Psychologist and Family Therapist Matthew Ryan explores some of the common dysfunctional styles of fathering …
Most fathers (myself included) believe and/or fear that they are somehow failing in their role as fathers.
Many fathers did not receive very wise parenting/fathering from their own fathers. No father becomes a father without having first been a son. Your own father is the person who first and most powerfully taught you how to be a man and father. Your father and the way he fathered you is a continuing major influence on how you father your own children.
Like it or not, he is in your sinews and nerves forever. This inheritance is usually a mixture of priceless treasure and garbage – and everything in between – and unless you make some time to get in and sort it out, you’ll never be sure which is which.
As part of this process, it can be helpful to identify some of the more common dysfunctional models of fatherhood, and then determining how our fathers and our own fathering may be influenced by one or more of these models. From examining these models, the “not what to do” can become clearer, while we gain increased insight into what a model of functional fathering might look like.
There are four dysfunctional models I will describe here:
The Man Who Would be King
This is the father who works hard all day, returning home to be waited on by a loyal wife-servant and “seen but not heard” children. He is the undisputed king of the home and rules his kingdom from his Jason-recliner. The family tiptoes around him, careful not to bother him.
Like any kingdom or dictatorship however, the rule of the king can be eventually be challenged by the wife or children, who grow tired of the kings dictatorial ways and then all hell can break loose. This sort of fathering tends to either cause children to be subservient or rebellious, depending on their temperaments.
The Critical Father
Unlike the man who would be king, the critical father is certainly very involved and active in his fathering – but in very negative or sometimes even frightening ways. His fathering is marred and warped by putdowns and nit-picking; nothing and no achievement of his children is ever good enough – he sets the bar impossibly high.
His parenting is driven by anger and frustration and a destructive perfectionism. Children of such fathering often grow up thinking they are “not good enough” – no matter how hard they try they will never succeed. Through a deep inner frustration they often replicate this sort of parenting, pressuring their own children to succeed where they believed they have failed – projecting their own frustrated hopes on their own children as their father did to them.
The Passive Father
This is the type of father who resigns all responsibilities and authority to the mother/wife. He is the Simpson’s dad – he has lost his testicles somewhere along the line and it’s now too hard to think about. He is often brow-beaten by a very dominating wife who often refers to him as one of the children – he may even call his wife “mum” or “mother”, clearly highlighting the dysfunctional parental mother-child relationship between them.
His children either feel sorry for him, or feel contempt for him, or a mixture of the two. Sons of such a father often grow into men who do not have a clue as to how to behave as men, or bluff their way through life.
The Absent Father
This father is often a very capable man, even a powerful man – but rarely home. He’s off having a career, leaving early and returning home late, often away on long business trips. He rarely has time for the children’s sports or cultural events. He often substitutes his presence with gifts/money. Children of such a father can sometimes idealise him or reject him, both reactions causing problems in adulthood.
If you have experienced a father like the ones described above and/or are concerned about your own fathering, therapy is a way of overcoming the impacts of such parenting, as well as transforming for the good your own fathering style.
Author: Matthew Ryan, B Psych (Hons), MA (Marriage & Family Therapy).
Matt Ryan is a senior psychologist with over 25 years of experience, with a keen interest in helping men of all ages to negotiate the various challenges of life and relationships, including fatherhood.
To book an appointment with Matthew Ryan call 1800 877 924 or book online today!