Posted by: rationalpsychic | Sunday, June 10, 2007

On Having a Son and Being a Son

Until you have a son of your own . . . you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son. You will never know the sense of honor that makes a man want to be more than he is and to pass something good and hopeful into the hands of his son. And you will never know the heartbreak of the fathers who are haunted by the personal demons that keep them from being the men they want their sons to be.

Kent Nerburn (20th century), U.S. theologian and author. Letters to My Son, prologue (1993).


My son, Griffin, turned nine on Friday. He’s not any more special or important than my other three children. But, he is different. He’s the only son I have. And that’s what I wish I could figure out: what does it mean to have a son, to be a father to that child?

My experience I have of my child is made up of his curly, blond hair, his talkative nature and his angelic quality of being able to forgive and forget. I looked at blogs for over an hour and tried to find one that answered the question, “How do other men deal with having sons?” I couldn’t find anything that fit the bill. Perhaps other guys have a smoother way of coping with existential questions and have other things to blog about.

Like most parents, I worry over how my son is doing. I want him to be adjusted enough to get along with others. I want him to feel like he can succeed at things he tries to do. And, in several years, I hope he finds someone to love. Isn’t this the essence of a parent’s job? Or is it just a response to the failings I can trace back to my childhood?

The way I remember my father during my childhood was as a large presence. A little over 5’10” my father is still a barrel-chested specimen who has always weighed between 225 and 250. I have a photo of his grandfather working at his blacksmith’s furnace and anvil in the early 1900’s. He looks like my father’s twin.

My father certainly knew how to give me a hug or kiss when I was young, but it’s the fact of his presence, sometimes horseplaying with me and my sister, more often silent with dark moods, that dominates the majority of my childhood memories.

I don’t remember him encouraging me to go out for any sports. The only thing that was organized for kids my age in our town was Farm League baseball. I was afraid of pop flies and could imagine being maimed or getting a broken nose every time a ball came to me.

The flip side of this is that I don’t recall him pushing me to get into any sports, either. During the summer there were many days when you could find me hiking through ravines with my friends. And there were just as many days when you could have found me inside reading a book and trying to get from Sol to Pluto in the library’s summer reading program.

The way I remember it, it was hunting that really helped me see my dad in a more personal way. As though he wasn’t just the stranger who brought the most money home and taught me the difference between “wanting” things and “needing” things. When I went to hunt ruffed grouse with him near Orr, Minnesota, I saw this large man disappear and turn into someone who could walk without breaking twigs. He could find the birds’ scat in the midst of the clover and underbrush.

And if my dad shot and wounded a bird he would count that as the worst sin of a whole day of hunting. Much worse than “getting skunked,” or shooting at a bird and missing entirely. I am still very proud of him just from him showing me that he’s the type of person who doesn’t count the number of birds shot as the objective of hunting. He felt that the walk in the woods was a reward in itself.

My father has his flaws. There’s no doubt about that. He was better as a parent as I got older than when I was younger.

Instead of laying out a whole lot of goals for myself that will make me a better father I think that I can only expect that I make myself as available to my son as I can.

And if my son can forgive me my mistakes by the time he’s forty or so, I think that would also be some kind of accomplishment.



  1. You sound like a great dad who is very engaged and present in your son’s life. Thank you for that! I am only 19, but I am trying to get over my lack of fathering that I have experienced. I definitely recommend reading Wild at Heart and Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldridge. He has helped me infinitely and he deals specifically with the issue that you have raised. I think you will find it very beneficial. God bless you and your family!

  2. I think what you expressed from going hunting with you father is the essence of what every boy craves from his dad, to be guided into masculinity…to be shown how to navigate and interpret life through everyday events. I was just thinking this morning – “what did my dad teach me to do” and unfortunately it was nothing. Not to fix a bike, throw a ball, shoot a gun, “walk without breaking twigs”, etc. As a boy I longed to have my dad take the time to teach me things I didn’t know so that I would come to an understanding that I had something to offer the world, that I had a role to play in the meta-narrative of life, but he wasn’t able largely because of his own story. So, with this in hand, I work intentionally to have moments with my 9-year old son that will initiate him and pass on to him what I’ve learned. I’ve had to walk closely with a fellowship of other fathers so that my son understands he is part of a “tribe” that is bigger than himself. We’ve created father and son events as way to provide rites of passage and initiation. Not only has it been transformational to the boys, but as fathers we were initiated ourselves just as powerfully! These are the things I have found crucial to provide my son as a father. Thanks for the good words and keep up the work with your son.

  3. I was raised in an all boys family. I have seven brothers in total including me and my wife has three little brothers. In our household, sibling competition was always fierce between us boys and my father encouraged it to be that way. Now, when we are all grown up, I have twelve nephews and only one niece from my second eldest brother.

    My father had always favored my second brother after his wife gave birth to a girl on the first try. It was like something so, good in his eyes that his others sons can’t do. He would do everything for him, nothing was too little or too much. He even flew from England to Ireland just so he could visit his first granddaughter! He even spent next to 6, 7k for the nursery!

    My father, he was those very distant father types. And as a businessman, he treated his sons like business. If they could profit him in some way, then he would take an interest in the upbringing.

    Even though most men are definitely proud when they have sons, I can’t help but envy those that don’t. My wife is currently pregnant and we realized that we would have a little boy come this July, I don’t want to be my father and be so distant and actually take part in the boy’s upbringing, but I feel a little shamed in having one.

    My father was kind to me when we first told him he was going to be a grandfather for the 13th time. He was definitely excited and I can’t help feeling proud. That shows that whatever age you are, I’m 24, you still want your father’s approval.

    But then, a couple days ago we found out the baby’s gender: a boy. I’m so worried that all of his excitement and interest would just drain out, simply because it was just another boy in the family.

    Well, I’m having a son-father crisis right now. So, thumbs up to you, your father and your son for having such a loving, wholesome relationship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: