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Locking Eyes: Fathers & Sons Communicating Non-Verbally

  • Kenny Luck Every Man Ministries
  • Updated Jul 27, 2011
Locking Eyes: Fathers & Sons Communicating Non-Verbally

Did your dad ever give you "the look"?

Ryan and I lock eyes and faces all the time. I'd love to report that my facial color and expressions are always positive and infused with love. They're not. I can report, however, a good many of them are positive and that my son knows his dad is present, watching, and waiting to encourage him. Just ask him. He'll tell you about all the non-verbal ways that we communicate.

Sometimes the connect is just with the eyes and a nod of my head which says to him, "I see you, I love you, and you know what to do." No words. Sometimes our eyes will lock onto to the other's when he is taking the soccer field and I will simply hand signal to him: I – LOVE – YOU in our unofficial father-son sign language. Again, not a word. Other times the sense of touch is the vehicle of communication. From the time he was a little shaver, three intermittent squeezes of a hand or leg or arm communicated how we felt for each other — one squeeze for each word: Squeeze one – "I" – squeeze two – "LOVE" – squeeze three – "YOU." His response back would be the same and then he would hold up two fingers so I could see them to complete his non-verbal communication ("I love you too dad").

This theme of three extends all the way to his bedside after we have prayed. The real amen is a special sort of "man-kiss" we have developed:  three rapid kisses on the cheek followed by three sniffs on the cheek (the quick sniffs on the cheek are a Guamanian form of a kiss). Last stop: the infamous surprise back rubs (the kid has the best hands in the family). Again, he's talking to me and not saying a word. He'll just see me, come over, and I'll feel these great strong hands grabbing handfuls of shoulder muscle. He doesn't say a word. I groan. He slaps me hard on my back three times to signal he's done and disappears again. Ryan loves me. To say that we have a deep connection as father and son is inadequate but that's our gig.

As for my dad, you didn't want "the look" in our house, because if you got "the look," then "the hand" or "the belt" were sure to follow. To this day I cannot believe how powerful the facial expressions of my father were to me. His face determined the whole atmosphere of our family and, sadly, there were not many, if any, smiles on my pop's face while I was growing up. The colors of his face were two: red for when he was drunk, angry, or exhausted; and pale for when he was sober, calm, and rested. It's funny how I used to immediately read his face to try to get a sense of his mood so I could determine what might happen next or how to avoid what might happen next.

The end of the story with my dad is bright. He began a new spiritual journey at age sixty-five and finished strong in his relationships with God and his family. I never saw his face turn red after that. Even though I was married with three kids, I was so glad to walk with my dad as a son during this time. The reciprocity between us was rich as a father and son: from his spiritual renewal, to heart bypass, to congestive heart failure, to when I buried him, to the sound of taps. I bawled.

Until you actually have a son, you cannot know the profound sense of joy that penetrates the soul of a father as he locks his eyes and his life onto a son. For a man and his daughter it is a more protective instinct as one commissioned to guard a rare and priceless diamond. For a man and his son it is a more potent generational instinct of passing on one's legacy, and of seeing oneself in the other person. I cannot explain the feeling that makes me want to be noble and to translate and transmit that sense of honor into Ryan's life. It haunts me to think of those invisible demons of character that have the potential to limit me from being the man I so desperately want Ryan to become. But when we lock eyes, I find renewed power to fight those demons so that I can prevail for him. This spiritual bond is a direct reflection of what exists in the God-head between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit — a union with the Father as the creative mind, the Son as the agent of his expression who realizes and executes it, and the Spirit who serves as the active power which makes it all happen.

When I silently lock eyes with Ryan I feel eternity. No words; just a satisfied smile tells it all.

Kenny Luck is the Men's Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He is also the Founder and President of Every Man Ministries which helps churches worldwide develop and grow healthy men's communities. Please visit for more information.