Understanding the Father-Son Relationship

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "No More Mr. Nice Guy" by Robert Glover. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How important is the father-son relationship? What are the consequences of a bad father-son relationship?

In the book No More Mr. Nice Guy, Dr. Robert Glover explains why a healthy father-son relationship is so important. During his time as a psychologist, he noticed that a lot of his male patients struggled with their sense of masculinity if they had a bad father-son relationship.

Learn about the effects of a bad father-son relationship below.

The Importance of the Father-Son Relationship

In his book No More Mr. Nice Guy, Dr. Robert Glover describes the Nice Guy—a man whose fear of disapproval leads him to people-please, avoid conflict, and repress parts of himself. He discusses the Nice Guy in depth and shows how his personality traits can be caused by an unhealthy father-son relationship. 

Glover delves into a handful of his patients’ childhoods. He noticed in particular that a lot of insecure men had controlling, distant, or abusive fathers. Whether their fathers were demanding, not present, alcoholics, or violent, many Nice Guys lack a healthy paternal relationship and develop negative opinions of other men.

Ideally, Glover says, a boy becomes a man with help from his mother and father:

His mother attends to his needs as a child. It’s her job to discourage dependency—including her own—by ensuring her needs are met.

His father’s job is to be present and actively bond with his son, which guides the boy from a matriarchal sphere of influence into the world of men.

However, Glover noticed many Nice Guys don’t go through this transition. Without a strong father-son relationship, both mother and son can become codependent. 

The Transition of Boys to Men

Glover isn’t the only author to discuss the idea that boys must be ushered into manhood by their fathers. Robert Bly also touches on this topic in Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), a book often discussed as a logical predecessor to Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy. The book focuses on the development of the “soft male” in the 1950s, while trying to reclaim a masculine identity Bly and Glover agree has been somewhat lost to time.

Like Glover, Bly notes that boys must be initiated into adulthood with the help of their fathers. Unlike Glover, Bly says it’s a son’s job to break away from his mother, as she won’t consciously release him to the dangerous world until he proves he can handle it. With this goal in mind, Bly stresses the importance of initiating a boy into the sphere of men. In many cultures, coming-of-age rituals will do this by 1. simulating a separation between a boy and his parents and 2. teaching a boy to tend to his “wounds” (physical, emotional, or otherwise) in a healthy way.

Similar to what Glover observed in Nice Guys, Bly says a boy who never experiences this kind of initiation may adopt the role of a victim because he has no productive means of dealing with his wounds and overcoming his codependent relationships.

The Post-Vietnam Distrust Between Generations

In her article “Fathers, Sons, and Vietnam,” sociologist Tracy Karner explores the distrust that arose between WWII veterans and their sons after the latter group returned from Vietnam. She takes Glover’s point further, emphasizing the feelings of betrayal that arose when sons heading overseas—who were told stories of valiant, necessary war in which the US was a “winner”—found the opposite of what their fathers had described. Further, upon their return, the lack of resources offered to Vietnam veterans (as compared to those after WWII) made these young men feel left behind. These sons found the America their fathers had described to be a myth. 

Between Vietnam, Watergate, and shifting morals of the 1960s and 70s, this “crisis of credibility” forced the younger generation to question all forms of authority—including their fathers and their brand of masculinity.

How to Heal the Father-Son Relationship

To get at the root of his masculinity issues, Glover explains that a recovering Nice Guy must overcome the childhood impression of his father and view him through fresh eyes. Even if the relationship was exactly as you remember, Glover demonstrates that when you reflect as an adult, you’re likely to see your dad for who he was: human.

Your father doesn’t need to participate in this reexamination (although if some frank conversation would help, more power to you). However, Glover maintains it’s necessary to address your feelings about your father—whether fury, disappointment, or love—so that you can repair your complicated relationship with masculinity overall. (Shortform note: In Superior Man, Deida agrees that in order to live as a free man, you must release yourself from your father’s expectations. To help you do this, he suggests taking three days to live as if your father had died. Follow your own path. What would you pursue if his judgment was lifted from your shoulders?)

Understanding the Father-Son Relationship

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robert Glover's "No More Mr. Nice Guy" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full No More Mr. Nice Guy summary :

  • Why being a "Nice Guy" isn't actually a good thing
  • Why Nice Guys miss out on a life of self-acceptance, empowerment, and satisfaction
  • How to know if you are a Nice Guy and how to become an "Ideal Man" instead

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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