) code not to give in to one’s feelings, and acted from the heart to stop the Emperor from corrupting and destroying his son by breaking the cycle of competition. He destroyed the Emperor, and in the process of years of death an destruction at the hands of the Empire, even taught Yoda a thing or two about the Force.


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