Fathers, Anger, and Breaking Barriers
by Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC
“What are you thinking?” I said. “Don’t you remember what I just told you?”
I had just avoided a fish hook, swinging perilously close to my eye. At the end of the fishing pole was my six year old son, who now bowed his head. As soon as I said the words, I wanted them back. But I knew the damage was done. In fact, he not only felt shame from my comments, he did what many young boys start to do when they hear these kinds of comments from parents.
He pretended it didn’t hurt.
He popped his head up quickly, with a grim look that was determined to “tough it out.”
“I’m sorry I said that, buddy, I’m just getting impatient.”
“Can you put the worm on my hook, Dad?” he asked.
He didn’t feel much like “processing” our encounter. He just wanted to move things along. And in this encounter, like many other encounters between fathers and sons, the only emotion that surfaced was anger. The sadness, the fear, and the shame were shoved down.
Sadly, this is often the way it works with boys and men. Historically, the role models provided for boys have been utterly dysfunctional. They’ve been men and fathers who don’t dare to show sadness or fear, for these emotions disqualify them from “manhood.” Boys are taught from an early age to bottle all their emotions inside them, save the one emotion it’s acceptable for men to express: anger.
Author Robert Burney tells the story of attending his grandmothers’ funeral at age 11. He cried so hard, he had to be taken out of the funeral home. Burney wasn't crying because his grandmother had died, but because he’d seen his uncle cry. It was the first time in his life he’d seen a man cry, and it opened the floodgates of all the repressed pain he was carrying. After that day, he went right back to repressing his feelings, because he’d still never seen his father cry, and his father was his role model.
There’s a new generation of fathers out there, with an opportunity to put an end to the “tough guy” culture that still exists for men and boys. This opportunity demands that we show the courage and resolve necessary to break the cultural stereotypes that are still dominant today.
Here are five ways to help your son to be more emotionally intelligent:
1. Show physical affection to your son. Hug him, as well as other men that you care for. Show him that men can show love for each other. Research shows that boys who receive physical affection from their fathers are happier, healthier, smarter, etc. If you’re squirming, you’re a good candidate for this one!
2. Have enough involvement in your son’s life to know who else might be reinforcing the “old school” style . This could include teachers, coaches, other family members, etc. If necessary, intervene and set new guidelines.
3. Reinforce your son’s knowledge of emotions . Help him identify what he’s feeling. When you say, “You seem really sad right now,” you help him to identify the feeling, and to “own it.”
4. Judge people less and empathize more . Instead of saying, “What a jerk he is!” you can say, “He seems to be really angry right now.” Being kind and loving yourself will create a clear path for your son.
5. Keep examining how you raise your son . Do you push him away emotionally, or shame him when he’s showing signs of “weakness?” Continually monitor your responses to his behavior, and if possible, have a third party that watches your interactions as well.
The prevailing cultural ideas about manhood have done a great deal of harm to the development of strong, sensitive, and nurturing men. The responsibility of fathers today is to be aware of these cultural myths, and to show their sons a new path.
For the sake of future generations, this is an idea whose time has come.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches busy parents by phone to balance their life and improve their family relationships. For a FREE twenty minute sample session by phone; ebooks, courses, articles, and a FREE newsletter, go to