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Life Lessons: Five things that young men need from their fathers.
Young men, from their teens to their twenties, go through a hard period of transition. The change from childhood to young adulthood brings with it new ideas, thoughts, and responsibilities.
Young men need mentors in their lives. It is important for them to feel that they have men and women they can turn to for advice on whatever is troubling them at a given time. These mentors can be found in the form of teachers, pastors, relatives and knowledgeable friends. But a simple word from a father (or father figure) is catalytic to how a young man forms opinions about himself.
A father's influence is invaluable. Mentors bring knowledge and understanding, but a father is the anchor point that young men require to feel validated as men. Insecurities can be dispelled or confirmed by a father. Fathers give their sons life, but it is also their responsibility to teach their children what is valuable in life.
Among the innumerable lessons and values a father can impart to his son, this piece is concerned with five things that sons desire most from their fathers, both directly and intuitively:
- Constructive Criticism
- A Smile
Men are naturally insecure. It is a sad fact of life that many men go through life feeling a need to compare themselves to other men. Part of this is anthropologic--males have an innate drive for conflict and to compete, thus validating themselves in the eyes of others. The other side of this is societal conditioning. With very few outlets for men to satisfy more "primal" urges in constructive ways, many men go through life never feeling tested or challenged to realize their true potential.
A father's influence can be instrumental in helping his son live life in more enlightened way than the average joe. If a boy in his teens feels the respect of a father figure early on, it cuts off many future insecurities at the knees.
Men crave respect. Fathers crave respect, but they must remember that respect is only respect when it is mutual. If a father wants his son to respect him, he must be willing to acknowledge his son as also being an individual worthy of respect. When a young man feels this consideration at an early age, it breeds an attitude of healthy self respect.
This is not an advocation of meaningless compliments or empty praise. To the contrary, I will explain my point of view further in the next section.
2. Constructive Criticism
Young men will screw up. That's part of becoming an adult. Fathers are given a brilliant opportunity when their sons make mistakes: the opportunity to use these mistakes to teach their sons the better option for next time. But this lesson is often lost when a father devotes too much effort into making sure that the full import of the mistake is hammered into his son's mind, often through the tension of a raised voice and too much time spent on one subject.
A habit of non-constructive criticism is devastating to male relationships. It sends mixed messages to a son when his father alternates between love and harshness on the basis of emotion. It is the father's responsibility to control his emotions and make the hard choice to channel anger into an appropriate, constructive response instead of an outburst.
When a mistake is made, chances are the son already feels bad enough without a father compounding the problem with repeated responses of how he is disappointed and that his son should know better. The Socratic method of instructing through questions is usually a better option. When asked, the son will most likely be able to state why his mistake was a mistake, and what a better option would be for the next time.
If a punishment is necessary, don't hesitate to give it. But never give a punishment in anger, or with an enraged tone of voice. That only makes it seem personal, and more like a personal revenge than a worthwhile life lesson.
It is a father's burden to be an example to his son. This section could be adequately started and finished in that one sentence.
Fatherhood brings with it the duty to never talk one way and live another. Children are like walking polygraph tests, they have an innate ability to sense disingenuousness and see logical flaws in arguments.
A father is not obligated to defend his choices to his children, but if he is willing and able to explain his decisions to his children, they will grow up with an attitude of respect that will cause them to ask questions out of an eagerness to learn instead of seeking to subvert authority.
4. A Smile
Enjoy your children. Treat them as individuals with personalities and thoughts of their own. Give your son your smile. An honest and approving smile from a father will go farther toward making a son feel validated than any number of gifts and surface-level compliments.
What is said is always secondary to what which is done. Again, set an example. This helps young men (and indeed, all children) learn to deal better with others when they learn the value of honest emotions from their parents.
A father who is approving in all things but never exercises his authority is not worthy of respecting, but simply looks impotent in the eyes of his son. A father must understand how to properly exercise authority in his home, not only to keep order among his children, but to establish the idea of consequence for actions.
It is surprising how many children grow up with the idea that their actions do not have consequences. It is only through being able to recognize the breadth of authority and understand outcomes that young men can develop leadership skills. But fathers cannot make the mistake of being authoritarian tyrants because they want to put their sons "in their place," as it were. Punishments need to be sensible, and sensibly given; not extreme and delivered out of personal anger.
Fatherhood is not an easy calling. And the decisions faced by a father often require that he be secure enough in himself to put his own emotions on the backburner in order to better facilitate the lessons learned by his children through everyday life.
Every man brings with him the baggage of his youth. Our own fathers might have left us with gaps in knowledge or emotional sensibilities, but the next generation depends on their fathers' ability not live in the past, but to look at the present with clear, objective eyes and remember that their chief duty is not to their own emotions, but to be guides and examples to their children. And for fathers with sons, this responsibility is doubly important.