Every young boy goes through stages of development that will either foster independence and maturity or hinder it. Too much leniency or too many rules can stunt the natural progression from a boy to adolescent, then on to manhood.
It’s irresistibly charming for a grown man to stay connected to the little boy inside of himself. Young lads are creative and magical; their imagination can take them wherever they want to go. Full of playful and amusing sides of his personality, the little boy preserves his life as a joyful and exciting adventure.
Sometimes boys stay stuck in their childhood and cannot find their way out of the “magical” and into the “real.” In 1989, Dr. Dan Kiley, a psychoanalyst, wrote The Peter Pan Syndrome — Men Who Have Never Grown Up. The book was an excellent precursor to the co-dependency movement. Dr. Kiley talks about Peter Pan’s ability never to grow up, and his cohort, Wendy, who by today’s standards, was his enabler-in-chief.
In the book, men who have not been able to step into the adult role of a man are compared to Peter Pan. Magical thinking will fix everything. Of course, in real life, this doesn’t work. At some point, an adolescent must step into the shoes of an adult and become self-sufficient or else suffer the consequences of unachieved potential, low self-esteem, and a misdirected sense of entitlement.
Fulfillment is the result of creating dreams and converting them into self-sufficiency. When a young man’s potential is not cultivated, that lost desire is often replaced with addiction.
When young men are provided incentives to become independent and have to face the natural consequences of not meeting those goals, they are learning the necessary transitional skills from childhood into adulthood. Household tasks, homework assignments, and family participation build core-values that are transferred to long-term life skills. Earning an allowance, then later a part-time job is the first step of financial independence, which leads to the desire to be financially self-sufficient.
Parents who reward their children without the conditions being met will further incentivize magical thinking. ‘I can get what I want by making excuses, begging, or making my mom or dad feel sorry for me,’ is the thought process of a child who is not held accountable. But allowing a child to escape responsibilities is not doing that child a favor.
James was a product of “anything goes,” liberal parenting. His mother described him as an adorable, witty child who could talk his way out of any situation. When he didn’t do his chores or his homework, he would give her his razzle-dazzle smile, apologize profusely, and promise to do better next time. Rather than waiting until next time to reward James, his mother would give in to his seductions, not realizing she was teaching him to be irresponsible and manipulative. But his glittering smile and false promises didn’t work in the real world, and at age 40, James was still living at home fixated in his teenage stage of development and incapable of growing up.
On the flip side of overly-permissive parenting is the punitive parent. Fathers who are too hard on their sons, fail to create a bond that builds positive self-esteem. While structure and order are essential, a militant approach to child-rearing is as equally detrimental as too liberal. A father who is not affectionate, finds constant fault with his son, and does not reinforce his talents, can also cripple his son’s transition to manhood.
Father-son bonding is crucial to an adolescent’s sense of value and worth. Knowing that he is making good choices and reinforced for them builds a sense of trust in himself. When he makes bad choices, his father, in particular, can help him to understand why those choices were not in his son’s best interests, and allow him to correct those errors — a positive rather than punitive learning experience.
Mark’s dad, Josh, believed if he were not hard on his son, he would turn into a “ninny.” From the time he was a small tot, Mark was expected to assume responsibilities that exceeded his age limit or suffer severe consequences. Josh’s all-work and no-play regiment did not allow for shared sports events or social activities that could build a father-son bond. By the time Mark was fourteen, in addition to going to a private school with demanding requirements, he was working two jobs and paying for his clothes, and social entertainment. When he forgot to take out the garbage, fill the car with gas or didn’t make straight A’s in school, his father would rail at him for being a loser. By age 16, Mark had built an emotional wall to protect himself from his father’s verbal assaults. Both father and son paid the price of a rule-based, loveless relationship, and sadly, Mark learned to fill that void with alcohol and drugs.
When love and kindness are balanced with clear and reasonable expectations, a young man can successfully navigate his way to manhood and then later, has the tools for good parenting.
Fathers who are in the role of a loving man deserve to be acknowledged on Father’s Day. A real man, a real dad, has stepped into the shoes of the person who keeps the best interests of his family, foremost in his mind. His magical thinking stays alive as an ongoing source of creativity in relating to his loved ones. The little boy within especially comes alive with his own children, a source of fun and adventure.
Father’s Day is more than a new tie or a favorite meal. It is a day to celebrate dad for his success at crossing the threshold of adolescence to adulthood. Today is a time to put aside dad’s imperfections and acknowledge his hard work, thank him for his generous contributions, and to honor him as a dad that has given you the best he’s got.
For those whose father has been absent or has passed on, you can still be grateful for the gift of life. There are father figures in your life with whom you can form a bond; you need only reach out. There is always a heavenly father watching there to guide those of us who are receptive to that inner voice. And finally, regardless of your own father’s absence or shortcomings, you can always be a good dad to yourself. That little boy inside of you will forever need your loving guidance.
If you want to connect with Dr. Donna Marks, and find out about her tools and programs on how to Reclaim Your Power Over Addiction, visit her website https://drdonnamarks.com/