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5 Needs of Sons
Written by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.
Since we used to be boys, we have a more natural companionship with our sons; we’re more alike, and we enjoy more of the same activities. Oddly enough, even though it’s easier for us to be with our sons, it’s still too often a distant relationship. We need to be intentional about building a close connection with our sons and giving them a healthy model of what it means to be a boy, a man, and a father.
We need to be intentional about raising up young men of character. Based on research I’ve done with about 2,000 fathers, I have identified 5 key things that sons need from their dads:
1. A PLAN
Sons need a dad who is thinking about their future and taking action to prepare them for that future—whether we’re talking about tomorrow, next week, next year, or ten years from now. Financial planning is a good comparison, because our regular, consistent investments will pay rich dividends for our sons’ future.
We could talk about having a plan for a son’s vocational future—which is much more than targeting him as a doctor, computer technician or musician. You want him to have a fulfilling career that pays the bills and contributes to society.
There’s his relational future—talking about what to look for in a mate, discussing what it takes to make a marriage work, and having regular discussions about how he relates to the opposite sex.
Third, give some thought to rites of passage—benchmarks along the way that help signal new levels of maturity and responsibility, and that affirm him as a beloved son.
Also, I’d suggest listing some skills, attitudes, and values to instill in your son by the time he leaves home. You might include financial stewardship, the ability to delay gratification, prayer, basic auto maintenance, thankfulness, perseverance, honesty, a work ethic, modesty, or family togetherness. Make a list, and check it from time to time as a reminder. You’ve heard the saying: if you fail to plan, you have planned to fail.
2. AN EXAMPLE
Our sons need reference points, and usually, actions speak louder than words. Living a responsible lifestyle can impact our children and children’s children for generations. That’s the kind of power our example can have. A dad’s example really encompasses all aspects of life. But let me mention a few areas where we need to be intentional about modeling:
First is our emotions. We can help our sons regulate their emotions and express them in responsible ways by watching us. A lot of dads hide their emotions, like they are a weakness. But our sons need to see our feeling side; it’s a vital part of who we are. We need to learn to regulate our anger—and other emotions—and be a positive model.
Our sons also need our example as husbands—especially boys who have experienced a family break-up. When we do the work to build a strong marriage—the communication, the thoughtful gestures and so on—that creates powerful pictures for a son.
3. A MONITOR
Boys need their father to keep track of them, hold them accountable, and correct them when necessary. The headlines have been filled with stories of boys and young men who weren’t monitored in a healthy way. But we must teach our sons that we’re watching them, and we’re not going to stand by and watch them disregard what we know is best for them. I encourage dads to check in regularly with their sons—especially on two issues:
Respect. Many young men have lost a sense of respect, and it especially shows in their speech. We hear them trash talking, cursing and joking coarsely, or denigrating women. So we need to monitor the way our sons are talking, and teach them to use their speech for positive ends—like articulating thoughts and feelings, building relationships, giving encouragement and speaking words of life and peace.
The second is purity, which is another area in which our modeling is important. We know that alluring images assault us from all sides, and we need to prepare our sons for battle and help them maintain self-control. A boy’s passion is a good gift, but it’s important that he protect that gift, and see that it isn’t corrupted by the false or immoral views he will hear. So we need to check in regularly and monitor how our sons are doing in this area.
4. MORAL AND SPIRITUAL BENCHMARKS
These are events, experiences, or habits that help to activate your son’s faith and teach him what it means to live a life that looks out beyond himself. We can focus on three areas that are important to a son’s moral development:
Respect for authority. Recently I told a group of young women that, as they think about what they want in a husband, it’s important to ask, Does he respond to authority in a proper way? Does he respect those who are over him? Submitting to authority will help teach a son humility.
Spiritual vitality. Dads, by your example, your son will gain an appreciation for prayer and other acts of devotion. Many fathers are absent from equipping their sons in this area. And if boys grow up without a masculine model of spiritual vitality, they may view faith as a feminine pursuit. But a real man shows both compassion and strength, humility and decisiveness. So while we strive to model submission, humility and love, we also need to show our sons that walking by faith also requires toughness, resourcefulness, and courage.
Real-life experiences of service—memorable, life-changing events and acts of service. Give your son many experiences serving others—from the family whose car has broken down on the side of the road … to the inner-city project or homeless shelter in your community … to the missions trip to Brazil. Maybe these could even be combined with rites of passage activities with our sons.
We need to cultivate love—or responsible action toward others in our sons.
Good communication is vital. We fathers need to make communication a high priority, so we’re teaching our sons by example and through practice. In a nutshell, we listen first before making our opinions known, and we do away with lectures in favor of two-way discussions. We’re also open to receiving feedback, even if it’s negative. And what’s so important—we take the initiative in rebuilding relationships when fractures occur. We have the courage to admit when we’re wrong and seek forgiveness. See, those are all demonstrations of love.
The other key factor is closely related, but worth mentioning separately: showing affection. Boys with affectionate fathers develop positive self-esteem, they tend to thrive in schoolwork, and have fewer gender identity issues. So, instead of a pat on the back or a tousle of the hair, give your son a big, old-fashioned bear hug—and do it often.
Verbal affection is important as well. Positive words give sons confidence and belonging, and again provide a model of a man who can express love in healthy ways. We need to tell our sons how much they means to us, point out their positive character traits, and just say, “I love you, and I’m proud to be your dad.”
From sons about their dads:
Essay by a boy in 2nd grade:
Essay by a boy in 8th grade:
Essay by a boy in 2nd grade:
Essay by a boy in 7th grade: