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Scott Berkun

I'm both sad and happy to say my story is similar to yours. Sad, as it's unpleasant, but happy to know I'm not alone and that there are even more things to do that I haven't done yet to sort myself. I'm very glad you wrote this as even if I what I wrote only influenced you in a small way, it helps make the project I'm doing worthwhile.

As you've point out so much of how we relate to each other is driven by forces we're only partially aware of. At best most people only learn about two marriages - their parents and their own, which is a poor sampling of data indeed. There is so much shame in exploring these things and so much resistance among men to talking about feelings and how to get better at both experiencing emotion and expressing it.

I can say, if nothing else, your asking of your children and your self-awareness of the challenge of getting honest answers reflects an introspection and self-awareness I wish my father possessed. It would have saved me more pain and time and effort than I can express.

Thanks for writing and I hope you write more about this.

Joe McCarthy

@Scott: thanks for the [additional] encouragement. The courage and vulnerability that you and John Hagel demonstrated in revealing some of the challenges you've faced played a big role in giving me implicit permission to publicly process a fragment of my family of origin issues.

Your observation about not being alone reminds me of another one of the benefits I gleaned from 12-step programs. Even though the specific manifestations of addiction and other harmful behaviors vary across several spectra, there are significant similarities in their effects on loved ones (especially children). As Carl Rogers noted, "what is most personal is most general".

I look forward to reading more about what you write about fathers and children!


Kia ora Joe,
Thank you for sharing such a brave and honest post, and providing a few interesting resources. I can concur with Scott above that much of my own story is also quite similar. I also said to myself I would be this kind of parent and not do this or that, as my father had done to me. Mostly in terms of physical and mental violence. Particularly that same sort of passive aggressive judgement your grandfather gave to you. For me, that was always more painful and enduring than a smack. I have struggled with my oldest son. To the point I have had to ring the police to have removed from our home. In those moments I could almost feel my own father inhabit my body. I tried to do things with him my own father never did with me, particularly in the mountains, but realize now that was not about him but rather me. We are sort of at a stalemate at present, which just sort of hangs in the air like something not smelling quite right. Lots of stuff to work through. My wife and I have started to create a dialogue that has been honest and helpful, but very hard to strip myself completely down. It is good to know there are other men out with such stories. And that the story of our lives is an ongoing process. It gives me strength. Cheers. And Kia kaha!

Joe McCarthy

@Robb: thanks for sharing your story. I can relate to the hard work of stripping myself down in the process of determining how best to be a constructive father to a son who does not always act or react in ways I would prefer. The stripping down is necessary, in part, because my son knows me so well ... a consequence, perhaps, of my desire to be as open and honest as possible with him.

I am glad you are making evolutionary progress with your own parenting. I'm reminded of Stephen Jay Gould's notion of punctuated equilibrium - periods of relative stasis, punctuated by bursts of rapid change - which is how I would characterize my own experience in parenting ... and I would not be surprised if that is how my own parents would characterize their experience.


A wise person once told me that we are not responsible for what happened to us as children, but we are responsible for what we do about it as adults. Thank you for modeling that so perfectly.

Joe McCarthy

@LH: Wise words, indeed. I am fortunate to have friends - like you - who have helped fill some gaps in modeling the kind of father I want to be with my children.


Kia ora Joe,
Happy to write that even in a few short weeks after reading here, and a bit of focus things are much improved between my son and I. Getting both of us to sit still long enough to break down a few walls and really talk was an amazing experience. Accepting his words with being defensive, and he mine, got us to some very worthwhile places. It is a start. When he expressed a desire to come into the mountains with I nearly fell off my chair. A very productive month. Cheers e hoa.

Joe McCarthy

@Robb: I'm very glad to read that increased focus and decreased defensiveness have reduced some barriers between you and your son. My son will sometimes remind me to "Breathe, Dad" when I start getting worked up during a discussion with him, which - when I'm not in a state of high defensiveness - helps refocus the interaction. I hope you enjoy your journey into the mountains with him. FWIW, I just finished my 5th reading of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Robert Pirsig's relationship with his son, Chris - in the context of navigating metaphorical and physical mountains - will be the subject of a future blog post.

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