Mothers and Daughters – Fathers and Sons

This is a post of real anguish – note the typos too – I almost never post about my family but that day I did

Thursday, July 10, 2003

What is it about Mothers and Daughters? Robin’s mother is a much larger and more destructive figure in her life than her breast cancer. Not a day goes by with out some hurtful exchange or some mood, seeping across the property to depress us all. We built a Granny flat for Ann next to her house but the relationhsip is so awful between the two that Ann is having to move out this weekend. Both are miserable. While some distance will be good, only the grave – and I am not even sure of that – will reduce this sense of guilt on Robin’s part that she cannot meet her mother’s needs and her mother’s anger that her needs are not met.

As we have struggled to make this work, I have thought aboiut all my close firends and have come to the conclusion that for the majority, their mothers are either domineering control freaks who treat their middle aged daughter as if she was three or are themselves pathetic 4 year old children who need the constant attention of their daughters. Whatever it is a feel bad situation.

On the surface men and fatrhers often appear to be larger than life and appear to dominate. But this does not last long in many families. The power lines shift especially in middle life. I am finding a “Grendel” like character in many older women. Some powerful set of needs, unfulilled in the active life span, emerge in later life and take over. Many of my women contemporaries show signs of becoming just like their mothers!

It was of course Oscar Wilde who said that “Every woman’s greatest fear is that she will turn out like her mother. It is every woman’s greatest tragedy that she often does.”

It is only fair, if I was writing about Mothers and Daughters, that I should mention Fathers and Sons. There appear to be two areas of angst that I hear about the most.

The “Lost father” and the “I’ll show him father” .

The Lost Father is a set up where the son feels that he never really knew his father. Where he saw his father have fatherly relationships with other young men – especially at work so he is aware that his father has the capacity to be a father but this relationship does not happen between the true son and the true father. The saddest example of this is Col John Boyd (the father of the OODA Lop and Shock and Awe) who was one of the great mentors of the modern era but who ignored his own sons. In the final irony, as he lay dying Boyd called out to his intellectual sons as his natural son sat by his bed in the vain hope that maybe, at the moment of death, his father would acknowledge him. For many of us in this category of sons, I am one, much of our adult life is a quest to find a father substitute. Sometimes these relationships can be nourishing and good – especially in the early years in boyhood or early adulthood. But others, if you keep on seeking into adult life, can be based on trying the same failed tricks to win the attention of the fake father that failed with the real father. If you are lucky, one day you find an older man who tells you that it is time to grow up and look after yourself. Thank you Fraser!

The “I’ll show him father” – good examples are Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner. Both men had successful fathers whose constant discourse to their sons was that they were no good layabouts. For these men this was the lash of ambition that drives then so hard to “show him” that he was wrong. Like much mania, the it appears that the pinnacle can never be reached and that the need to show him never ends. The sadder side of this set up is the son who believes his father’s sentence of failure and acts this out his entire life.

Are there fathers whose relationships fit their sons needs? I am sure there are – but good stories are never about comfort

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