The greatest gift a nurturing father gives his sons is a healthy model of what it means to be a boy, a man, and a father. Boys and girls both need their father’s affection. But with boys it may be harder for dads to openly show it, even those fathers and sons who spend lots of companionship time together.
Young boys need warmth and security from a loving father to develop positive self-esteem. Studies show that sons of sensitive, affectionate fathers score higher on intelligence tests and do better at school than children of colder, authoritarian fathers. Too many fathers only touch their sons when they’re punishing them, and never initiate meaningful, affirming conversations with their boys.
Fathers influence their sons’ sex-role development not so much by their characteristics—such as “macho masculinity”—as by the warmth and closeness of their relationships to their sons. Even in their teens, when sons resist and plead embarrassment, they still get the message: “Things have been a bit tense with Dad, but he still lets me know by his touch that he loves me and that this is where I belong.”
To our sons, we’re the most available example of what a man is—for better or for worse. If a boy watches his father scream at his mother, walk out the door, and stay away for hours, he’ll grow up believing it’s okay for a man to get angry and walk away from conflicts in his life.
On the other hand, if this father can admit when he’s wrong and seek his wife’s forgiveness, the son gets an entirely different view of manhood.
Your son wants to see what healthy male relationships look like. What do we do together? How do we treat each other? What kind of behavior should I expect from other men? Is it okay to shake hands with a friend, or pat him on the shoulder, or go up and hug him?
Remember, dad, the “strong, silent” type may be a movie hero, but he falls way short when it comes to father power.