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Fathers, sons and the black dog

Posted Jul 16 2009 10:12pm

iceberg The other night my son came in and starting asking me about different side business ventures he was thinking of to supplement his income. He’s a barber in a college town and when school is out his income drops considerably.

Everything from vending machines to joining the National Guard or Reserves. I quizzed him on what his motivation for the Army was and how if it was strictly for money, that wasn’t a good enough reason to sign up for several years and put your life at risk. I’ve known people who loved their military career and some who hated it. If he does go in to the service, I want him to go with his eyes open.

My boy has never cared for authority figures and I don’t think anything has changed in that regard. I did my best to help him see all the angles and to weigh out the options.

I could tell he was in the mood to talk and open to a more in-depth conversation. It was an opening in to his emotions and I had to take advantage of, while the window was still open. Like a lot of young men he prefers to not talk about anything even slightly emotional.

“How’s your sister doing? Have you talked to her lately?” I asked

He answered, “I don’t know, I guess she’s okay but we really hardly ever see each other and rarely talk.”

“Ben, I pay the phone bill and can see that you talk to each other.” I countered.

“A lot of that is phone tag but I’m talking about a longer conversation, not just a few minutes on the phone.”

I hesitated and asked, “Does she ever ask about anyone in our family?”

“Yeah she’s asked about Poppy.”

Poppy is my dad, her grandpa who she last saw 2 years ago at her grandma’s funeral. She’s never been to see him or even called him since then. These are the grandparents who helped raise her and yet she’s turned her back on them too.

I took a deep breath and mulled it over in my mind and decided what-the-hell, “I’ll be real honest with you Ben. For the last 10 years, ever since your sister had a melt-down and cut me out of her life and then extended it to everyone in our family, I’ve been fighting depression. It’s made me incredibly sad and the thing that really confuses me is there’s no reason for it. I have no idea of what I did to deserve this. I tried to be the best dad I could be - to be as involved in your lives as possible.”

“You are a good dad.” he said quite sincerely. “I kind of figured your were upset about it because you always ask about her.”

What a wonderful thing for a father to hear. Validation that it wasn’t all in vain. The sacrifices and effort were recognized and valued.

I went on to tell him of my concerns for his sister and what may have happened to her, that I was worried about her.

“The weird thing is,” he said, “is that mom’s husband has been estranged from his dad and he wants to re-connect with him so he was encouraging her to get in touch with you, but she just got mad.”

Wow, that really surprised me. This is husband #4 and he’s never been very friendly to me. Of course he doesn’t know me, he only knows what my ex tells him. Several years ago he wrote a couple of obnoxious emails to me when my ex and I were in court over child support. Now it appears that he may have a deeper understanding of parent-child relationships and this has given him at least a little empathy for what’s going on between my daughter and I.

Even though she got mad at his suggestion to call me, it still gives me a little hope that with more people talking to her it may eventually make a difference. Eventually . . .

It also makes me very grateful that my son felt comfortable enough to open up to me about his life and what he wants to do. I always feel much closer to my son when these rare moments poke their head above the surface. The bond between a father and son goes through several stages over the course of a lifetime. Oftentimes neither one really understands what’s going on in the heart of the other. It’s too easy to sit on our emotions and not speak our mind.

Father-son relationships are a lot like an iceberg floating silently in the ocean, occasionally you bump into it and understand it’s much bigger than you thought. These moments help you realize the relationship you have with your child is much deeper than what appears on the surface.

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