Man-to-Man: He’s afraid of his son’s rage.
Q: I am in my 60s and my son is approaching 40. I would have thought that by this time in our lives the issues between us would have been resolved. But despite my best attempts to welcome him on visits home, and to support him through his many trials and tribulations (including his divorce from a wonderful woman with whom my wife and I are very close), he is still so very angry with me. I do everything I can to be available to him and we love spending time with his children, our grandkids. But whenever we do come together, there always seem to be discussions that lead to arguments. Many of the arguments develop as my son reacts to his mother. I try to smooth things out, but invariably my son’s rage gets redirected toward me. When I look into his eyes I am literally frightened at the rage I see. I am ashamed to admit this, but I am afraid of my son. There has never been any physical violence between us, but the fear is there, nonetheless. I would be grateful for any suggestions you may be able to offer that might help me and my son move beyond his rage.
A: I’ll do my best to help you repair your relationship with your son. But let’s aim a little higher. Rather than just moving beyond his anger, whaddya say we shoot for a close and trusting, man-to-man relationship with your grown son?
Though your letter is short on details, I’ll trust my abilities to fill in the gaps. I suspect there’s a great deal of history between the two of you that involves expectations and disappointment. Not only that, it sounds as if you have tried to play middleman between your son and his mom, and perhaps between the other members of your family. Pretty exhausting, I’ll bet. And, apparently, not very effective, either.
Seems to me that you’ve been a good little boy most of your life and, quite possibly, carry around some shame about not having been the husband and father you would have liked to have been. This weakness you see in yourself might very well be feeding the anger in your son. He wanted a strong dad to guide him, to protect him, to stick up for him, and to show him how to have healthy relationships, especially with women.
Your son’s recent divorce – and the predictable arguments he gets into with his mother – suggests that the little boy is running his life, as well. Time for you both to grow up a bit, don’t you think?
If I had you son’s ear, I’d tell him to: Stop blaming your dad for doing the best he could and start acting like a man who can learn from his own mistakes, and those of his dad. Stop acting like a little boy with your “mommy” and start treating her with respect. Take your anger to some supportive men who can help you be a man who is a good example to your kids and a better mate to the next woman in your life.
But your son didn’t write this letter. You did. So if you want to see a change in your relationship, you’ll have to take the lead on this.
Pops, you need to forgive yourself for not having had a full toolbox. You did your best. But now you can do better. Stop playing middleman. Let your adult family have their own relationships, on their terms. Whoever appointed you manager of all family relationships sure picked the wrong guy. It’s not your job. You’re fired! Take your shame – and all of your other feelings, confusion, anger, judgment, hopes and dreams – to some supportive men in your life so it no longer plays a role in your relationships.
By your actions, with that commitment in your eyes, show your son you’re no longer afraid of him. Look, the worst thing that can happen, probably, is that he takes a swing at you. My guess is that when you finally show up as the man you want to be with him, he’ll just want to hug you and never let go. That’s when the healing begins.
Wayne M. Levine, M.A., is a life coach and mentor for men, women, couples and families. Email your questions to MantoMan@BetterMen.org. Learn more about men’s groups and retreats at http://www.BetterMen.org.
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