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November 05, 2021

Establishing rituals can help fathers strengthen bonds with grown children

Dads should initiate regular activities that demonstrate their love and help relationships evolve

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Vegas Eagles fans Courtesy/Louis Bezich

Louis Bezich, left, with his son, Anthony, traveled to Las Vegas to watch the Eagles play the Raiders last month. Such trips help strengthen their bond, Louis says.

Along with husband, father is the most coveted title I've ever held. Frequent references to my two sons in these articles reflect the value I place on these relationships, and the motivation they provide for my penchant for health and fitness.

Both in their 30s, as adult children, I've really come to cherish the fulfillment they provide and the fun we have. A recent trip with my older son proved how meaningful these relationships can be, and got me wondering about ways that men can maximize these bonds.

There is much written about fatherhood when children are young, but once they are out of the house, with families of their own, the father-son dynamic enters a new phase requiring new strategies. As a dad, you need to consider a range of new factors that influence your son's life: spouses, their own children (your grandchildren), career pressure, in-laws and the like. By appreciating this new context, you can better navigate this phase, avoid problems and enhance your relationship.

Best practices

The Hartford offers a number of tips that can help dads manage their relationships with their adult children. Among the ones I found most significant are setting boundaries, doing things you love together and sharing guidance through adult-structured dialogue appropriate for this new context.

Dora Weithers, a counselor who writes for the website We Have Kids, reminds us that when your son becomes a man, it is time to give up control. You can advise and continue to serve as a role model, but his decisions are his to make – and live with. Equally interesting is her observation that you can learn from your adult son, something I experience with increasing frequency. Finally, Weithers suggests that the father should take the lead in executing the relationship by initiating activities that demonstrate your love, and support the evolution of the alliance.

Consistent with this last point, I would add the need to establish routines and rituals. I'm a big believer that you can grow relationships by creating a rhythm. Building a pattern of anticipated engagement can strengthen bonds and convey a message of love and commitment. It is one of my personal go-to tactics with the boys.

The trip to Vegas

There was no question. When the Eagles schedule came out earlier this year, by far the best road game was the Oct. 24 contest against the Las Vegas Raiders. Nothing tops Vegas as the ideal destination for fun and football. So, my son Anthony and I immediately made plans. My other son roots for another team – we'll leave it at that.

In terms of relationship-building strategies, the Eagles in Vegas checks all the boxes. It's a case study in bonding and leveraging shared interests. For Anthony and me, it continued a ritual of sports-related travel that previously had included Phillies spring training.

Our schedules didn't leave time for a full pre-flight meal, so we enjoyed some sushi and cocktails at the airport, then headed west with a plane full of fans. Upon arrival we transitioned to the time change with a visit to one of the many watering holes in our hotel, where there was more Philly fan engagement and lots of good conversation.  

On game day, staying loyal to the cause, I got in a quick workout before breakfast and our Uber ride to the nearby Allegiant Stadium, home of the Raiders. The relatively new indoor venue is quite the attraction, highlighted by a rock band that plays during game brakes. While we're diehard Eagles fans, we had to admit, the Vegas musicians made the Eagles Pep Band look a little weak.

I went all-out for the tickets so we had great seats to observe what we hoped would be an Eagles victory. My son ran into a bunch of his friends, and hanging out with other Eagles fans and each other made for a great time. By now, what we observed is old news. Let's just say the walk back to our hotel was very much a walk of shame – as pointed out by a number of the locals in black. But the good news is that in terms of the father-son outcome, we were winners. But that was just a part of the trip.

Since we didn't get to Vegas until late Saturday, we stayed through Monday to soak up the scene. There were great dinners Sunday and Monday night. We particularly enjoyed a tapas meal where we shared surf and turf delicacies that were incredibly tasty. Our hotel had a great fitness center which I was able to visit again Monday, and Anthony finished ahead at the tables. And the trip would not have been complete without picking up something for my 6-year-old grandson who had requested some Nike gear.

Beyond the logistics, it's the time spent together, the shared exposure to new things and, perhaps most important of all, the memories. The trip represented another deposit in our bank of memories that will be drawn on for years to come.

Like most things in life, the quality of a relationship is proportionate to the investment you make. The wonderful thing about the adult version of the father-son kinship is that the process of making the investment is itself a lot of fun. Unlike the gym, there is little pain associated with the gain. Just the time and attention to details.

I am very fortunate to have great relationships with both of my sons. Whether it's a trip, dinner at a local restaurant, a birthday gathering or a simple call to catch up, it's about striking a balance between my parental instincts to stay close and giving them the space to lead their own lives. More and more, they teach me about the world today as I judicially offer advice from my own lived experience. The model works for me – and I hope for them.

Whether you have sons, daughters, are an uncle, step-parent or Big Brother volunteer, the adult-child relationship can provide a great reason to stay healthy and boost your well-being. If you have the opportunity, make the most of it.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website. 

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