As a dad, what are some of the key roles that I play in the life of my son? What areas in his life should I focus on and what are some things I can do to cultivate a healthy relationship between us?
One of the most important aspects of a dad's contribution to the lives of his kids lies precisely in what Dr. David Popenoe, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University and Co-Director of the National Marriage Project, calls his "significantly different parenting style." Men and women are different, and as a result mothers and fathers parent their children differently. It should be obvious that, as a man, you are in a position to exert a specifically masculine influence upon your son.
Dr. Popenoe has this to say about the importance of a father's role in the family:
Fathers are far more than just "second adults" in the home. Involved fathers-especially biological fathers-bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. They provide protection and economic support and male role models. They have a parenting style that is significantly different from that of a mother and that difference is important in healthy child development.David Popenoe, Life Without Father, (New York: The Free Press, 1996)
It's been observed that dads love their children "more dangerously," because they play "rougher," foster competition, engender independence, and are more likely to encourage risk-taking. All of this is particularly important for boys. Fathers also provide kids with a broader diversity of social experiences and introduce them to a wider variety of methods of dealing with life. By stressing rules, justice, fairness, and duty in discipline, they teach their sons the objectivity and consequences of right and wrong. They give them insight into the world of men, prepare them for the challenges of life, and demonstrate by example the meaning of respect between the sexes. By loving their wives "as Christ loves the church" (Ephesians 5:25), they show their boys how a proper man treats a proper woman and help them to grasp the importance of appropriate boundaries in male-female relationships.
As a dad, you are also uniquely positioned to shape your son's faith by teaching him from the Scriptures and through the consistent modeling of virtues such as tenacity, integrity, faithfulness, and perseverance. This may be much simpler than you think. When you make promises, keep them. Stay true to your word. If you "keep on keeping on" when life tries to knock you down-if you look persistently to the Lord to be your strength in the midst of personal weakness -you will earn the authority to tell your boy that hard work is its own reward and that giving up is unacceptable. By learning his special "love language" and demonstrating what it means to be compassionate towards people of all ages, conditions, races, and walks of life, you can cement a life-long bond with your child and help him grasp the difference between a genuinely Christ-like man and the so-called "macho man" of high school locker rooms and popular culture.
This last point-the importance of love and compassion-is absolutely critical to effective Christian fathering. Many men don't seem to understand how desperately their sons need their love, affection, approval, and verbal affirmation. Boys even need a certain amount of appropriate physical touch from their dads. There is a tendency among some fathers to downplay the importance of emotion, tenderness, and understanding in their interactions with their sons. We'd suggest, however, that this approach can be dangerous and potentially damaging.
Just as destructive is the impulse to live vicariously through the younger generation-to assume and even require that a boy share all of his father's interests and grow up to be "just like dad." Resist that temptation with every ounce of determination you've got. You can communicate genuine love for your son and validate his personhood if you set him free to follow his natural bent and develop his own unique God-given talents. If he's a born musician, don't force him to play football. On the other hand, if he'd rather turn a wrench than crack a book, don't expect him to become a Rhodes scholar.
A "coming of age" ceremony in the style of the Jewish Bar-Mitzvah or certain other ancient "rites of passage" can have a powerful impact on a boy's heart and mind. If it seems appropriate, we'd encourage you to help your son plan such a ceremony-possibly when he's thirteen or fourteen years of age. Build into it elements that will symbolize everything he's come to believe about the purpose of his own life and the meaning of godly manhood. Robert Lewis's book, Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood, may provide you with helpful ideas and suggestions in this regard. This resource is available through our ministry and can be ordered by way of Focus on the Family's Online Store.
If you feel it would be helpful to pursue this subject at greater length, don't hesitate to give our Counseling department a call for a free consultation. We'll happy to help you in any way we can.
Why Children Need Your Touch: Dr. Gary Chapman tells parents why communicating through appropriate touch is so important to children.
52 Things Kids Need From a Dad
National Center for Fathering
The Power of Fathers