My childhood relationship with my father wasn't always easy, but it was uncomplicated.
He was excessively strict and explosive. I never had to guess if he was mad at me. You could hear his disapproval down the block.
Despite that, I never doubted that he loved me and was proud of me. He's never had a problem telling me that my entire life.
So, although there were drawbacks to being a daughter in that home -- specifically a double standard regarding personal freedom -- there was this perk: He didn't have to teach me how to grow into a man. It was an acceptable part of social norms back then that he was overprotective and controlling. It may have been easier for him to accept who I was and what I would become because of his preconceived ideas of gender roles. And as adults, we still have an uncomplicated, albeit much easier, relationship.
My brothers would probably tell a different story, although their relationships with our father are also strong and loving.
Father-son relationships are tricky -- just as loaded with expectations and fears as mother-daughter. For so long, a son idolizes his dad. There is a mythology around the Superman dad that young children embrace. He's the biggest, strongest caregiver in their lives for years.
But there's a point at which this narrative gets challenged, as it must. A boy goes from wanting to be just like his father to wanting to be his own person.
When a son realizes his father is just a man, mortal and flawed, he begins to assert his own identity and challenge his father's authority and knowledge. A battle of ego and burgeoning manhood collides with wisdom and command.
Dr. Kyle Pruett, professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, is the author of "Fatherneed: Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child." He also co-authored "Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently -- Why it Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage" with his wife, Smith College professor Marsha Pruett, Ph.D.
"You're always a little off-balance when parenting a child of an opposite gender," he explained, as a father of three daughters and one son. "You've never been in those shoes."
Once boys are under the sway of the rapid changes of puberty, which affect every organ including the brain, they can become more competitive with their fathers, he explained.
"One of the stereotypes that exists is that you have a commitment on the part of dads about getting their kids ready for life in the real world," he explained. Mothers make sure children have good relationships and the social competence to navigate future ones, the stereotype goes, while dads need to teach their children that the world is not always kind.
"You'll see dads come down hard on sons about behavior that will get them in trouble on the soccer field, on Wall Street, in the business world," he said. This can translate into admonishments such as: Don't complain about the ref; get better at the game. The father is thinking that the son better learn it from him rather than from his first boss, Pruett said.
During adolescence, it's especially crucial for mothers to support fathers in front of their children, he added. It goes a long way toward healthy future relationships if mothers are able to say, when sons unfairly criticize their fathers, "I love this man; he's not a jerk. Knock it off."
He sees significant changes afoot in the role that fathers play and their relationships with their children.
"In the 40 years that I've been involved with families, I've watched dads become far more engaged in child care than their fathers were with them," he said, which is good for fathers and mothers, but even better for the children.
Gender roles have evolved enormously. Men in previous generations may have struggled with whether to hug or kiss their boys. Nowadays, Pruett said he's far more likely to see boys get great big hugs from their dads when they come off a soccer field than when he was a child.
At the same time, society is doing a better job of socializing boys to talk about their emotions. For years, the notion of a distant father persisted because so many fathers were unable to effectively express themselves.
"I think there's hope. I'm not sure this a chromosomal-based defect," Pruett laughed.
For as often as sons may have wondered: Will I ever be good enough? Is he proud of me? Does he even care about me? There are likely just as many fathers who wish they had said more often: Yes, you are. I am proud of you. I love you.