They Were Both Right

A few years ago, at a conference for folks who work in boys’ schools, I heard a researcher talk about father-son relationships. She claimed that 30% of all men say they have no relationship with their fathers. Another 30% have a “prickly” relationship, while another 30% describe their relationship as “dutiful.” Only 10% of adult males describe their relationship with their fathers as positive and engaging.

I happened to be sitting next to the head of a very prominent British boarding school, and during the break I asked him if these findings surprised him. “Not at all, and let me tell you why.”

Here’s his story:

“My father was fighting in Europe (during World War 2) when his first wife was killed in the blitz. When he returned from the war, he remarried a much younger woman, my mother, and they lived what you might call a lower-middle class lifestyle.

When I was about to enter grade 7, I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to my present school, and it was one of the few times I remember my parents’ arguing.

My mother said, and quite rightly actually, that ‘It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.’ My dad’s reply was, ‘The place will change him.’

My mother won the argument and away I went to boarding school. Throughout all my time there, my father never visited the school, and my mother came just once, and when she did, she stood in the foyer for ten minutes. She listened to the conversations going on around her, turned around, and left. Never to return.

She had nothing against the school, but she realized that she would never be able to fit in, although apparently, I already had.

Thirty years later, I was appointed the head of this same school, and as I walked into my office on that first day, I kept thinking about my parents’ argument, and about how they were both right.”


One thought on “They Were Both Right

  1. Hope you are doing well. I want to put some language to some things that happened this weekend. There is a speech/letter/story here somewhere. Thanks for always sharing your stories with me.

    My two year old son broke his arm this weekend and will be wearing a cast for about a month. The broken arm made him more “real” to me and more human—he can get hurt, I can’t always “catch” him, and he will someday die. I also played catch with my father on Father’s Day. He is 80 and had a tough time catching the ball and I knew it pained him to not be able to catch like he used to. I loved the experience anyway…it also made my father more real to me—he is now old, I won’t always be able to play catch with him, and he will someday die.

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