Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Geoffrey Greif - Do men learn about friendships from their fathers?

This is an old article from Psychology Today (2008), but it struck a cord with me because my father had very few friends and rarely spent time with any of them. So if boys learn about making friends from their fathers, I was screwed from day one. Moreover, he died when I was 13-years old, so for those most important teen years, I had no guide or go-to for advice.
Do men learn about friendships from their fathers?
Do men think their fathers had male friends?

Did your father have friendships with other men? Did you learn about how to make friends friends from him? We interviewed 386 men for Buddy System: Understanding male friendshipsand asked them specifically if their fathers had friends and what they learned from their fathers about friendships.  The men we interviewed were diverse in terms of age, face, and religion. 
Growing up, sons constantly observe and monitor their fathers' actions - they way they slouch, talk, act around others.  Sometimes they try and speak in their father's deep voice or treat others the way he does. One of my closest friends from childhood often was admonished by his own father with the words, "little man, come here."  I was amazed when he referred to his own son with the same words and in the same tone of voice. Sons also observe if their fathers have friends and what they do with them.  Do they come over to the house, hang out together at the basketball court, or in the corner bar? If a man was raised by a father who felt comfortable around other men friends, he is likely to adopt that same perspective with his friends.  
 Naturally, many men were not raised by men either because the fathers were physically absent or emotionally absent from the family.  They had to rely on other men (uncles, coaches, male mentors) or women to raised them.  They may have grown up longing for more contact with a man and may have become even keener observers of older men because they were short a role model in their own home.  One man I interviewed for the book said that he tried to excel in sports to please other fathers, because he could not please his own absent father. 
 We asked men if their father had friends and learned that 45% of the men thought their father had many friends when they were growing up, 25% had few friends, and 30% believed their father had no friends! (Men who did not know their fathers did not answer the question.)  Thus, over half thought their father had few or no friends.  As can be imagined, some men, especially those whose father had friends, learned the importance of friendships from their father. They relayed stories of men helping out their fathers and even tending to fathers who were terminally ill.  Others grew up seeing their fathers isolated from or unkind to other men.  They swore they would do the opposite of what their father had done - they would make friends and not live what they perceived to be a lonely life or a life too focused on work. 
Bottom line - men need to have friends both for themselves and to serve as role models for their children. People with friends live longer, healthier lives.  Men can compensate for what they did not get from their own father by reaching out to others and can pass down good models of friendshipto the next generation.

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