Paternal Ambition for Sons

Alan Valentine, Fathers to Sons: Advice Without Consent, University of Oklahoma Press, 1963, xxviii

The virtues of fathers are either obvious or self-declared; let us therefore, like their children, take them for granted and ignore them.  The faults of fathers are, however, sometimes the price of their virtues.  Excessive ambition for a son is one of them…The very strength of a father’s emotional attachment often overwhelms his judgment in dealing with his son.  it robs him of perspective and consequently of humor, and leads him into the very blunders he once resolved never to commit.  Announcing that he will not preach, he preaches.  Recognizing the unwisdom of over-urging, he continues to urge.  Aware of how irrelevant comparisons with his own youth will seem to a son, he nevertheless embarks upon exemplary autobiography, ignoring what Baudelaire called “youth’s hatred for the quoter of precedents.”  He talks of the wisdom of experience, but means only his own experience, and would discourage his son from gaining wisdom at first hand.  And as a last resort he commends the youth to the guidance of an Almighty he is confident will duplicate his own paternal advice.

The difficulty often lies in the fact that a father’s love is not as selfless as he likes to think it is….


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