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The Father Factor In TRON: Legacy - By Chris Gearing

Monday, January 10, 2011

In the new movie Tron Legacy, Sam Flynn has been fatherless for since he was a boy. But when he is transported into the computer world created by his father, he finally discovers the relationship he has desperately been missing for years.

So, how important is a father in a child’s life?

I find that fathers have a profound impact on their kids and can even be the difference between success and failure, particularly when it comes to work and education. We learn the "ways of the world" with our dads, and that knowledge translates into whether or not we enter the world well prepared.

Now, I know that this seems counter-intuitive since mothers are the primary caretakers in most families.

But much of a child’s academic experience and his eventual career in the workplace involve considerable focus on succeeding in a hierarchical world in which we are incentivized to compete, even at the sake of consensus. Learning how to navigate the workplace and all the implicit rules inherent in such environments is central to the growth and flourishing of careers. Men and women who are close to their fathers tend to have a tremendous advantage in life because they were mentored in the unspoken rules of the male world.

There seem to be several distinct fathering styles and the kinds of children they rear:

1. Super-Achieving Fathers: This style of parenting emphasizes appearance and achievement. Kids grow up knowing that they must look good, perform well, and win. Money, position, and power are all emphasized. These dads imbue their kids with a strong work ethic, ambition, and the children often make excellent entrepreneurs and leaders. The down side is that kids often feel disconnected and misunderstood by a father who wants them to “run with the bulls,” at the expense of the finer points of relating and living. These kids have difficulty establishing separate identities from their overbearing fathers and often prefer to go into a service industry such as the ministry, teaching, or health care as a way of living a life that values the welfare of others.

2. Time-Bomb Fathers: This style is based on fear, intimidation and emotional instability. Without hesitation, the father will lash out toward others and these outbursts are terrifying for kids of all ages. Threats of leaving, abandonment, and emotional and physical violence are common. Keeping the peace and managing the father is all that matters and these kids often develop into masterfully perceptive people since they had to manage their dad so carefully. These children are hyper sensitive to the emotions and needs of others, and have to develop their own ability to protect their self interests with others who try to take advantage of then. Diplomats, advocates of others, and health care professionals often have dads with this kind of temperament.

3. Passive Fathers: This kind of father showed love through his actions, not through relating or through verbal statements. He was stable, consistent, hard-working, calm but emotionally reserved. This man would never engage in unkind behavior and often surrendered his power to the mother and was a peripheral member of the family. Emotional distance is the hallmark of this type of father. Children of this type of dad doubt their ability to communicate emotionally and to have deep relationships. Like their dads, they understand the importance of commitment and hard work, and they are generally stable, temperate, and reliable. However, learning to understand and manage their emotions is a lifelong challenge.

4. Absent Fathering Style: The absent father is "missing in action" and has abdicated his role and interest in his children. Paternal rejection is horrific for the child’s sense of worth. These kids often harbor life long pain and resentment. Even in the case of marital dissolution, a child wants her father to fight for her. If he walks away--no matter what his rationalization may be--the child is impacted. The upside is that these kids learn the value of loyalty, support, and commitment to others and can become extremely committed to social welfare and justice. Careful to not create dissension, they may be overly accommodating with others in negotiations and in their personal relationships. Slow to trust, they often develop very intense, lifelong relationships with a small, elite inner circle. Some of our greatest presidents and world leaders have experienced this kind of father and have transformed adversity into a triumphant life of contribution.

5. Compassionate-Mentor Fathers: Think of Atticus Finch, in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and you have a pretty good idea of the gifts of the compassionate mentor dad. Although this is the dad we all want to have, few of us are ever gifted with this kind of father. This kind of father is astute in reading others, committed to values greater than himself, and holds himself and his children to ethical, loving standards. He spends time with his children, nurtures them with attention and understanding, and is, above all, emotionally connected. He empowers his children to pursue their dreams, triumph over setbacks, and to envision their success. Children feel safe, understood and adored. These children are fully capable of healthy, balanced, and compassionate lives and often engage in a life of contribution to society. They are excellent partners and parents since they learned from a young age to value themselves, to handle emotions responsibly, and to engage in life fully.

Now the final point is that many of our fathers are blends of these different types and many men transform from one parenting style to another as they grow and mature over the life cycle. Hopefully, we all embrace the best parts of this vital relationship and learn from the challenges that only made us stronger.


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