By the Father and the Son

How Listening with My Eyes Led to A Serendipitous Reunion with My Son.

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

6-Minute Read

I am a behavioral scientist; I get paid to observe how people act and try to understand their motivations.

I am also a father, and, until very recently, a poor listener. Let me explain.

The father-son relationship is often complicated and conflicted. This narrative is as old as the Bible. Of course, Christian theism is grounded on the importance of the Trinity—The Triune Godhead of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But a deeper look reveals that the words “father(*)” and “son(*)” appear in the Bible together 886 times, 761 times in the Old Testament and 125 times in the New Testament. The graph of the appearance of the words looks like this:

The graph itself looks conflicted. The juxtaposition of these two words often describes conflict, but not always. Some of the more notable father-son conflicts include, but are not limited to, The Prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32; King David and his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 15-18; Jacob and sons in Genesis 37. And there are more examples.[1]

The Quran also mentions father-son conflicts in Surah Al-Ankabut (29:8; obey your father) and Al-Luqman (31:14; be good to your parents).[2]

So it is in the secular world. There are boundless examples of father-son conflicts in Modern American literature (1900-1945). Faulkner wrote extensively about this topic in several of his works including, but not limited to; “Barn Burning’’ and “Absolom-Absolom”.[3] However, other contemporaries of Faulkner wrote about the topic too (cf., Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Hughes, Miller, Steinbeck, and White).

American writers of the modern era also have a lot to say about the father-son relationship (cf., Diaz, McCarthy, Chabon, Franzen, Lahiri, Saienz, and Ward).

Lest we forget our European writers, here is a short list of notable father-son conflicts penned by this group (cf., Camus, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Ibsen, Joyce, and Werfel). English authors also weigh in on the subject (cf. Barnes, Dickens, Fowels, Ishiguro, Lawrence, and, of course, Shakespeare).

Historically, it would seem, the father-son relationship appears to be doomed.

To wit, I had my share of conflicts with my father. When I was born in Staten Island, New York he sat in the parking lot and drank a six-pack of beer with his dad in the car. Not that this was a precursor to conflict, but when my son was born, I was in the delivery room. But we had conflicts too.

Over the years, our relationship dynamic changed, we became estranged, and my son and I drifted apart. Somewhere along his path, Michael developed a vision, a yearning to be creative, and a place where he could belong. And I missed it.

That is until one day I just sat and listened—with my eyes.

I always knew that my son Michael had artistic talent. But I had no idea just how much until one day I watched as he described the power of his graphics software program and his prowess in manipulating it. He was so animated, punctuating the air with his hands as he spoke. His eyes were wide open, he was leaning in and smiling. I never saw him so throttled. He spoke and gesticulated as though the energy to do so came from deep within his soul.

“Yeah,” he said. “It can do motion capture, body positions, facial expressions and it is all FACS-based!” He exclaimed.

Suddenly, my head racked into full tilt like a wobbly pinball machine.

“What did you just say?” I asked.

“FACS?” He replied.

“Yes,” I cried. “You can do FACS?” FACS (Facial Action Coding System) was created to help with deception detection, but the rubric is also used in the movie industry by computer animators to create digital characters with real emotions. Law enforcement also uses it.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Okay,” I said. “Punch in AU=17D!”

After the clatter of a few keystrokes, the image below appeared:

The classical pout, and in the alphanumeric language of FACS, A.K.A. AU=17D. He beamed when it rendered. It was then that I could see that this was his calling.

This was a serendipitous confluence of two skills by the father and the son. My interpretation of body language positions melded with Michael’s ability to creatively render them into beautifully graphic expressions.

From then on, Michael would freshen up my antiquated body language content with the most brilliant depictions—slamming my brand back into the 21st Century. Also, his professional portfolio is rapidly growing.

But this is not about my brand or his portfolio. The pauses in our relationship due to conflict have dissipated. Now, we get to spend more time together discussing, creating, laughing, and, of course, just breaking bread.

Father and son celebrating another trip around the sun.

Now I am beaming that he has found his passion.

I never knew. Until one day I just listened—with my eyes.

Most communication is nonverbal. Are you fluent?

[1] All Christian Bible Verses are from The NASB Translation

[2] Quran Verses are from the A.Y. Ali Translation

[3] Reference Study Corgi. (2022, April 6). Father-Son Relationships in Barn Burning by William Faulkner. Retrieved from