Tell Me About It

My son doesn’t like his Dad at the moment

Your husband might undertake a serious look at his philosophy on life

PROBLEM: My nine-year-old son was asked to write a short piece on his Dad for school during the week – it was supposed to be an easy “go-back-to-school” assignment and he showed it to me without any sense of unease.

It read: “ My Dad is a businessman and he works very hard. He gets lots of money and it all goes into our nice house and things. My Dad works away from home a lot of the time and when he is home he is grumpy because he is tired. I don’t like it when he is tired and I don’t like him very much.”

I was stunned and so sad when I read this and I showed it to my husband who is very upset too. We feel that no matter what we do (and finances dictate that we cannot do much) we cannot get back my son’s good view of his Dad. My other fear is that when my husband is stressed he becomes tense and terse and this is stressing him so much I am afraid that he will become angrier – at himself this time.

ADVICE: Children have an uncanny way of speaking the truth, without sugar coating and there is no doubt that your son is expressing true and honest feelings about his Dad. The danger is that all the adults in his life will now overcompensate with attention and gifts and the underlying problem goes unsolved. Your husband sounds unhappy and stressed. His ability to be self-aware about this has not been good to date.

This shock no doubt brings him to the realisation that he needs to address his life and his response to its demands. Unfortunately, old habitual responses to stress can often click in and instead of real change, some form of pretend change occurs. This is an opportunity for you as a family to look at what you are practising and see if you are heading in the right direction for all of you.

Looking at this simply, it is tempting to say that your husband needs to be in better form when he is around your son. However, children also have an ability to pierce through falseness and if your husband is putting on an act it is unlikely to result in any worthwhile difference in their relationship.

Therefore, your husband, with your help, might undertake a substantial and serious look at your philosophy on life and how you might achieve your aims. We have a common response of putting off happiness for some future time when we have more or enough money, status or time and unfortunately this time never comes as we get better and better at putting off that moment.

That is not to say that money is not crucial as financial stress is a real and frightening possibility. Is your husband in a career that offers some flexibility? Is there some way that he can do less travelling so that he might spend more time at home? Even if this is not on the cards at the moment, perhaps you two could plan for this to materialise in the future. If there is hope for change in the future, it can allow for some optimism in the present.

There is evidence that when men have children, they spend more time at work due to the pressure to provide for the family and this is often operating underneath the surface and does not get challenged or discussed.

A Dad will look to the future and the need to provide for education and even perhaps retirement and this can guide his decisions and actions in the present. It can happen that the career chosen is one that is dissatisfying or even deadening and the man can sacrifice his own desires for the wellbeing of the family.

All this can happen without any discussion and thus a sense of immobility and inevitability results and an unhappy and grumpy Dad comes home from work in the evening. This sense of man-as-provider is constantly being challenged but perhaps it has not yet manifested in everyday life.

Your husband wants to provide a model of manhood for his son that is multidimensional and one that leads to a fulfilling and satisfying life. Now he has had the wake-up call to instigate this.

My guess is that your husband could do with some help in addressing these issues. Short term counselling or psychotherapy might offer him a space to reflect without any pressure to be mindful of others. It may be possible for you to join him on a couple of these sessions and his sense that he is supported might be very helpful.

Your son shows himself to be confident, truthful and open in his expression and this is a lovely quality. Your family have been given a wake-up call, use it wisely.