O’DONNELL: Research now confirms what the Bible has known all along — that the more nurturing the father, the more masculine the son. In short, boys derive their sense of manhood from their fathers. Thus, fathers need to know how to be properly engaged in the lives of their sons so that they feel approved and admired in their burgeoning masculinity. In part, that’s what I’ve attempted to provide a dad: what his son needs from him.
You’ve worked with and researched fathers for over 20 years now and have authored nearly 10 books on the subject — why did you write this particular tome for dads?
Because the average father spends less than 37 seconds a day of meaningful interaction with their sons; and that’s simply not going to get the job done! A father needs to have tangible, concrete examples of what an effective dad looks like.Unfortunately, many men can no longer rely on their fathers for examples on how to do fathering commendably in the 21st century. This is largely due to “father absence” or detached and distant dads. Thus, I was motivated to provide men with solid and practical ideas on how to give their sons what they need so that they break that cycle of inter-generational pathology.
What’s the biggest struggle most fathers face?
The biggest struggle most fathers face is knowing how best to model the right behaviors for their sons to emulate and to follow. Remember, men are trained for success in business; but unfortunately, they are not given the tools necessary with which to succeed in the whole arena of parenting.
Some of our fathers reading this might not be familiar with “nurturance.” What is it, and what should fathers know about it?
According to my colleague and fathering expert, Ken Canfield, nurturance is expressed by attitudes, words and actions. Nurturance can even be nonverbal, but should include affection (don’t forget to speak the language of love to your son, especially the words, “I love you!”), support (be there for his athletic events, after-school programs, and any significant religious occasions, such as confirmation and baptism), comfort (tuck him into bed, hold him, rock him, kiss his “boo-boo’s”), and intimacy (don’t underestimate your actual physical presence; sons tell us that having their fathers in the next room while they sleep is very reassuring to them).
You write that much of what’s involved in giving our sons what they need comes down to telling them what we think and feel. Can you explain?
Thomas Lickona, author of “Raising Good Children,” calls this “teaching by telling.” Children can’t read our minds. They want to know something about their moral, religious and cultural heritage from us. They shout “talk to me!” with every tug of the pant leg, every jump in the lap, and every tap on the shoulder.You see, theirs is a confusing, mysterious, exciting, painful and wonderful world. Your explanations, your values, your opinions are the only answers that matter — for now. Why squander your chance to impact them for life? Instead, use your time wisely. Our sons need not only to see us living lives that are worth imitating, they also need to hear why we do it — the values and beliefs that guide our actions and shape our words.
What’s one of the hardest things for a father to do?
Talk about “the birds and the bees!” But I would remind dads that your son’s knowledge of sex begins long before that heart-to-heart talk between father and son. You see, fathers teach their sons about human sexuality by the ways in which they relate to their wives.
What a son sees will be what he gets in the way of habits, thoughts, feelings and attitudes. It is truly amazing what children learn by just watching us — it is God’s plan, his way of preparing our sons for life. Again, the greatest gift a man can give his son is to love his mother! And, I might add: love her in appropriate ways.
(The Rev’d Dr. Michael O’Donnell is Rector of St. John’s Church in NY and is a widely published author of books and articles on family life.)