by Dave Clark
Part of the How to Be a Better Dad series
How often do you see men cry? Ok, besides at the funeral of someone they were very close to?
From an early age, many men are taught—either directly or indirectly—not to cry, not to show feelings, not to be tender towards their wives and children. Few men aspire to be “tender hearted,” although that’s a virtue mentioned in the Bible and many other places.
There is a real need in our nation right now for fathers who love, serve and lead their families, and who are not afraid to be tender.
I heard a story about a teenage girl I’ll call “Amber” that makes this point. Desperate to reach out to her unfeeling father, Amber got herself arrested for shoplifting. That didn’t work well, so she decided to stop eating. She developed anorexia and, later, a brain tumor that the doctors concluded was partly caused by her undernourished condition.
Amber said, “I was lying in my hospital bed, near death, with all kinds of tubes coming out of my body when my father finally came to see me. We talked about surface stuff for about an hour, and then he got up to leave. As he opened the door, I guess I just went crazy and began to scream: ‘You just can’t say it, can you!?’”
She screamed even louder, “I’m going to die, and you still can’t say it!”
Her father turned around with a puzzled look. “Say what?”
After a few tense moments, it became clear to him and he broke down and began to weep. He moved to her bedside and through his tears said those words the young woman needed to hear so desperately. That started their journey toward a closer, more open and affirming relationship, and Amber’s health gradually improved.
I have often heard men say, “She knows I love her.” Or, “I show him love through my actions.” Those may be factually accurate, but what a joke! I often reply, “They just read your mind, huh!?” Those are pitiful excuses when we all know it’s best for children to hear those words regularly from their dads: “I love you.” “I’m proud of you.” “You’re so special to me.” “I’m sorry.” “Please forgive me.”
Why give our kids something less than what we know is best for them?
I believe our children are crying out for warmth and tenderness, like Amber, and too often we don’t notice or hear their cries until some desperate situation comes along. (Of course, our wives may be yearning to hear it, too.)
Fathers, we need to be tender. Our hearts need to be knitted to our children’s souls.
Real men can be gentle men. If you’re in the “They know I love them” camp, then I would suggest taking a long look at your priorities and the reality of your situation. Does expressing emotion make you uncomfortable? Is it the opposite of how you were raised? Those may be valid factors, but that’s really focusing on you. Being a good dad is about meeting our children’s needs and doing what’s best for them, even if it forces us to try something new and uncomfortable.
Dads, give it a try. It might take some getting used to, but I promise it will have positive benefits for your children and your relationships with them. And you might feel set free from unhealthy habits and be flooded with expressions of tenderness toward your kids that you have long wanted to express.
Don’t be afraid to be tender, dads.
Don’t force your kids to be mind readers. Get comfortable saying those words again and again: “I’m sorry.” “I love you.” And much more. It could improve your relationships with your kids more than anything else.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Are you comfortable expressing tenderness to family members? Can you identify anything in your upbringing that influenced you in that direction?
- What’s the right balance of toughness and tenderness? How can an effective leader also display tenderness?
- How do you respond to Amber’s story? Are there ways any of your kids might be acting out to get more of your attention and love?
- How would you rate the warmth and emotional openness of your relationships with your kids? Is it easy for you to affirm them verbally and physically? Talk with your kids’ mom about positive changes you could make.
- If a certain phrase or sentiment is difficult for you to say to your kids, practice saying it out loud when you’re alone. Seriously.
Dave Clark is founder of The Father’s Cry. He is a master trainer through the NCF’s Train-the-Trainer program, and he and his wife Kim speak on fathering and family life in schools, prisons, churches, and men’s conferences. In addition to their events in the U.S., they have helped to establish fathering initiatives in Belarus, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Tanzania, Pakistan, and UAE. His book, The Father’s Cry: A Story of Healing & Family Restoration, will be released in 2021. Dave and Kim live in Texas and have two grown sons.