Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sons and Fathers

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I posted this blog a while back. I think it fits here as well.

I take great interest in father/son relationships; the 3 males who have defined me the most are my dad, my brother and my husband. My son is a bit too young for that, but eventually he'll enter that category. My husband says: A boy has to rebel against his father. It's the only way he will become a man. But he has to rebel right."

In the literature I love, rebellion and hatred are common themes among siblings and parents. I like to read it because I know it's true, and I get sick of people claiming that there is love where there is none. Yes, parents should love their kids and visa versa. Siblings should treat each other with respect. In some families this is true. It wasn't in mine. And I will go out on a limb to say that it is sorely lacking in many relationships.

My favorite novels are the following: The Brothers Karamazov, Absalom Absalom and The Sound and the Fury. In the first, a father is killed, presumably by his eldest son. In the second, one brother kills another. In the third, a son takes his own life because he cannot rationalize the romantic vision of the South, taught by his father, with his true emotions that he can never express--one being his incestuous love for his sister who gets pregnant after numerous encounters with males. The father in The Brothers Karamazov is a pig: none of his sons can stand him, and they try to avoid his gene pattern in different ways: one through debauchery, another through intellectualism and the youngest through religion. In Absalom, the son who kills his brother is the good son, obedient and the presumed heir to his father's fortune, acting on his father's wishes. By killing the brother who threatens to ruin the only world he knows, he throws that world away and never can return, except to die. The Sound and the Fury is possibly the most heartbreaking because Quentin Compson is a good man, a gentle soul, but he was born too late in a world that cannot accept him. He takes that truth to the grave.
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Why are father/son relationships so troublesome? I believe it has to do with notions of manhood. My father was a difficult man, and my brother later on told me that he didn't know how to be a father to his kids because he had such a bad role model. My heart broke for him; in order to be a man, he had to unlearn everything he was taught from birth. My husband lost his father young; it damaged him and only the Army gave him a taste of what he wanted to learn from his dad. I have male friends who never met their fathers or cannot remember them. One told me in bitterness: men do one thing well; they leave. His father divorced his mother, and in turn, divorced his children as well. He struggles with wholeness to this day. I also know divorced men who want to be with their children desperately, but custody battles and family quarrels make something that should be simple into slaying the dragon. The world is a better place when fathers can truly be fathers: I know this from my own life.

One reason I love the movie, The Godfather, is because it takes on manhood in bizarre ways. Vito Corleone asks his godson if he is spending time with his children, even though he divorced his wife. Sonny cheats on his wife 24/7, yet he loves his kids. Michael becomes the eventual tragic figure because he gives up his humanity to preserve his family, and loses his son's love in the process. Vito says: "You can't be a man unless you are a father to your children." Some men kill to bring home food for their families. Some deceive others and backstab in the corporate world. Some behave like good people. You may not like them, but they are fathers to their sons.
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But no son can be a carbon copy of his father. How many parents want their kids to become__________________, generally the same profession as them? How many of them want them to follow the same religious faith that they taught them? How many of them disown them if they find out they are gay? What do men want from their sons? Why can't sons be who they are destined to be, rather than what they are told to become?
I know my son will become a man, and he may do things that I absolutely abhor. I know that I must give him autonomy, even if he does things that hurt me, his father and even himself. Children are often boomerangs; they come back eventually, but in some cases they will be traveling a long time. Some may never return. Maybe there is no one to blame. Some people may be relatives, but that doesn't mean you are meant to get along with them. Call me cold, but I see this as reality. I never did like that one commandment: Honor thy father and mother, even though I always tried my best and my son does the same. It's another reason why people end up broken when they should be healed from emotional pain.