I have three sons. I first became a father at 20 years old. My third son was born when I was 33. By the time I met my third son, I was a different man, and especially a different father. At 33, I had experienced so much more life, and had matured. I had much more to offer my sons. While this made me a better father, especially for my third son; one of the saddest days of my life was when I realized how much I did not know at 20. I understand I did the best I knew to do. However, there are things I wish I had known to do for and say to my older sons.
I’ve thought a lot about what those things are and came up with seven things your son(s) need to hear from you.
You are important
Sons need to know they have value, not only in the world, but especially to their father. This involves allowing them to have a voice and listening to their opinions. They need to learn to present their opinions respectfully, and in turn, their opinions should be respected. The amount of value you assign to your son, feeds directly into the self-worth and self-confidence he will have as he grows into manhood.
Inevitably your son will begin something that he will “really, really” want to do; then realize it is harder than he anticipated and decide to quit. Whatever the reason for wanting to quit, your son needs to learn to keep his commitments. One of the ways this lesson takes shape in our home, is when a child begins a sport, they will stay engaged throughout the entire season. Staying committed may be difficult. Throughout the season, we continue to cheer them on. To reinforce this lesson, we remain engaged with them, to the end. No one quits.
You’re not alone
This was a tough one for me. I was torn between wanting my sons to leave home at 18 years old, with a plan for their future, and wanting them to stay home so I knew they were safe. We have a pretty definitive line for what post-graduation will look like if he has no plan: “You have to move out.” It turns out that telling your son he has to move out is harder than I expected. Despite this standard, I want my sons to know, “I’ve got you, Buddy. You can always come home.” This is not about enabling, but ensuring that your son knows he has someone in his corner and he will never be alone.
It is okay to fail
For some reason, everyone thinks they are the best at everything. Kids are no different. Losing has not only been eliminated as an option, but has become a catalyst for either despair or anger. It is now quite common to do away with losing and offer everyone a participation trophy. However, failing is real life. We all will fail. We cannot be the best at everything, and our sons need to know that. Neither can we allow failure to be what defines them. Your son needs to know that he will fail, but that does not count him out. Instead, it is an opportunity to press harder – to look for and discover his gifts.
Boys are allowed to cry
Until I was 33, I believed the lie that men do not cry. Your son needs to know that when he experiences profound hurt an appropriate response is deep sorrow or sadness. Deep sorrow may lead to weeping. That is okay. Weeping does not make your son less of a man. In fact, it will help him relate to others in emotionally healthy ways. And just so we are clear, “Jesus wept.”
As fathers, we will mess up. Most of the time, your son will know when this happens. Chances are good that you are going to say or do something that hurts him. At some point, you will go too far. You need to apologize. Say you are sorry and mean it. Ask for his forgiveness. Let him know your actions were not his fault or responsibility. We teach our sons about forgiveness by humbling ourselves and asking them for the same.
I love you
I am saving the most important for last. Remember to tell him you love him. Say it every day. Say it multiple times a day. Your son needs to hear you say the words. Do not ever think it is assumed or known. Your ability to communicate love will help your son communicate love to others. Your words will allow him to accept love from others, most importantly God. Your son will grow up knowing it isn’t gross, silly, or awkward to express love for others. Your success as a parent lies in your children knowing you love them.
As parents, as fathers, we have all failed and will fail again. I suspect you are like me. We have regrets. Some regrets may be significant. However, it’s never too late to change. If these are new habits for you, start now. We need to be reminded that these lessons are just as true for us as they are for our sons. We are important to our sons. We are not alone. At some point you will fail. It’s okay to have regret – even to the point of weeping. Ask for and give forgiveness. Never stop telling your son you love him. Don’t quit.