The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:
I’m a male company worker in my 60s, and my son is in his seventh year at university. It feels like he will never graduate.
I had simply believed my son was living in a dormitory studying hard with aspirations. When his fifth year of university was about to start, I thought it would be a problem if he could not graduate, but I concluded it’s his life, so I just had him promise me he would let me know if he changed his plan for graduation. He agreed to this.
As my son had told me nothing until recently, I contacted the university, only to find he has no prospect of graduating as he has failed to get sufficient credits. My son did not tell me about his studies. However, I wasn’t concerned because he did not seem upset when I talked with him about getting a job. I regret I failed to notice his problem.
He should decide as soon as possible if he wants to pursue another path. I also don’t want to continue paying his tuition in vain. Nonetheless, I don’t want him to feel offended and break away from me. What should I do?
S, Saitama Prefecture
Dear Mr. S:
Well, I struggled to find what to say to you. Your firm belief in your son is even moving to me. At the same time, however, I can’t help but ask how you can be so indulgent with him.
Although your son failed to graduate three times and now is in his fourth attempt, you say you believe he has aspirations. You didn’t even ask him to explain when he broke his promise of letting you know if he changed his plan for graduation.
Even though he has failed to graduate, you’re still wondering if you should continue paying his tuition. I think you should demand he return the money you’ve paid to the university for him.
You remain indulgent with your son because you’re afraid of him breaking ties with you after reprimanding him too strictly, and also because you blame yourself for having failed to notice his problem. As his parent, you should have confronted your son head-on and discussed this with him when he repeated his academic years or broke his promise.
Now, you’re facing a natural consequence of having avoided taking this very standard approach. To be blunt, you are not communicating with your own son.
To restart your communications, you should not be so afraid he will break away. A father should not just be tender — they must also be strict, just like the two sides of the same coin.
“I’ll treat you as a grown-up from now on. I’ll continue to support you, but I’ll tell you clearly what I can do and can’t.” You should tell this to your son to restart this relationship.
Soichiro Nomura, psychiatrist