The father-son dynamic is arguably the most important and influential of all male-male relationships. While friendships, business partnerships and fraternities may all grow and decline during the course of a life time, the father-son relationship remains as a constant, and can affect the lives of both parties both positively and negatively. The father-son relationship is also an important factor when the son creates his own father-son relationship with his child (a second-generation relationship).
The father-son relationship is often characterized by the lack of emotional availability and a stilted emotional connection. This is reflected in the amount of research that has been presented on the differences between the father-son bond compared to that of the mother-daughter. This may be an unfair comparison, as the stereotypical female displays her emotions in a different way than males, for example vocalizing the phrase "I love you," which females in general do more often than males. Many men are uncomfortable expressing affection to their sons and therefore fall back to the familiar pattern of how they express affection to other males, which is generally not verbal.
When a son reaches adolescence, the relationship between father and son starts to evolve due to the change in the son. The son, as part of the natural growing-up process, wants to expand his horizons and challenge his father's position and authority within the home. However, the son is still dependent on his father for his material needs and this conflict may have damaging consequences for the father-son bond later in life. A traditional response from the father may be to feel threatened by the potential usurper and respond in the traditional male way of competition, criticism and control, which can be destructive to the relationship. The father may win the conflict, but the price of victory is often an angry and emotionally unfulfilled young man longing for, but never achieving, approval and acceptance from his father.
Although the father-son bond is the result of a purely biological process, the change in the nature of the relationship is a result of larger socio-economic or political changes in the wider society. In the 17th century, for example, the role of the father was to provide materially for his son and also to educate him in religious matters and in a trade. The relationship itself was characterized by discipline, respect and authority. During the mid-18th century, a transient shift occurred and many fathers and sons enjoyed a relationship based on companionship and respect.
The early 1900s saw a change in the man's role to one of "masculine domesticity" as fathers increasingly were involved in home life. This new status included a wider role in the upbringing of the children, especially in their social and psychological development. The middle of the 20th century, with the beginning of the consumerist age, another change in the father-son relationship occurred. With the role of the man refocusing on being the primary breadwinner and families wanting to have the latest commodities, the father was usually away from the home in order to maximize his earning potential. With the father now spending less time at home, his relationship with his son changed from a nurturer back to a more authoritarian figure.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the current shift that we are undergoing in the 21st century finds the father figure moving back to a more nurturing role, which is reflective of a society that has increasing expectations that fathers should be more loving and involved in the raising of their children than their own fathers were. This renewal of the nurturing father-son relationship is known as the Theory of Generative Fatherhood, which holds that fathers should be demonstrably affectionate toward their children on a daily basis. The result of this shift, ideally, is that the modern father-son relationship should be closer, more satisfying and more nurturing than it was in the previous generation.