Fathers and Sons: Love Between Father and Son
In the past few weeks I have been speaking about the impact social conditioning has on our emotional well-being, and have outlined some ways to combat that social conditioning. A specific form of social conditioning many men have fallen prey to is social norms that have been created related to a man’s relationship to his father.
Somewhere along the way men have learned that after a certain age its not ok to feel or express tender feelings for one’s father. It does happen in media, but the predominant portrayal is that these men are ridiculed for their overt expression of tenderness as being a baby or childish or even gay, as if it’s homosexual men feel emotions! There have been songs out there that help break through this male defensiveness, like Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin, but I think they have served more to allow men temporary access to these feelings rather than changing the landscape of social conditioning for men.
A movie that hits closest to home on this subject is Field of Dreams. The film's underlying themes are the fulfillment of one’s dreams, and how people can overcome any regrets they may have about the life choices they make.
The words, “If you build it, he will come” echo in the ears of Kevin Costner throughout the entire movie. This leads Kevin Costner’s character to destroy a major portion of the cornfields on his farm, his source of financial security, to build a baseball field. Throughout the movie other characters wonder why Costner is throwing away all financial security and achievement for this baseball field, which is only bringing him the satisfaction of childhood sentimentality? Finally at the end, in a prophetic moment, one of the players who has come from the dead to play on this field of dreams, Shoeless Joe Jackson, tells Kevin Coster with emphasis “If you build it, HE will come.” Of all the big name, legendary baseball greats, like Shoeless Joe Jackson, who could be this HE that is more meaningful in the the dreams of a child? The big HE is Costner’s father. At that moment Costner glances toward a player near home plate in catcher's equipment. The player removes his mask, and Costner recognizes his father, John, as a young man. At his wife's urging, Costner introduces his father to his granddaughter, catching himself before telling her who he is, and simply introducing his father as "John". Kevin Costner knows this is his father, but it is not clear that his father knows. There is a certain tension, and emotional distance, capped off by a standard male handshake, where neither acknowledge the tangible connection between them. As his father is heading toward the outfield, to leave with the rest of the players, Costner beckons his father, finally breaking this tension by calling him "Dad," saying “Hey Dad... You wanna have a catch?” His father immediately responds positively, implicitly acknowledging that Kevin Costner is his son, as father and son choke back tears. It is at that point the masculine standoff ends allowing for the tender moment I will argue that all men yearn for with their father to come through and be expressed. As the movie fades to an end we can see father and his son in such a simple, iconic moment, playing catch together. Don’t we as grown men, all dream about being able to return to those meaningful moments with our father, even if only for a little while? Isn’t that the real dream in the father and son relationship, rather than some grand achievement?
That scene gets me every time, because I know we’ll never get those years back once they are lost. Inherent in the regrets many men live with is not spending time with their father before he passes away, or feeling like they did not take the opportunity to tell their father how much they loved him while they had the chance before that inevitable moment happens when one loses one’s father. It is a sad thought, but one I hope that will propel men to take action and reconnect with their father, or create that meaningful connection with their son or daughter. I feel a tear welling up in my eye just thinking about it, and somehow many men think that this is not appropriate to feel this way or express it. They suffer for it, and their children suffer for it as well.
There is a certain tension that exists between men and their fathers. A large source of emotional difficulties I have encountered with men has to do with shame. Often father’s do not feel like they are enough of a man or worthy of the respect they feel the role of father demands. At its extreme a man may feel this so strongly that he abandons his child to not have to face that pressure at all, thinking they are doing their child a favor or relieving their child of some disappointment. After all the dust settles, the real dream of a child is to be able to connect and spend time with their father. Same goes for a kid when a father pushes them in a certain direction toward some type of achievement instead of getting to know their child’s hopes and dreams. Often, even growing up, I’d see father’s pushing their sons to pick up the pieces of their lost dreams so they could live them vicariously through their child pursuing it for them. Who hasn’t experienced this to some degree with their own father! At more significant levels this leads a child to a feeling of not being good enough as well, and creates the cycle of shame and emotional disconnection, especially once the specter of fatherhood is reached later in life.
Field of Dreams is a place where all these lost dreams come to light, the most important one being saved for last: the connection between father and son, sharing a simple moment together, whether it is catch or any other activity through which father and child have bonded together. Nothing else is really as important, no achievement or success, no riches or conquered goal. Stop living under the imagined gaze of a disapproving father, and go reconnect with the real person. If you have lost your father, take this time to connect with your child. If you’re not a father call a person who was your mentor growing up or an old friend. Whoever it is that your thinking of connecting with, abandon fears of disapproval and self-induced shame. Overcome the emotional barricade men erect between themselves. Just do it and stop those feelings of shame from holding you back! It will help you in all of your relationships.
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