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Be the man your son looks up to

My Man

A mother to a 15-year old boy came to me, agonising about the toxic relationship between her husband and son. She said that her son complained that his father was always judging and criticising him. The husband, on his part, found the son rude and evasive.

She further said that the two could not stand one another. Her dilemma was that as an unbiased party, she could see both sides of the divide and each had its merits and demerits.

What was frustrating was that both husband and son, in her eyes, were so similar. Their rigidity and stubbornness was a case study of “like father, like son”.

The father son-relationship can be fraught with mis-communication and anger. There are ways to improve this relationship and the responsibility lies with the adult.

Unknowingly, to some fathers, a son presents a second chance, offering them an opportunity to relive an improved version of their not-so-perfect childhood. Righteously, the father does not to allow his son to make the same mistakes he made.

Conversely, in the mind of sons of fathers with such dreams, this translates in to carrying the responsibility of meeting his father’s unmet dreams.

These contrasting views on the same issue create a combustible mixture and especially so when at adolescence, the young man rebels and heads of in a direction diametrically opposed to his father’s wishes.

Generations and world view divide the father and son, and they see things through different prisms. However, having being cut from the same cloth, their personalities can either build a communication bridge or destroy it. Similar traits such as tendencies to be self-centred, judgemental and rigid, become the stage for verbal wars, where the father-son bond is the casualty.


To establish a common ground of understanding, one of them has to stop and focus on the bigger picture. The responsibility of sobering up and considering future implications falls upon the adult. Fathers should discipline themselves to soften up their criticism such that it should come out more as a suggestion and less than an incision to their decision making ability.

Fathers should not be expected to sit on their opinions but to be more sensitive about sharing them. Self-disciplined fathers take the timing and the context into consideration before intervening because the best feedback might be dismissed due to the insensitivity displayed in the delivery.

Resist the urge to label the son’s behaviour, such as calling it selfish or stupid, since such words leave a stinging imprint on the relationship. Dads should avoid embarrassing their teenagers because that more than anything else will be hard copied into their psyche.


When debating with your son, always avoid taking the opposing view. Give the matter due thought and see it from the boy’s point of view. If you must take an opposing view, balance it with rationale so that you do not always come across as an adversary.

These seemingly confident adolescents are still children and require praise and validation from their fathers. Their egos are still under construction and can be strengthened or weakened by their fathers’ words. As a father you should try and do stuff together with your son, but do not insist. In some cases you may be the last person they want to hang out with.

The activity could be something completely out of character for the father but totally enjoyable for the young man. An important, though often ignored resource for fathers, is the boy’s mother. She knows the two adversaries well and has possibly faced the same challenges from the young man and survived.

A friend confided in me that after confiscating his son’s phone, his son shouted at him, “I hate you.” Shocked, he reported this to his wife, who calmly said: “Welcome to the club”.

The author is a life coach and founder of Peak Performance International- a human potential development firm. Send your questions or comments to; [email protected]

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