As I get older I notice myself doing things my father does, and I hate it. Whether it be my speech, the way I eat my meal, or my complete lack of tolerance for bad drivers: I’m him. It’s unconscious. I don’t try to be like him, I just am.
I have a particularly authoritarian father. He likes to take control, a patriarch in the true sense of the word: loud, large and arrogant. He’s the typical alpha male: masculine, womanising, direct, and a provider.
As a young boy, I looked up to him; believed the world to be as he said it was. He took care of me, spoiled me with material possessions, and decided what was best. Rarely did I ever make a decision for myself. That was his way of fathering, and as his first born, he did his best.
He had a strict upbringing (surprise, surprise). His own father, akin to a fascist dictator, demanded compliance – respect above all – and no mistakes. I cannot begin to imagine how tough it must have been for my father.
But as a kid, it’s all you know, right?
What I realise now is that all sons seek approval. I wanted to be as smart as him, as good at sport, as confident in talking to women; courageous, passionate and resilient. Although, I felt none of these attributes were achievable without him telling me how.
Part of accepting who I am today is learning to love my father in myself.
In Steve Biddulph’s, Manhood (Finch Publishing), he clearly articulates the need to make peace with our parents.
In a sense, you are your father. You are an individual only to the extent that you build your own structure on top of what he has given you. Deep down inside you stand on all kinds of foundations which you must get to know, allow for and understand. Most of us have discovered, uneasily, that we have gestures, mannerisms or ways of doing things that are exactly those of our father. The answer isn’t to try and eradicate them. The psyche throws nothing away. You have to learn to love ‘your father in you’. If you don’t deal with this, then you will very often be at war with yourself.
My father loves me. For all of his shortcomings, many derived from his father, I will never accuse him of neglect with conscious aforethought.
As a young man, I wanted to wear a suit to work. Just like he did. I wanted to drive a nice car. Just like he did. I wanted to support the same football club for life. Just like he did. I wanted to have a wife. Just like he did.
I often think about the father I would be to a son.
What role do I play in teaching him to make good decisions?
Fatherhood requires some thinking. I’m not talking about names, sporting allegiances or rights of passage. I mean serious thought. I want my son to be a better version of me. Doesn’t every father? Am I not a better version of mine?
I’d feel proud if he turned out to be a good communicator, understood his sexuality, did not objectify human beings, showed empathy and tact in relationships, had creative ambition, and plans for his own family.
When I look in the mirror, I see my father. I’m coming to terms with that. It takes time and honesty.
The adult mind provides enormous satisfaction in getting to know your father. He who dares to do so can only find truth.
What has your father given you?