“One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” George Herbert
Raising boys is one of my greatest privileges. Our boys are rambunctious, ornery, silly and often stubborn little human beings, and I am in awe of each one of them. I love their energy, their passion and how unique each personality is from the other. We have our moments of conflict (see above comment about stubbornness) but the journey is totally worth it as I get to watch them grow into young men who will someday help shape the world around them.
I don’t always get it right, and I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. But as a father of 5 boys, I’ve learned how important it is for a father to be involved with their son’s life. We play an imperative role in shaping the character and mindset of our boys. Unfortunately, our culture will often emasculate young boys, leaving them with a sense of frustration as they are stripped of the very things they will need to grow into passionate, strong men.
A father’s love, sense of discipline and tender guidance is perhaps the most important thing a young boy will need to make the vast leap from boy to man. Without this influence, they will be left to themselves, conditioned by their environment and never quite whole. They will battle deep uncertainty as they question their role in this life.
Here are 4 ways that a father can help their sons learn how to be the kind of men they are called to be.
Give them your time. Guys, we are all busy. We have made a culture of busyness. But the one thing that our sons need the most is our time. They need to understand, especially early on in their lives, that we will be there for them and that fatherhood isn’t just an obligation. They need to know that they matter. Those of us who didn’t grow up with a present father figure are often left with a lingering feeling that we just weren’t valuable enough, and this will haunt a boy for the rest of his life.
The most precious thing that a boy needs to learn early on is that he has his father’s unconditional love. That love will be the anchor that will steady the boy in everything he faces, and will ultimately allow him to relate to the fatherly love of God. Giving our time to the things that our boys value, inviting them into the things we value, or simply just having a conversation or goofing around; this will payoff huge in a boy’s development and self-esteem. Time is the equity we will either invest with or bankrupt our sons.
Teach them the things you didn’t know. I grew up having to learn so much on my own. Whether it was how to work with wood, talk to a girl, ride a bike or knot a tie, I had to figure it all out without the guidance of my dad. My dad was in my life, but he just wasn’t engaged. To be fair, he was never taught those things from his dad either. This is often a cycle passed down from generation to generation.
When a boy is left to figure this life out on his own, he will either develop a sense of hardness that will hinder his ability to invest in relationships or he will cower in uncertainty, retreating within himself to spend his life afraid of engaging in anything outside of his comfort zone. He will be left to the elements of his environment. Maybe there is a strong mom or uncle who can step in, but often there is not, and a boy loses something here that is rarely replaced.
There are too many unfinished boys who have grown into manhood without a true understanding of how to be a man. Break the cycle. Our boys need men who will teach them how to turn a wrench, handle defeat and how to respect a girl. This goes back to the first and most important thing mentioned here: Our Time.
Allow them to test themselves. Boys need to learn how to handle danger. They need an environment that allows them to test their capability, exercise their understanding and to push their boundaries in a healthy way. We have stripped our sons of this by becoming helicopter parents and trying to protect them from this world. I get it, it’s a dangerous world we live in, and we want to shelter our children as long as we possibly can. But how will they ever discover the strength that lies within them and the confidence to face this world after we are gone if we smother them? We are raising a generation of uninitiated men. When darkness comes, how will they know how to face it if they were nursed all their life?
I’m not advocating recklessness here. We must preserve the safety of our children. But there is a part of a boy that needs to be challenged. We are created in the image of God who has often expressed the character of a warrior. We are called to love with intensity, yes, but we are also called to stand for justice, to be a voice for the voiceless and to rise in strength against the face of evil.
Boys need to challenge themselves early on in life to gain this kind of confidence. They can learn this on the football field or by building a treehouse. Teach them how to hunt or surf or ride a motorcycle. Moms don’t cringe! They point is to allow your son to develop an understanding of how to navigate freedom and danger while in the home, and they will know how to grapple with those things as a man.
Teach them how to love. Love is the cord that ties everything together. Our boys need to learn how to be a warrior, but if they also don’t know how to love then they won’t know what to fight for.
A boy learns how to love, first and foremost, by being loved himself. That doesn’t mean that he gets everything he wants either. Love is unconditional, and a boy needs to understand that no matter how much he blows it that will never change the way his dad feels about him. But love also comes through discipline. A loving father will correct his son so that the boy understands that there are consequences to our actions, and that the world doesn’t revolve solely around him.
A boy will learn how to love by witnessing it in his home. He needs to see how his father expresses love and respect toward his mom. He also needs to see how his father treats other people and handles difficult situations. Lift others up, and your son will do the same. Give to those in need and so will your son. Love your wife with passion and respect, and your son will treat his wife the same way.
There is also a broader kind of love that I think boys need to learn. Love for their country. The solitude that comes from embracing nature. Love for the written word. These things are a kind of Poetic Love that I think boys need in order to stay in touch with their soul. What moves a boy in youth will become a passion to the man, and unfortunately there are too many men today who live their lives without any passion at all.
Fathers, we have a responsibility to our sons. Be present. Be available. Know when to let go. Give love. Let’s raise the next generation of boys to be the kind of men who can move mountains.
“I don’t want to look back and say, ‘Yeah, I was really successful, but I failed at fatherhood because I wasn’t there.” Zac Brown