The Old Man. Pops. Dad. Daddy. Father. Papa. By whichever named we call him, no matter whether he was a good dad or a horrible one, no man looms larger in a man’s life than his father. For better or worse, his influence is inescapable. He is our model for manhood. Thus few things elicit stronger feelings in a man than his father. It’s the reason why Cormac McCarthy’s The Road resonates so deeply with us and the reason we get teary eyed when we watch movies like Big Fish.
Every boy wants a perfect father. He wants the man who acts as protector when things go bump in the night, who teaches him out to break in a baseball glove and how to shave, who gives him advice on women, and who becomes a friend and confidant later in life.
Of course, every dad is human and lives up to our dreams of perfection to varying degrees. He may fall so short of the father we hoped for that we ache in disappointment for what might have been. Or he may be so close to the ideal that we still fear that we may never live up to the example he set. Either way, our relationship with our father shaped us as no other, and our feelings about that relationship run deep, whether we can even acknowledge them or not.
The feelings that exist between father and son are rarely expressed. Many of us still think about that one time our father said, “Son, I’m proud of you.” And many dads still cherish the time their sons said, “Thank you, Dad.”
Most of have never taken the time to really thank our dads for everything they’ve done for us and shown us or had the courage to acknowledge how much they’ve hurt us. Yet if we don’t understand how we feel about our dads, we can’t understand how they shaped us, and we can’t understand ourselves and why we turned out the way we did. So today we’re going to write a letter to our first models of manhood: our fathers.
Today’s Task: Write Your Father a Letter
Whether or not you had/have a good relationship with your dad, today you’re going to write him a letter. Even if he’s passed on or you don’t know where he is. Sending the letter is optional; writing it is not. The purpose of this exercise is for you to get out and write down your feelings about your dad.
If You Have a Good Relationship with Your Father….
If you have/had a good relationship with your dad, then the purpose of today’s letter is to let your old man know how much you appreciate him. Here are some recommendations on how to structure the letter:
- Something awesome Kate did for her dad when he turned 50 was to come up with a list of 50 of her favorite memories of her dad, type it on quality paper, and then frame it. You don’t have to make something fancy like that, but you might want to write your dad and tell him you’ve been thinking about all the good times you’ve had together and make him a list of your favorite father/son memories. It shows him that all that hard work he put into raising you was not forgotten, and that you still remember that time he stayed up all night assembling your bike after you went to bed on Christmas Eve.
- Another option is to frame the letter by outlining all of the things you feel like your dad taught you. Tell him how you’ve been reflecting on the kind of man you’ve become. Tell him the specific ways in which he influenced you, the things that he taught you, and the examples he showed you. Let him know how he helped you become the man you are today.
If You Don’t Have a Good Relationship with Your Father….
A lot of men don’t have the kind of relationships with their fathers that they wish they had. Whether you and the old man are estranged, he’s passed on, or you just don’t get along, your relationship has probably affected your life in many ways. The purpose of today’s letter is to help you get out and understand some of the feelings you have about you father.
But it’s not designed to be an exercise where you whine about how your life is messed up all because of your old man. Think about and write down examples of where you really needed your father and he wasn’t there and the times you really missed him. But at the end of the letter, put a positive spin on things. Tell your dad how you learned how not to be a man from him, and how he made you work harder to turn out differently.
This letter is obviously something you might not want to send. But it’s still important to really think about how you feel about your dad instead of letting it fester inside.