Everybody loves my posts about my father. The relationship I had with him was profound and made me who I am. But why do people perceive it as unique? Why don’t more men have profound relationships with their children?
When a child is born, the mother bonds to it immediately and powerfully on a physical level. At the same time, for many women, the birth of a child is the first opportunity in their lives to feel like the authority and the expert on something important. Both first-time parents are absolutely clueless about how to handle a newborn but the woman has an edge because the infant’s food comes out of her and her presence is immediately soothing. From the start, the father learns to look to the mother for guidance as to how to handle the baby. It flatters the mother’s ego, so she exaggerates her competence. Soon enough, this relationship – the expert / the kid / the expert’s occasional helper – solidifies.
The father never starts to build his own relationship with his child because he has no idea that’s an option. At best, he carries out the mother’s orders regarding the child. But the father and the child don’t have a relationship in which the mother doesn’t play a role as an instigator, planner, reminder, and a hovercraft.
The father starts noticing that something exists between his wife and his child that doesn’t exist between him and either of them. It’s his child, he’s supposed to be feeling it but he clearly sees that his wife is getting something out of being a parent that he’s not. Within his own family he feels excluded, and that’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling.
To get rid of this unpleasant feeling, the father often attaches himself to the mother-child dyad in the capacity of the child’s older brother. This way, he can at least love his child in some way. The problem is that the child never gets a Dad, the Dad never experiences the father’s role, and the wife invariably loses some of her respect for the husband who acts like her older son. This is one of the most frequent complaints one hears from mothers. “I feel like a mom of three, with my husband being the eldest kid.” Or not even the eldest.
In other cases, the father withdraws from the family into his work, his hobby, his male peer group – or, if he’s particularly dense – into a new relationship where he’ll recreate the same pattern.
People recreate this pattern because that’s what they see growing up. And everybody ends up being robbed. In order to break the pattern in a healthy way, you need a mother whose ego is so well-fed that she doesn’t try to compete with the father for authority over the child and the father who’s either a bit on the autistic side and doesn’t know how other people do things or has a very strong personality and great emotional competence. Have you noticed that many of the best dads are somewhat autistic? Mine was.
Of course, there are situations where the mother has mental issues, doesn’t bond to the child and the father has to step in. But that creates the exact same problem with the excluded, resentful mother.