As fathers, we sometimes fail to affirm our sons. Why? Maybe we fail because it is too uncomfortable for us. Maybe we fail because we were not affirmed as young children and young men by our own fathers. It is easy to see how bad habits follow along generational lines. Maybe it is time to create some new patterns of behavior and pass them along to our sons.
We are the closest resource (for good or bad) that our sons have that will have as an example of what it is to love and demonstrate love to those around him. It is up to us to teach them that manly love is positive, gentle, giving and demonstrable in tangible ways to the objects of our love.
Good communication is one of the keys to understanding and communicating love. It is our responsibility to make communication a high priority so that we can teach our sons by example and through practice. Our sons should have heard from our lips that we love them. They should also have heard from our lips words of love and affirmation to the rest of the family. Especially, they should hear us say that to the mother of our children. They should hear us tell her that we love her on a daily basis.
But communicating love is a two-way street. Be open to receiving feedback, even if it is less than positive. And take the lead in rebuilding any relationships that are damaged. Our sons need to see us go to someone with whom we have a conflict and they need to see us restore and rebuild that relationship. They need to see us have the courage to admit when we are wrong and seek forgiveness when we have been in the wrong. They must observe relationship building up close and personally. And here is the kicker. When we are a good communicator we serve as a role model for our sons and model for them how to communicate back to us.
Admittedly guys are not the best communicators in the base case. And teenaged boys may reach their peak of inability to communicate appropriately during those challenging years. I would like to think that after 31 years of marriage I am a better communicator than I was as a teenager or as newlywed. (If I am not, please let me live on in my ignorant bliss!)
So, how can we reach out to our boys demonstrate real love and help them bridge the communication gap?
One thing I know for sure is that you can’t force a person to communicate with you. You can speak to them. But you can’t make them speak to you. This is especially true in the beginning stages of building a relationship of real trust. So, rather than ask your son about his intentions with his girlfriend, consider open the dialog with an unrelated question. “How about those Astros?” If you can get a conversation started with a non-controversial topic, then over time you can turn the conversation toward the more pressing topic. In other words, don’t go for a full frontal assault! Consider approaching from the flank.
Also, a teenage boy will talk to you much more easily while you are doing something fun together or working a little project together than he will if you sit down on the couch next to him and start asking questions about his life, love and future plans. It is not too far-fetched to make the leap from the future of the Astros to the future of our sons if the mood and setting is right.
Know your son well and learn to discern the cues that he has something on his mind and that he may be ready to talk. Is he more likely to talk early in the morning? (I doubt it!) Or, is he more likely to talk at the end of the day? Do certain meals seem to put him in a good frame of mind? If so, fire up the grill and do some hamburgers and look for an opening. The cues may be subtle, but it is our responsibility to learn to spot them.
I cannot overemphasize that we need to be available to our sons. We may not be able to talk live and in person. But they need to know that if they have a question, they can call us on our cell phones and we will answer it. We may need to work out a system like we use in our family. If someone in my family calls and I don’t answer, they will immediately call back. That sends me a signal that they really need to speak to me and I will step out of whatever meeting I am in and take the second call. Be available and be flexible. Our sons need to know that they can come to us anytime, about anything. Those times may be rare, but we need to be ready when they do happen.
If your boys are still young then now is the time to build the kind of relationship that will lend itself to the kinds of communication that we are talking about. Build a lifetime of experience in your son’s life that says “Dad is fun to talk to.” And, “I can say anything to dad and he will still love me.”
Words of affection are important to our sons. Positive words give our sons confidence and a sense of rightfully belonging within the family unit. It also provides a positive model of a man who can express love in healthy ways. Never pass up a chance to tell our sons how much they mean to us, point out their positive character traits, and say, “I love you, and I’m proud to be your father.”
Up to this point, I have focused on verbal communication. But we should not overlook non-verbal communication. This is especially true since it makes up the majority of the communication in our daily lives. How do we communicate non-verbally to our sons? We demonstrate it with affection and physical contact. And why is this so important?
First, the “Why?”. Research shows us that sons with affectionate fathers develop positive self-esteem, they tend to do well with their schoolwork, and have fewer gender identity issues.
With sons, affection is more than hugs and kisses. Boys gain self-esteem from sustained contact with their father. That contact can take the form of wrestling, rough-housing, playing or being picked up by their dad, sitting on his lap, or playing chase and capture. This doesn’t mean fathers should neglect a more gentle approach—strong hugs and other displays of affection are still important on into adulthood. And a firm handshake that pulls our sons into a big bear hug speaks volumes to our sons.
As a grown man I can still remember hurtful things spoken to me by those who were close to me as a child. Friends, teachers, and even some pastors that I have known have provided indelible recordings in my memory. And if that is the case for those who are outside the family unit, how much more memorable are those things that are said inside the walls of our homes? So, Fathers, your words have life beyond the time that their echoes die within the walls of our homes. They live on in the memories of our family and our sons. And their whole outlook on life could be determined by what you say or how you say it—for better or for worse.
What are some concrete things that we can do this week to demonstrate words and actions of love to our sons?
- Show an interest in what interests your son.
- Ask some seemingly innocuous questions and see if a more meaningful conversation will spring up from that.
- Observe, point out and then reiterate our son’s positive qualities.
- Be intentional about giving your son more physical affection than you have in the past.
- Make physical contact a part of your daily routine by touching your son’s shoulder as you walk by, muss his hair as you pass by (just don’t do it as he heads out the door on a date!)
- Start a project with your son that allows you to work side-by-side.
- Observe him doing something well and compliment him.
- Find a quality in his personality that is like yours and make a positive comment about that characteristic.
- Find a quality in his personality that is not like yours and make a positive comment about that characteristic.
- Never miss an opportunity to communicate and model love and loving behaviors.
Are you modeling love and communicating love to your son? Does he know that you really love him? And is he able to translate that love and then show it to those around him?