fathers_ghosts2During a consultation at the Child Health Centre, Connor tells me: “I grew up in south England. My mother was at home with us kids. My father was a teacher. I did not get close to him. Sometimes, we would meet his pupils in town. They greeted him and he responded cheerfully. Why did not he look at me that way? I don’t know if it was because he was strict or because I did not get close to him.”

“When my son Eric was born, he looked like me so much! He was supposed to receive the best of my background but nothing of the bad stuff. Being home during my paternal leave was sheer delight. His first words were ‘uppa’. I was sure he meant ‘Papa’. Then I realised he meant ‘up there’, as he looked at the lamp in the ceiling! That was funny. It was more difficult when Eric began to distance himself from me. In those days, I was playing in a football team. I wanted him to become a member of the junior section. But my four-year-old boy just wanted to read books about dinosaurs! Proudly, one day I told him that it was an Englishman who discovered such creatures. Eric became sore and told me it was his books and that I should ask him before opening them.”

Imagine that such a little person can make a big and strong guy feel humiliated! Connor says of himself: “I overreacted when I frowned at his comment on the dinosaur book”. How are we to understand his reaction?

Connor carries on: “When I was a child, my father used to correct me. Now, I am an adult man and that day I was corrected by my dinosaur-loving son! But… some time ago I lost control. My football team had lost a match and Eric said something nasty to me. I got the impression that he and my wife were having a laugh at me. I was damned angry and smashed his book on the floor. He started crying and my wife got upset. As for myself, I did not come out with any smarter idea than taking a jogging tour around the neighbourhood…”

Evidently, Connor wants to give his best to Eric but old patterns are blocking him. Whenever he feels that Eric is trying to be on top of him, Connor does things like his father used to do. He gets hurt and angry. He knows it is wrong but cannot find any better way of handling the situation. Connor’s ghost from his English childhood has concealed itself at home and now is popping up from time to time. He has no good internal model of how a father might maintain his authority in a loving a decisive way – and how one might put up with being told off by a four-year-old kid.

Will Connor and Eric handle this by themselves or will they need help from someone else? The answer depends on Connor’s flexibility and if he can look at himself in a humoristic way and relax when his feelings overpower him. The answer also depends on if Eric can take the offence that his father is stronger and more knowledgeable than himself. This challenge every child must handle. Last but not least, the answer depends on what kind of support he receives from his wife. She says: “Sometimes it feels like I’ve got two four-year-old boys at home”. Is she able to understand that sometimes, there is a four-year-old child in every adult man in the world? Well, in every woman too, for that matter.