What’s Special About the Father-Son Relationship?

by Jun 30, 2021

Let’s get the overall “Dad Stuff” out of the way

Okay Dads, listen up. Let’s first do a review of best papa practices: 10 tips for being an involved, responsible and committed father, everyday, whether you have sons or daughters (adapted from The National Fatherhood Initiative www.fatherhood.org

  1. Respect Your Children’s Mother. If you’re married, the best gift you can give your children is a strong relationship between you and your spouse. If you’re no longer married, you’re still responsible for providing a secure environment for your kiddos. When they see you and mom respecting one another, they are more likely to feel that they are also accepted and respected.
  2. Spend Time With Your Children. They are paying attention to what you value. If you spend time with your children, they will feel valued by you. If you’re unavailable and try to make up for it with gifts or words they will still feel neglected. Gary Chapman has done some solid research with Love Languages, but I quite agree with Chali 2na, “The most that you can spend on any child is time.” 
  3. Earn the Right to be Heard. Many dads provide attention to their children when they’re misbehaving. Negativity Bias is the tendency to focus only on the things that are going wrong or need to be fixed. Catch them being good so that you don’t succumb to the bias. Start talking to your kids about difficult subjects while they are still young so that the conversations will be easier when they get older.
  4. Discipline with Love. Fathers who discipline their children in a calm and fair manner show love for their children. Limits and boundaries equal love. But like anything else, limits can pathologize and become too rigid or unreasonable. Kids need your guidance and discipline so that they learn their way in a world full of consequences and rewards.
  5. Be a Role Model. You are a role model for your sons and your daughters. A daughter who grows up with a loving father knows that she deserves to be treated with respect, and knows what to look for in a mate. Dads can teach sons the importance of honesty, humility, and responsibility by embodying these values every day.
  6. Be a Teacher. Involved fathers use everyday examples to help their children learn basic lessons of life. Teaching your children about right and wrong, and encouraging them to do their best will help shape your kids to make good choices. Generally speaking, mothers nurture and fathers encourage. Teach your kids how to take risks, help them realize their potential, and consarnit get down on the ground and get after that rough and tumble play – it’s so important!
  7. Eat Together as a Family. Family meals provide structure to a busy day and can allow your kids to connect with you and other family members in meaningful ways (provided technology isn’t getting in the way). Families need to have time together everyday, and family meals can be an opportunity for fathers to listen and give advice.
  8. Read to Your Children. In a world where screens reign supreme, dads really have to make an extra effort to read to their kids. Read to your kids, it’s never too early to begin. If you don’t love to read, find something that interests you and your children. Instill a love of reading in your kids and you will help strengthen their competencies in the world.
  9. Show Affection. Children need to know they are wanted, accepted, and loved by their family. Parents, especially fathers, need to feel comfortable and be willing to hug their children. My dad’s father didn’t get much physical touch from his father, and thus he wasn’t quite sure how to be affectionate with my dad. But somehow, my dad cracked the code and even though it wasn’t modeled naturally for him, he was able to be warm and affectionate with my brother and I. A true gift, indeed.
  10. Realize that a Father’s Job is Never Done. Even after your kiddo grows up and leaves the nest, if you’ve done your job well, they will still look to you for wisdom and advice. Fathers still play an essential role in the lives of their adult children as they build their own families. Dads create a legacy for future generations.

Okay, let’s recap. Show Love. Spend Time. Keep Commitments. Take Responsibility.

Now then, What is it About Fathers and Sons?

Assuming the father is in the picture, the father is the most proximal being to psychologically shape the son’s view of himself, of others, and of the world (how it will treat him and how he should or shouldn’t behave in the world). When sons are little, they look up to and admire their dads. Their dad is the proxy for what it means to be a man. A little boy, on some very primal, basic and unconscious level, knows he is destined to grow into a man (99.4% of the time). Once the young boy transforms into a young man, the father-son dyad needs to shift accordingly. What does this mean?

When Junior was little he imitated his dad. He took interest in things that his dad was interested in. This is completely natural and expected. When kids hit puberty, they differentiate between their parents and begin to form their own identities. Remaining close to your son means giving up your role as influencer and assuming the role of being influenced – which can be difficult for some dads to adjust to. This is particularly true for men who have their own daddy issues.

Staying Connected Means Staying Curious

When father-son relationships are strained, oftentimes there can be a component of dad’s unresolved hurt feelings from his own childhood. Fathers with unresolved emotional issues tend to take things very personally. They perceive their son’s behavior as if it is a direct reflection of themselves as a man and as a father. The antidote to this problematic way of relating is to allow the son to come into their own identity. Staying connected means staying curious. Allow the roles to be reversed and let your son teach you a thing or two about how to edit songs in GarageBand. 

Recall Tip #9 from above, your son will feel respected, accepted, wanted, and loved when you show interest, show you care, show they matter, and show your own affection and vulnerability (side note on vulnerability: it’s not your son’s job to take care of your emotional needs). Show your humanity. Show your son that men don’t have it all figured out. Your teenage son is in the middle of a conflict, he must shed you as an ideal, and forge a path and individuate to find his own place in the world. He wants your approval and he also wants to define himself on his own terms.

Men Often Have a Difficult Time Asking for Help

Hang in there. Dads out there, just like you, are having a challenging go of it – you are not alone. It’s important to stay compassionate towards your son and towards yourself. When things feel too daunting, for far too long, it may be time to reach out for some assistance. There is no shame in exploring family counseling as an option. You’d be taking the loving step of aiming to improve your relationship with your family. If your attempted solutions to perpetual problems have not seemed to make the changes you’re looking for, reach out to a professional. Hop on Psychology Today and use their search criteria to filter based on insurance, issues, zipcode, etc.

….Oh and one more thing. The importance of adult males showing up in a positive way for the adolescent males in our community is not unique to our species. I’ll just leave this here:  https://www.bbcearth.com/news/teenage-elephants-need-a-father-figure

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