Online Men’s Group: Fatherhood and family

Fatherhood and family relationships were the topic of this week’s (29th July) discussion. The famed lines of Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse begin:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. 

They may not mean to, but they do. 

They fill you with the faults they had   

And add some extra, just for you.

Larkin had a close relationship with his parents and wrote to his father throughout his life. His memoirs reveal a close relationship with his family, something at odds with the bitter-sounding words of the first line: They fuck you up. But as we discovered this week, our relationships with family, whatever they look like, are complicated. 

Perhaps that is why Larkin’s sentiment resonated for the Men Up North group this week. The diverse influence of our fathers, or indeed the absence, has left us both grateful and resentful, amongst other things. For instance, some appreciate the sacrifices their father made, such as moving to a different country for the betterment of their family while others are still troubled by memories of their fathers lying, failing to pick them up from school again or the existential gap of an absent father. 

But as we discovered, those childhood experiences can gift us with the motivation to pursue a different parenthood and map out the design for a kind of parenting we would have wanted for ourselves. These reflections on turbulent relationships with family, while often difficult to express, are clearly not without their value. This week we reflected that parenthood presents the opportunity to invent a new person that embodies the qualities you admire in others and enact the behaviours that you believe benefit your children. A sentiment which was perfectly signified in the words Don’t be bitter, be better

And maybe being better can mean playing to your strength. Maybe you step back with the homework but take your children on an 50km biking adventure. Simply put, being a dad is doing your best. 

It seems fair to say that this week’s session was sad, and some stories were upsetting. But that doesn’t deny them of their benefit, both for those who shared and for those who listened. Hearing and understanding the stories of others’ lives can sometimes provide a lens through which to better understand our own life stories. This week it was suggested that in all of us there is both the adult we have become, and the child who holds onto the hurt and damage of growing up. But perhaps when we talk about our childhood, we can help the child in us let go of their grievances. 

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