Why Sons Need Their Father’s Affection

Why do dads need to get involved with their sons on an emotional level? My father was a no-nonsense man who did not share much with me in the way of his feelings. He basically taught me how to work hard, be responsible and make my own way in life. My wife gets upset with me because I'm the same way with our son. We're at odds about this. For one thing, I don't think it's healthy for men to demonstrate affection toward each other. For another, I'm convinced that my dad's style of fathering made me tough and spurred me on to achieve more than I would have otherwise. What do you think?

We believe you need to take a second look, not only at your son, his situation, and your relationship with him, but at your own deepest feelings and needs. This may not be easy for a man of your background and temperament – a man who prides himself on his toughness and independence. Nevertheless, we think it’s critically important that you give it a try, especially if you consider yourself a Christian and are concerned about living a life that’s pleasing to the Lord.

Let’s start at the very beginning. Before addressing the parental aspects of the scenario you’ve sketched, we’d like to take a moment to turn the spotlight on your marriage. To be specific, it concerns us that you seem so unwilling to listen to the counsel of your wife. The perspective of a good and wise woman is one of the greatest assets a man can have in this life. If you love and respect your wife, you owe it to her to ask yourself whether there’s any validity in what she’s saying. Mama Bear is equipped with a sixth sense when it comes to her cubs, and if she’s picking up distress signals from your son it would be worth your while to pay attention. If you don’t, you run the risk of hurting your relationship with her as well as with your boy.

For our part, we think there’s probably a great deal of truth in her representation of the situation. It’s all well and good to talk about the importance of being strong and learning to overcome obstacles, but we’d suggest that life itself is capable of giving your son all the trouble and adversity he needs without any help from you. Your role is to get on his team and help him face the opposition with confidence. Instead of adding to the pressure, stand beside him as an encourager, comforter, cheerleader, and friend. This, after all, is the example God sets for us in His role as our Heavenly Father – as the Scripture says, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

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.

This brings us back to something we mentioned at the beginning of our answer – namely, your deepest needs and feelings. You seem to be saying, “My dad’s style of fathering was good enough for me, and it’s going to be good enough for my son too!” Isn’t this just another way of requiring your boy to be just like you? Think about it for a moment. Is that what you really want for him? Are you absolutely certain that, way down inside, you aren’t hurting – resenting your dad for his lack of tenderness and empathy? Is it possible that you’re taking out your resentment on your son by subjecting him to the same treatment? It’s a possibility well worth considering.

If you’d like to discuss this at greater length, call us. Our staff counselors would be more than happy to discuss your questions with you over the phone.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

52 Things Kids Need from a Dad

The Vital Role of Fathering

National Center for Fathering

The Power of Fathers

The Husband and Father’s Role

The Involved Father

The Fatherhood Mandate


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