Five Things Every Son Needs from His Dad
- Ken R. Canfield , Ph.D. The National Center for Fathering
- 2005 21 Jul
We used to be boys, so we have a natural companionship with our sons; our natural interests tend to merge more easily with them than our daughters. Unfortunately, although it’s easier for us to be with our sons, it’s still too often a distant relationship. We need to be intentional about building a close connection with our sons and giving them a healthy model of what it means to be a boy, a man, and a father.
Even more importantly, we need to be intentional about raising young men of faith. Based on research I’ve done with about 2,000 fathers, I have identified 5 key things that sons need from their dads:
Sons need dads who are thinking about their futures and taking action to prepare them — whether we’re talking about tomorrow, next week, next year, or ten years from now. Financial planning makes a good comparison because our regular, consistent investments will pay rich dividends for our sons’ futures.
What specific things should we plan for? Well, first, we need a plan for our son’s vocational future — which includes much more than targeting him as a doctor, computer technician or musician. You want him to have a fulfilling career that pays the bills and contributes to society, but even more importantly, pay attention to how he can develop and express his talents in a way that pleases God. Then encourage him to pursue those avenues.
Next, there’s his relational future. Address what to look for in a mate, discuss what it takes to make a marriage work, and pray for that little girl or young lady who will someday be his wife.
Third, give some thought to rites of passage — benchmarks along the way that help signal new levels of maturity and responsibility and that affirm him and bless him as a beloved son. Plan ahead to give special recognition to these rites of passage.
Also, I’d suggest listing some skills, attitudes, and values to instill in your son by the time he leaves home. You might include financial stewardship, the ability to delay gratification, prayer, basic auto maintenance, thankfulness, perseverance, honesty, a work ethic, modesty, or family togetherness. Make a list, and check it from time to time as a reminder. You’ve heard the saying: if you fail to plan, you have planned to fail.
I like to think of Jeremiah 35, where the prophet mentions Jonadab – an exemplary leader who wasn’t an Israelite. As a result of his example, his sons followed his responsible lifestyle for generations. That’s the kind of power our example can have.
As Jonadab’s story shows, a dad’s example really encompasses all aspects of life. But let me mention a few areas where we need to be intentional about modeling:
First, we need to model godly emotions. We can help our sons regulate their emotions and express them in responsible ways by watching our own regulation of our emotions. Take note: regulating emotions is not the same as hiding them. A lot of dads hide their emotions, like they are weaknesses. But our sons need to see a healthy display of our "feelings side."
Another key aspect of regulating our emotions is getting a hold of our anger. James 1 urges us to be "slow to become angry. For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." If we want our sons to enjoy the righteous life that God desires, we especially need to learn to regulate our anger.
Our sons also need our examples as husbands — especially boys who have experienced a family break-up. When we do the work to build a strong marriage -- the communication, the thoughtful gestures and so on — that creates powerful pictures for a son.
Remember, our sons need reference points in life, and usually actions speak louder than words.
Boys need their father to keep track of them, hold them accountable, and correct them when necessary. The headlines are filled with stories of boys and young men who weren’t monitored in a healthy way. We must teach our sons that we’re watching them, and we’re not going to stand by when they disregard what God’s Word says is best for them.
I encourage dads to check in regularly with their sons — especially on two issues:
Respect. Many young men have lost a sense of respect, and it especially shows in their speech. We hear them trash-talking, cursing and joking coarsely, or denigrating women. We need to monitor the way they talk, and teach them to use their speech for positive ends — like articulating thoughts and feelings, building relationships, and giving encouragement. Passages like Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4 and Colossians 4:6 can help us set goals for our sons in their speech
Purity -- Given how easy it is to slip up in this area, we need to check in regularly to see how our sons are doing. This also relates back to the example we give our sons. We need to honestly ask ourselves if we are living a life of purity — making a covenant with our eyes and claiming the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome temptation.
We know that alluring images assault us from all sides, and we need to prepare our sons for battle. We can tell them exactly what to expect, talk through scenarios where they’ll be tempted, and read together from passages like 1 Corinthians, about "fleeing from sexual immorality." We can talk about channeling our energies in healthy ways, like exercise, and encourage them to pray daily for strength — and don’t forget to pray for his purity as well.
Specific Spiritual Goals
These are events, experiences, or habits that help to activate your son’s faith and teach him what it means to live a life pleasing to God. Hebrews 11:6 says that "without faith, it is impossible to please God." We can focus on three areas that are important to a son’s spiritual development:
Respect for authority. Recently, I told a group of young women that as they think about what they want in a husband, it’s important to ask, Does he respond to authority in a proper way? Does he respect those who are over him? Learning to submit to authority will help teach your son the humility and dependence he needs to walk by faith in the unseen.
Worship. Dads, by your example, your son will learn to pray. By your leadership, he will learn to study and memorize the scriptures. Through you, he will gain an appreciation for worship, repentance, confession of sins, and other acts of devotion to God.
Many fathers are absent from equipping their sons as worshipers with a vibrant faith. And if boys grow up without a masculine model of spiritual vitality, they may view faith as a feminine pursuit. As we see in Jesus’ example, a real man shows both compassion and strength, humility and decisiveness. So while we strive to model submission, humility and love, we have a unique role in showing our sons that walking by faith also requires toughness, resourcefulness, and courage.
Real-life experiences of faith in action. Give them many memorable, life-changing experiences serving others — from the family broken down on the side of the road ... to the inner-city project or homeless shelter in your community ... to the mission trip in Brazil.
Colossians 3:12-14: "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Those verses describe the love we need to give our sons and to cultivate in our sons. In practical terms, that love is defined by responsible actions toward others.
Good communication is vital. We fathers need to make communication a high priority, so once again, we teach by example and practice. In a nutshell, we listen first before making our opinions known, and we do away with lectures in favor of two-way discussions. We’re also open to receiving feedback, even if it’s negative. And most importantly — we take the initiative in rebuilding relationships when fractures occur. We have the courage to admit when we’re wrong and seek forgiveness. Those are all demonstrations of love that will have an impact on our sons’ development.
The other key factor we need to cultivate is closely related, but worth mentioning separately: showing affection. Boys with affectionate fathers develop positive self-esteem, they tend to thrive in schoolwork, and have fewer gender identity issues. So, instead of a pat on the back or a tousle of the hair, give your son a big, old-fashioned bear hug — and do it often.
Verbal affection is important as well. Positive words give sons confidence and belonging, and again provide a model of a man who can express love in healthy ways. We need to tell our sons how much they means to us, point out their positive character traits, and just say, "I love you, and I’m proud to be your dad."
Excerpt from an essay by a boy in 2nd grade:
"My dad is the best dad ever. He taught me how to make a wooden airplane. It was the best plane ever. We are true pals. I would kiss a pig for him."
Excerpt from an essay by a boy in 8th grade:
"One of the funnest times I have had with him was on a camping trip with the boy scouts. We fished, hiked, and carved wood. At night, he snored so loud we thought it was a bear. It was a great experience."
Excerpt from an essay by a boy in 2nd grade:
"My dad is a really good fisher. He works hard so that mom can stay home with me and my sister and take care of us. My dad likes to play with warrior toys. Even though he doesn't want anyone else to know. I also like when we watch sports together and he jumps around and yells at the TV. But I guess what my dad really means to me - he is my best friend, my role model, and when I grow up, I want to be just like him. Someone who loves his family so much that he sacrifices everything of himself. I love my dad."
Excerpt from an essay by a boy in 7th grade
"He’s the type of guy that you can talk to about school, other boys or just plain girlfriends."
The National Center for Fathering was founded in 1990 by Dr. Ken Canfield because every child needs a dad they can count on -- someone who loves them, knows them, guides them and helps them achieve their destiny. Visit www.fathers.com for more articles and resources to assist dads in nearly every fathering situation.