Growing up today is challenging enough for kids, especially boys as they often lack healthy role models for how to be men.
Hopefully they have a father that is there and has the following five qualities to share with their sons. Because we learn by example especially when we are kids, we need adults, adult men who “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.” These qualities are not just spoken but lived out and modeled in real life.
- Presence: This is the quality of being present for their sons. This means they are not distracted with what else needs to be done and they are not impatient when their son struggles to articulate their feelings or wants. They are focused and in the moment to observe their child and in the world that they live in. By doing so they can be a guide and help to their sons who are navigating their roles in school and with peers. These dads connect and make sure they have “juice”, or energy left to give at the end of their day. The outcome for the son is that he feels seen and important to his father who is there for him.
Back around 1990 there was an active Men’s Movement with the poet and scholar Robert Bly as a spokesman. He once said, “A man needs to come home from his work with something left to give to his family. It is not right that he gives his all and then be at home spent and exhausted. He and his family deserve better than that”.
I understand that we live in the real world and men, and women do come home exhausted but this is a paramount quality to give our sons. Be at home with your kids and being there fully present with some spark and focused presence is what they need.
- Emotion: Boys need dads who are not afraid to feel their own emotions and can express them in healthy ways.
We live in a culture where we are raised from birth to “man up” and not show emotions or express vulnerability. These unhealthy beliefs are one of the most damaging things we give to our sons and are an ongoing struggle for adult men. So a healthy dad models expressing emotions for his son. Not just the one our culture gives permission to feel, which is anger but a full range including joy, sadness grief and fear. Not fear that paralyses the dad but shows up as a warning sign that action is needed. In other words, feelings that that have boundaries. Boys need Dads that can express their feelings appropriately and not use them to overpower or shut down other’s feelings.
- Boundaries: Boys need fathers who model healthy boundaries. They make it clear to their sons that they do not have to take care of their dads emotionally or any other way. They will show by example that there are limits to expressing feelings (see #2 above). That keep everyone safe. Also the dad lets his son know that he is there for his son and not the other way around. A healthy dad limits how much of his own emotional pain or struggles he shares and makes it clear that his son doesn’t need to fix dad or make him OK so that his son can feel OK. He makes it clear that that is his job. Dad also models having respect for women as equals starting with the son’s mother.
- Guidance: It has been said that the first decade of the child’s life belongs to the mother and the second decade belongs to the father.
What this means is that sons need their fathers to guide them towards the bigger world as they grow. This is done by giving them real life experiences where they get to see and try out different arenas to see what might be a fit for their career path or adult interests.
This involves being present (see #1) where the dad carefully observes his son and later makes suggestions for experiences that may fit with his interests or talents. Anything form summer camps where they are exposed to the world of airplanes, computer sciences, nature studies or arts programs are great opportunities for the growing son’s passions to be explored and have them connect to real life work or hobbies. Also helping them find mentors in a field they want to explore is a great way to be of help
- Affection: It is important for dad’s to be affectionate with their sons. By this I mean telling them that you love them and show it in a physical way with hugs and allowing them to be close to you. It is important that sons learn that it is not just the women in their lives that can be affectionate and express love to them. Having a dad that tells you how much you are loved and important to them is a keystone to helping their sense of self and self-worth develop.