Why Fathers And Children Don’t Get Along

My next book is a departure and a risk. If you want to understand why, read the goal of my life explained.

I’ve been asking questions about fathers and sons my entire life, which makes it no surprise I’ve had a difficult relationship with my father. He is not an easy man to know, but as a child I didn’t know this. And as it is with all families, you can only see your family for what it is once you leave it and look back. It wasn’t until my twenties, when I moved away and started my own life, that I began to understand both myself and my father  and began the work of unpacking our relationship, as broken as it was. So many of the feelings I had about myself weren’t really mine, but feelings I learned to have to try and fit into his world.

My next book, titled The Ghost of My Father, is about this relationship. Particularly the events of the last two years where he, at the age of 70, has chosen to abandon his family. It seems he was never quite happy with his life, or with us, observations he never shared until this last chapter where he tried to move away and start a new life. He had an affair once before while I was a child, with disastrous consequences for the family. And now I find waves of memories, feelings and thoughts from that time have been brought back to the present, memories and feelings that demand being reckoned with.

We think memory is stable, but all my memories of my childhood have shifted dramatically. Different stories from my past now seem far more important, and ones I thought were important now don’t seem to matter at all. I’ve returned to my journals, sifting through to look for more insight into why these memories are with me now, and others are not.

“Memory seems to be an independent creature inspired by event, not faithful to it. Maybe memory is what the mind does with it’s free time, decorating itself. Maybe it’s like cave paintings. The thing is, I’m old enough now to know that the past is every bit as unpredictable as the future, and that memory, mine anyway, is not a faithful recording of anything, and truth is not an absolute.”  – Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir

Last night I watched the film The Return, about a father who returns to his two young boys from a mysterious ten year disappearance. There was something epic about the tones of the film and how fathers factor in many children’s minds as a powerful, ambiguous, possibly unknowable creatures. Certainly not all fathers are like this, but many are. And few of us have the courage to dig into the hard ground of our childhoods, despite our disappointments with our parents, to sort out who we are and who we want to be now that we’re not children anymore.

This 6th book will be my most personal one so far.

  1. If you want to be notified when the book is out, signup here.
  2. You can read more posts about the book.
  3. If you’re interested in this book, leave a brief comment (“I’m interested – go Scott!” works fine). I’ll be in touch as the book develops and is published. This blog won’t be shifting to be primarily about this project, so leaving a comment makes it easy to stay in touch with you.
  4. And of course films, books, and other stories you recommend I read are welcome too.
  5. If you have a related story to share about your relationship with your father, good or bad, I’d be grateful if you left a comment or sent me an email.

141 Responses to “Why Fathers And Children Don’t Get Along”

  1. Jen Zug

    Verrrrry interested in the book and in your experience of writing it, particularly since your father is still alive. I’ve wanted to write a similar book for about 20 years, but the dust-up it would cause in my family is a bit overwhelming to think about.

    As I think about it and squirrel away little notes and journal entries on the topic, though, I find that the book I’d write today is much different than the book I would have written 20 years ago (for the better). Ah, to be 42 and not 22 anymore.

    Re recommendations, I love browsing through memoirs at a bookstore, reading all the “author’s notes” or “disclaimers” about how the story is from their perspective, or their own truth, or whatever. It would be interesting to publish a book of memoirist disclaimers. :)

    Reply
  2. Louis

    Hey Scott,

    As I am a son and a father (and a grandfather later this year) I’m looking forward to the new book. If I would (read could) write a book on this topic I’d probable give it the title “Confusion comes with age”.

    Good luck with the book.

    Louis

    Reply
  3. Sean Crawford

    Hi Scott.
    I dimly recall where a magazine routinely asked for submissions in the first person by non-writers, that is, people who don’t free-lance to magazines. The editors found that half the submissions were about a man’s father.

    No wonder you are getting so many comments. Go Scott.

    Reply
  4. Wayne Follett

    My father passed away when I was fourteen; I’ve always wondered how different a man I would be if he’d been in my life as an adult. I’m looking forward to the book. Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Thanks Wayne. I’ve always wondered many things about alternative paths for my father and me.

      Reply
  5. Anon

    posting this anonymously, but this really touches my heart. I would be very interested.

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Thanks. I can understand staying anonymous as it took me awhile to find the courage to post this post. If you follow the blog you’ll hear news as the book gets closer to publication.

      Reply
  6. Marco Shaw

    I’m interested. I love my kids… My problem is being able to afford them and give them what they need to succeed. I think the world/economy is heading downward, and don’t know how long the environment and things with the 1% getting it all can continue.

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Thanks Marco. It’s hard to put the present in context, our brains just aren’t very good at that sort of thing. Pinker’s book Better Angels is probably a worthy read if you want some context for the present, hoping for some hope.

      Reply
  7. Murali V

    You might want to look at this both from your fathers and your point of view. Painful as it may be, humans find it hard to look at the other side.
    Putra-Soham (Sanskrit) – the grief from your progeny. Living through a time when your kids suffer or die is perhaps the worst experience one can have.
    Why don’t you spend time with people who lost their kids. It might make your book well rounded

    Reply
  8. Steve Ball

    Please. Just. Do. It.

    There is an unfathomable gap between having a father and being a father. As Murali V mentions above, I can’t imagine losing a child. Or parent (yet).

    Perhaps your work on this topic could help bridge that gap for those of us who are allegedly too busy or lazy to do the work. Either way, I support this as I believe it could fill your shelf, and, at minimum, nicely complement the excellent titles sitting there already.

    Reply
  9. Sean Crawford

    Nicole mentions the baseball movie The Rookie. I thought the movie Field of Dreams was a delivery vehicle for the sad epiphany of the hero meeting his father.

    Reply
  10. Joe Biggs

    Hi Scott, your post really resonates with me and wish you the best. Go Scott!

    Reply
  11. Austin Gunter

    As someone who has also had a lot of work to do with my relationship with both parents, this project would be something I’d love to read about. Props to you for the willingness to dive in to something so personal.

    Reply
  12. Rob Christensen

    Looking forward to this, Scott. I am certain you will bring a unique perspective to this topic that will help others wrestling with similar emotions.

    Reply
  13. Alan

    I’ve spent a lot of the last few years analyzing my relationship with my children as it compares to my relationship with my parents. Some makes sense, and some makes no sense at all. I hope you can (as you have in the past), give me some insights I can use to improve and learn.

    Reply
  14. Linda

    SUPER interested. Go Scott!

    Reply
  15. Clint Cunningham

    Definitely interested in the book and the developments along the way as you write it.

    There’s a documentary called ‘Absent’ that you may find interesting.

    Reply
  16. David Cho

    Sounds very interesting. As a son, and as a father to a little boy, I look forward to reading it.

    Reply
  17. Antoinette

    I just finished re-reading Zinsser’s On Writing Well, and the 25th anniv edition (way newer than the edition I’d originally read) includes a chapter on memoir. I was never interested in writing a memoir of my own, but I’m reconsidering, not to publish for the world to read, but as part of a family record. For my son, really. I think Zinsser has written an entire book on writing a memoir. And if you haven’t read it, The Night of the Gun is a memoir of a journalist who approaches the process of writing his own memoir as he would a news piece: with audio recorders and interviews, and hearing multiple perspectives of the same people and events. Thorough exploration of the many roles of memory — really loved it.

    Reply
    1. Antoinette

      Oh, and I’m interested — go Scott! :)

      Reply
  18. Kwame

    I am interested since my relationship with my dad had its own dark periods. I stayed away from home for 8 years … did you change your RSS? many posts are missing or me for some reason.

    Reply
  19. Susan

    I’m just now seeing this post, but I’m very much interested in your chosen topic for the next book. I always appreciate your take on human relationships, so I look forward to learning about your formative experiences. As for recommended reading, This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff comes to mind. His brother Geoffrey also wrote a book about the same father and both books were acclaimed — though I haven’t read the brother’s book.

    Reply
  20. Michael

    You are indeed brave to post this topic, and albeit write an entire book on it… very interested – 100% support your authenticity, candor, and bare-it-all trusting in others – and helping all in doing it. Thank-you. I fully support your book… and will spread the word on it…

    Reply
    1. Michael

      PS. I stayed away from family for 5 years at professional suggestions for Wisdom because of how particularly interesting my family was/is… I have a sense your book will be a bellwether sea-change potential for many…with difficult father relationships. I also have 2 sons, and find it challenging now… the tip on spending time with those who lost a child might well serve a balanced look at both sides of the coin… wisdom is well-served…

      Reply
  21. Mark

    Awesome things to be pondering, Scott.

    I had a dad who wasn’t a strong communicator but was very committed to his family. He didn’t know his father. He had no example (and a few poor examples) of fathering. As I said at his memorial service, with no model to follow, there were plenty of things he didn’t have an inkling how to do (like the rest of us), but what’s important is that he took a giant leap from what he received to what he gave his kids. And that’s what I’ve tried to do with my son. Each generation, in its turn, has a duty to jump high and far. By example, he taught us to do this, too.

    Would love to talk with you about your journey.

    Reply
  22. Gayna

    Go for it Scott – very interesting direction to share and explore.
    I think there’s also an interesting angle on the mothers role in shepherding the relationships. My father worked, my mum stayed home, and ‘Wait till your father get’s home’ was used to keep us kids in line, without my father realizing how it influenced our engagement with him when he came home from work. It was the 70s and life was different. I like to think I keep out of the way of my husband having a relationship with our daughters but who knows how I am probably influencing it directly or indirectly.

    Reply
  23. mike hill

    Scott, great topic, and love the diversity in writing.

    I am a father to two young children and lost my dad days before my oldest was born.

    Had a great childhood until divorce ripped the dynamic apart, and am trying to avoid that entirely now as a dad.

    Eager to see your work!

    Reply
  24. amy crippen

    Scott, always look forward to your writing and musings. I am interested is why fathers leave their children and is it really happening in far greater numbers? I’m interested in the psychological implications for both genders? I think I am watching the 3rd generation of men in my family have affairs. Learned? Cultural? What’s always interesting is the powerful response we have as children, “I would never!” and then the cycle plays out again as adults. So many interesting ideas, I’ll look forward to your posts.

    Reply
  25. Debbie Weil

    Scott, go for it! I love your departure from your tech topics. A memoir-like book about my own difficult family is something I think about a lot. You are giving me courage. Can’t wait to read.

    Reply
  26. Larry

    I had a similar experience with my father. He had multiple affairs and he was abusive. Rather than he leaving us, I removed myself from him. I often wonder if I’ve made a mistake. Interested to read your take on this subject.

    Reply
  27. Simon Moore

    Scott,

    Good luck with the book. It sounds like once again you’ve found a new/interesting pivot to build out your shelf of books.

    You may find Martin Amis’ book Experience useful. He writes in autobiographical detail about his relationship with his father (Kingsley Amis). Different scenario to yours to some extent, but may help further your thinking. I also think it’s one of his better books regardless of topic. Amazon link below for reference:

    https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0099285827/associatizer-20/

    Reply
  28. Dan Tuuri

    Scott, I look forward to seeing your work as it is developed further. I know when I look at my kids and my family life I try to imagine it as a project. (Unique, Temporary, Defined Start and Stop)

    Who are the stakeholders?
    What are the inputs and outputs?
    What are the goals, how will we measure success?
    Do the goals align with our other stakeholders?
    What will we do when it’s time to chalk up our lessons learned?
    What risks could challenge the success of the initiative, how will we handle them when they come up?

    It is no secret that communication is one of the most challenging facets of relationships (and project teams). At some point many people shift their focus or realign their priorities. If we don’t take the time to stop and communicate our needs, feelings, or the new direction we’re called to it can have devistating consequences.

    As I shared with a student a week ago, sometimes the most challenging work is the most important work. I have no doubt that this will be a powerful and eye opening piece.

    Reply
  29. Bruce Fenske

    I’m interested – go Scott!

    I have two adult daughters and would love to hear any insights on being the best Dad I can be.

    Reply
  30. Anon

    I’m interested to see where you go with it. Think I’ve decided not to go into much detail myself, but yeah it’s a can of worms for sure.

    Reply
  31. Gloria Buono-Daly

    Yay, “go Scott go…” Looking forward to your latest book and it is quite different than your other books. I imagine it to be a magnificent learning and loving experience for many. Wishing you continued successes and writings :) )))))

    Reply
  32. Mary

    I am interested in this new book. Please keep me in the loop on updates. Thanks.

    Reply
  33. Dominic Amann

    I love the Abigail Thomas quote. I would strongly recommend the Landmark Forum course before you conclude your book – I say that because it might have you write an entirely different book if you take the course before writing – but it will have you write a very interesting conclusion if you do it towards the end.

    My “difficult” relationship was with my mother, but I have a pretty amazing relationship with her now.

    Reply
  34. terry morrell

    Interesting topic. I’ve recently published a book in this emotive area on Smashwords. I carn’t get the hang of charging etc, so if anyone wants a free copy – just shout and I look forward to reading the new book Scott :)

    Reply
  35. Ted

    Good luck with such a challenging project Scott! I can’t relate personally, but can only imagine how hard that must be. I hope the project is cathartic.

    One thought I had was whether fathers who “leave” by dying young have similar or different impacts on their kids. My dad lost his father at about age 45 to a heart attack. (I never knew him.) His loss seems to have meant totally different things to the kids in the family (dad’s siblings). For some it may have contributed to a crisis of faith; for others it may have even strengthened their faith.

    I’ll be interested in your project! Bets of luck with it.

    Ted

    Reply
  36. Daniel Roth

    I’m interested…go Scott! I don’t have any interesting stories to tell about my relationship with my father. It’s been pretty good. But I’m sure my oldest son with have stories to tell about his relationship with me. Also, given a post or two I’ve seen you make that indicate you may be a Springsteen fan, you probably have heard Springsteen talk about his relationship with his father. It may make for some material in your book.

    Reply
  37. Ron

    Scott – very interested in this new book/topic.

    Reply
  38. Eduardo Jezierski

    You may want to read Lin Yutang’s The Importance Of Living as it may give you interesting frames and tools for the introspection. I also started reading “Far from the tree” but haven’t finished yet (it started great; but I have a lot of unfinished books at any point in time)

    Reply
  39. Tommy Stedham

    Sounds interesting. Lots of folks have difficult relationships with their fathers (and the same thing is true of mothers, also).

    Reply
  40. curt rice

    good post and an important topic. to take a twist (or two) on the topic of relationships to fathers, i have spent quite a bit of time reflecting as an adoptive father on what it means to have a relationship with my son’s biological father. i’ve written about it a little, but must do more, in a piece called “fathers and son” at http://curt-rice.com/fathers-son/

    Reply
  41. Ces

    That is courageous Scott! Your post already touched deep. I think I understand what you said about changing memories. More in your inbox. Cheers and congrats… following since the truth about innovation. Well done.

    Reply
  42. Nilka Aquino

    Scott, you got my interest!

    My relationship with my father was always of utmost importance to me, so I would be interested in knowing yours.

    Reply
  43. Grace

    Go, Scott! I think you are so brave for exploring this difficult topic.

    Reply
  44. julie

    I would enjoy reading about your experiences, and your journey in writing this book. I admire your courage!

    Reply
  45. Robert

    I am definitely interested in this and have some stories to share. My dad died in December 2013 and was quadraplegic for the previous 2 years. This lead to a great deal of introspection on his part and some heartfelt apologies

    Reply
  46. Sarah A Chauncey

    I am interested! My husband is working on his own memoir and occasionally asks, “Why am I doing this?” “Who cares.” — I am so enjoying his writing, I sent your email off to him today so that he can read the section you’ve shared. Go Scott!

    Reply
  47. christian ward

    Scott,
    You show courage to write of something so tender and painful and poignant. You also have touched a sensitive place based on the many comments I see here.
    I have spent my time as a father doing my best to be as different from my dad as possible with my kids. When I was young i loved the man and wanted the world to be just me and him. Now, thirty years after my mom died and essentially broke the family, I see my dad not as a hero but as a flawed man who simply couldn’t live up to my expectations.
    Men put a lot on the shoulders of their fathers and it seems few fathers are up to the job. I know I have failed my daughters miserably, even though I have tried my best.
    Good luck on your journey with the book. I look forward to seeing it.

    Reply
  48. Michael Matute

    You’re onto something. Looking forward to learning and reading more.

    Reply
  49. Matt

    Certainly your most challenging project to date, Scott – and I wish you the best in your journey.

    One aspect worth looking at might be how GenX, with “baby-bust” parents typically in their late 70’s now, differ from GenY who had parents from a much different era. In my experience GenXr’s tend to be more independent, but also struggle to form close relationships. So, rather than bonding closely with our parents for support, we stayed more at arm’s length and just assumed they’d always be there for us – despite the fact we never nurtured those relationships from our end.

    Deep thoughts on a complicated topic! :)

    Reply
  50. Mike Ahn

    Absolutely interested! Among the many reasons is to see if I can use it to become a better father myself. Really looking forward to it.

    Reply

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