One thing your son will not receive in treatment is you.
You cannot outsource fatherhood.
It makes me crazy when I read an article from the “experts” in the recovery space that starts off by telling fathers that their child’s addiction is not his fault. In my opinion, this type of thinking keeps a man from accessing his power in this crisis and keeping him from doing everything he can to help his son. While fault may not be the best choice of words, as fathers we bear a large responsibility in the life paths our sons choose and in guiding them out when they get lost.
In our fast paced global economy where progress trumps peace of mind it’s easy to lose sight of our priorities as fathers and patriarchs of our families. Whether you’re busy creating the next app for hands-free ball scratching or building schools in Africa, your primary responsibility is still to the family you co-created with your partner.
Throwing your life savings at everything from treatment centers to tarot cards will not replace the most powerful tool that you already have available to you and your son; A PRESENT FATHER.
This is not to say that your son doesn’t need professional help because if he’s struggling with addiction, he does. His success in treatment, however depends greatly on your involvement in the process. Before deciding on the next form of treatment for your son, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions first:
- What priorities am I putting before my relationship with my son? This one requires brutal honesty and a clear understanding of your core values. Every man has a different set of values and none are better than others. The important thing is that you understand yours and that your actions are in alignment with them. Actually pausing and looking at the things you are prioritizing over your important relationships may bring a completely new awareness to you.
- How well do I really know my son? If you are someone who played by all the rules of being a good man in our culture you probably spent most of your time out of the home. You may have gone to all the parent/teacher meetings, ball games, and scout meetings and still not know your son as well as you think. Is most of what you know about your son second hand information from mom, coaches, teachers, etc. ? When was the last time you sat with your son in a 1:1 setting and really got to know him on the inside?
- How well does my son know me? Does your son know the entire man you are or just the mask you wear after coming home from your job? Have you shared the things that keep you up at night or do you keep those private? Are you modeling how to deal with life on life’s terms for him? Are you showing your vulnerabilities? Several young men have shared with me that seeing their father cry was the tipping point that got them committed to recovery.
- How often do I sit with him and just listen to him without advice or judgment? As a man, many of us are programmed to fix things so instead of allowing our sons to tap into their own wisdom and values, we offer advice without ever developing deep listening skills of our own. The advice you give may have worked very well for you but may not for him. He needs to access his own inner strength and wisdom while being honored by the man he holds in such high esteem.
- How have I created a safe environment for dialogue between my son and I? It’s not just about stressing to him that he can tell you anything. This may require a deep dive personal inventory of your past actions and acknowledgment of your mistakes to him. I had a client who was gay and had been raped by a man when he was very young. One day he heard his father making a derogatory joke about homosexuals to his buddies. From that day forward, he no longer felt safe to share who he was with his dad despite an otherwise close relationship. Eventually he came clean about his sexuality after years of recovery from heroin addiction. His father had known all along and was simply respecting his son’s choice to remain private about it. When the issue of trust was raised the son immediately recalled a joke that dad had no recollection of. They both agreed that it’s possible the son would have gotten the help he needed for the early trauma and spared himself years of addiction if he had just felt safe enough to tell his father about his sexuality. Your son doesn’t have to have been raped or be gay to be keeping a secret from you that could potentially kill him.
- How have my actions influenced my son’s decisions? Whether you’re a non-smoker/non-drinker, a social drinker, or a full blown addict like I was, how you respond to those things in your world can greatly influence your son. Perhaps you’ve tolerated it in friends and family or even laughed about it like it was no big deal. Maybe you’ve never questioned the media’s idea of “social norms” simply because it’s always been there as long as you can remember. Maybe you’ve conditioned an ultra competitive spirit in him that is crushing him simply because you thought you were doing the right thing as a man. Many fathers try to meet the unrealistic expectations that were placed on them by living vicariously through their sons without even realizing it. Maybe you did nothing and your indifference implied consent to your son. Healthy communication may lead you to discovering some amends you need to make with him.
- When was the last time I told my son I admired him? It’s been said that just as a daughter needs adoration so does a son need admiration from his father. It may be difficult to express admiration during times of anger and frustration but it may very well be the treatment he needs.
During my years of coaching men in recovery, it’s been very seldom that I’ve had a client who didn’t require deep work around his relationship with his father. Being the father your son needs to recover doesn’t require expertise; it requires a willingness to travel the journey with him and recover together. You have much more power and influence than any counselor or therapist. Learning how to harness and use that power could very well save your son’s life.