When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.Attributed to Mark Twain*
I have watched many fathers wince as their sons publicly shunned them and sons wince as their fathers publicly acknowledged them. The ‘Twain Effect’ is immediately recognizable to those parents who have been through it.
Young sons generally revere their fathers until they suspect that the old man is out of his mind and can’t stand to have him around. It may take months, sometimes years, but sons generally realize their father wasn’t a total imbecile; in fact he may even turn out to be rather intelligent.
While this stage is life is painful it’s actually pretty healthy. We have to differentiate ourselves from our parents, we have to step outside of their shadow and build a word on our own terms. Part of that process is testing what they have told us, how they have raised us, no matter how right they may have been.
It’s only from the perspective outside of our families in that we begin to appreciate our parents. I was raised in a stable, loving home but I only know that now because I had to look beyond the borders of that experience to understand it. What parent hasn’t said something like “Wait until you have your own children, then you’ll understand”? My parents did, and they were right.
Keep your children safe but don’t resist their drive to branch out, to make their own world. Paradoxically parents who hold their children too close are often those who lose them in one way or another.
Shunned fathers take heart; eventually your sons will approve of you. Perhaps not with the fervor of the unquestioning eight-year-old but we’ll take what we can get.
*Nobody really knows if Mark Twain said this or not. It is attributed to him by his contemporaries and certainly sounds like Twain. Yes, I have read the research.