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On the Death of My Father

How one son coped with his father’s illness and death

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Chethik does not judge these reactions. He doesn’t rank them according to what they say about a man’s mental health. He just describes them, recognizing that the death of one’s father “has a monumental impact on most men, especially when the son doesn’t have a close relationship with him.” One of the most gratifying aspects of writing FatherLoss, Chethik says, is that it brought him closer to his own father, one of the people he interviewed for the book.

“It was an opportunity to sit down and talk about him and his relationship with his father,” Chethik says, “and his reaction when his father died. I had a chance to learn about my father’s life by asking him about his father’s death. We had a chance to connect.”

The importance of fathers and sons connecting

A son’s failure to make a connection with his father can be a source of lingering grief that easily breeds depression after his father dies, according to Robert Glover, a marriage and family therapist in Bellevue, Washington. In No More Mr. Nice Guy!,Glover argues that fathers often shape their sons most by being absent. This leaves boys to be raised by women ― mothers, sisters, teachers ― who might be more likely to emphasize the importance of being a “nice guy,” Glover says.

While being nice hardly seems like a problem, Glover argues that it causes some men to suppress their own needs and devote themselves to winning approval. That can make them inherently dishonest, especially in their relations with women. Instead, Glover urges men to acknowledge their own needs and become more “integrated.”

“An integrated male is able to embrace everything that makes him unique: his power, his assertiveness, his courage, and his passion as well as his imperfections, his mistakes, and his dark side,” he writes in No More Mr. Nice Guy!

Having an attentive father as a healthy role model can help a son accept his own masculinity, Glover says, and grow into an honest, authentic, and integrated man.

“If dad is available, that’s when the modeling and the attachment take place,” Glover says. “Many societies have rituals of manhood ― the man gets ready to leave the nursery. They make the transition from seeking comfort to seeking challenge, and I think men need men to help them do that.”

As a result, the loss of the father can leave a man with overwhelming grief if he never forged a bond with his father, even if his father was difficult, disagreeable, or downright abusive.

“Once dad is dead … well, it’s harder to deal with ghosts than with real people,” says Glover, who recently decided to rekindle a relationship with his own aging father. “Nobody’s dad was either that great or that bad. He was just a wounded human being, and guys who have a chance to work that out before dad dies seem to draw comfort from that.”

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