How Can Fathers Stay Close to Their Sons?
“DADDY, how do you know so much?” Has your boy ever taken you by surprise with such a question? At the time, you probably felt proud of being a father. But if your son went a step further—if he applied your wise counsel and reaped the benefit—your heart no doubt glowed with even greater joy. *—Proverbs 23:15, 24.
Over the years, however, has your son’s admiration for you remained unbounded? Or does it seem that as he grows, his regard for you shrinks? How can you stay close to your son as he develops from a boy into a man? First, let us consider some of the challenges fathers face.
Three Common Challenges
1. LACK OF TIME: In many countries, fathers earn most of the income for the family. Often, their job requires that they be away from home for most of the day. In some places, fathers spend remarkably little time with their children. A recent survey in France, for example, found that fathers there spend on average less than 12 minutes a day caring for their children.
TO THINK ABOUT: How much time do you spend with your son? Over the next week or two, why not write down the total amount of time that you interact with him each day? The results may surprise you.
2. LACK OF A GOOD EXAMPLE: Some men have had little to do with their own father. “I lacked contact with my father,” says Jean-Marie, who lives in France. How has Jean-Marie been affected? “It has created problems that I never imagined,” he says. “For instance, I find it difficult to engage my own sons in meaningful conversations.” In other cases, men know their father very well, but the relationship between father and son is damaged. Philippe, 43, says: “My father found it difficult to express affection for me. As a result, I have to work hard at being more affectionate with my son.”
TO THINK ABOUT: Do you feel that the relationship you have with your own father affects the way you treat your son? Have you noticed yourself following your father’s good or bad habits? How so?
3. LACK OF BALANCED ADVICE: Some cultures downplay the father’s role in raising children. “Where I grew up,” says Luca, who was raised in a Western European land, “people felt that looking after children was a wife’s job.” In other cultures, fathers are encouraged to be strict disciplinarians but little else. George, for example, was brought up in an African country. He says: “In my culture, fathers do not play together with their children for fear that this will lessen the father’s authority. So I have always had trouble just enjoying the company of my son.”
TO THINK ABOUT: In your community, what role are fathers expected to play? Are they taught to view child rearing as women’s work? Are fathers encouraged to express love and affection for their sons, or are such ideas frowned upon?
If you are a father who faces one or more of these challenges, how can you succeed? Consider the following suggestions.
Start While Your Son Is Young
Sons seem to be born with a desire to imitate their father. So while your son is young, harness that desire. How can you do so? And when can you find time to spend with him?
Whenever possible, include your son in your daily activities. For example, if you are doing chores, have him help you. Give your boy a small broom or a tiny spade. No doubt he will be delighted to work by the side of his hero and role model, his dad! It may take you a little longer to finish the chore; but you will strengthen the bond between you, and you will be teaching him a good work ethic. Long ago, the Bible encouraged fathers to include their children in their daily activities and to use those occasions to communicate with them and to teach them. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) Such advice is still sound.
In addition to working with your boy, make time to play together with him. Play does much more than provide an opportunity to have fun together. Research shows that when fathers play with their young children, they encourage them to be more adventurous and bold.
Play between a father and son serves an even more important function. “It is through play,” says researcher Michel Fize, “that a boy communicates best with his father.” During playtime, a father can express affection for his son by both words and actions. In doing so, he teaches his son how to express affection too. “When my son was a child,” says André, a father who lives in Germany, “we often played together. I hugged him, and he learned to return my love.”
Bedtime is another occasion when a father can strengthen the bonds of love with his son. Regularly read him a story, and listen to him express his joys and concerns about the day. If you do, you will make it easier for him to continue communicating with you as he grows older.
Continue to Pursue Common Interests
Some teenage sons may seem indifferent to a father’s attempts to communicate with them. If your son appears to be evading your questions, do not conclude that he is closed to any conversation. He may be more willing to open up if you adapt the way you communicate with him.
Jacques, a father who lives in France, sometimes found it difficult to communicate with his son, Jérôme. But instead of forcing his son to talk, he adapted his approach—he played soccer with him. “After our physical exercise,” says Jacques, “we used to sit on the grass and rest a bit. My son often opened his heart at that time. The simple fact that we were together and, I think, that he had me to himself during these times, created a special bond between us.”
What if your son does not like sports? André fondly remembers the hours he spent gazing at the stars with his son. “We would set up deck chairs in the cold night air,” says André. “Then we would wrap ourselves up warmly and, with a cup of tea in hand, observe the night sky. We talked about the One who created the stars. We talked about personal matters. We talked about almost everything.”—Isaiah 40:25, 26.
What if you do not like to do some of the things that interest your son? In that case, you may have to forgo personal preferences. (Philippians 2:4) “I was far more interested in sports than my son Vaughan was,” says Ian, who lives in South Africa. “He liked airplanes and computers. So I made those things my interest too, taking him to air shows and playing with a flight simulator on the computer. I feel that because we shared enjoyable activities together, Vaughan was able to speak more freely with me.”
Build His Self-Confidence
“Look, Daddy, look!” Did your little boy shout something like that to you when he mastered a new skill? If he is now a teenager, does he still seek your approval so openly? Maybe not. But he definitely needs it if he is to grow into a well-balanced adult.
Note the example that Jehovah God himself set in dealing with one of his sons. When Jesus was about to begin a special phase of his life on earth, God publicly expressed his affection for him, saying: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” (Matthew 3:17; 5:48) True, you have an obligation to discipline and teach your son. (Ephesians 6:4) But do you also look for opportunities to express approval for the good things he says and does?
Some men find it a challenge to express approval and affection. They may have grown up in families where their parents emphasized mistakes rather than achievements. If that is true in your case, you will need to make a conscious effort to build your son’s self-confidence. How could you do so? Luca, quoted earlier, regularly works with his 15-year-old son, Manuel, as they do household chores. “Sometimes,” says Luca, “I tell Manuel to start a task by himself and that I will help him if he needs me. Most of the time, he manages the job on his own. His successes give him satisfaction and boost his self-confidence. When he succeeds, I commend him. When he doesn’t do as well as he hoped, I still let him know that I appreciate his effort.”
You can also boost your son’s self-confidence by helping him reach larger goals in life. What, though, if your son reaches goals more slowly than you wish? Or what if his goals, though not bad, are different from ones that you would choose for him? In that case, you may need to reassess your expectations. Jacques, quoted earlier, says: “I try to help my son set achievable goals. But I also try to make sure that they are his goals, not mine. Then I remind myself that he needs to work toward his objectives at his own pace.” If you listen to your son’s opinions, commend his strengths, and encourage him to overcome his failures, you will help him to reach his goals.
Realistically, your relationship will have its strains and challenges. But in the long run, your son will likely want to remain close to you. After all, who does not want to stay close to someone who helps him succeed?
^ par. 2 While this article focuses on the unique bond between fathers and sons, the principles discussed also apply to the relationship between fathers and daughters.