Fathers: Teach Your Son What it Means to Be a Man

How do sons learn what it means to be a man? I became a man at my father's feet, mostly by watching and imitating. No father is perfect; mine certainly wasn't. Yet our sons look to us for cues about what it means to be a man and guidance on how to become one. As men, we basically want three things.

1. Something we can give our lives to: a cause or mission

This is the need to be significant and make a difference. In the movie "Pearl Harbor," Colonel Dolittle, a famous pilot, inspires a group of young men to accept a secret mission. They leap at the chance. Only after they sign up does one young pilot acknowledge, "We might die for this. We at least want to know what it's for."

In many ways, this scene captures the essence of what it means to be a man. The most distinguishing characteristic of a man is his desire to spend himself in a worthy cause, to make a contribution. As the movie scene suggests, some men are so hungry to give their lives to a great cause, they will accept a mission that might cost their lives.

2. Someone to share it with

This is the need to love and be loved. By nature men want a woman to love, protect, and provide for. A young man without a mission will never be happy. But he also wants a companion and partner with whom he can share the struggles and victories. A father is the one who models what that might look like for his son.

3. A system that explains why life is so difficult

This is a worldview and belief system that fits the pieces of life together. I heard Oprah Winfrey offer this common sense: "People say to me, ‘Your life is so glamorous,' and 20 percent of it is. Eighty percent, though, is just hard."

Life is hard, and young men want to know why. Fathers have a solemn duty to explain Christianity and how it can help answer the "why" questions and offer guidance through the rough spots. They have a duty to show why Christianity is superior to other religions and worldviews.

Our kids need to know Christians are not surprised by evil. They need to know that Christianity claims we will see exactly what we see - a broken world in need of Christ's redeeming love and forgiveness.

A dad is the single most important model for his sons to find their something, their someone, and their system. Since men (young and old) desire these three things, we can make no greater contribution than to help our sons find them God's way.

Show your sons how to treat a woman

My dad never raised his voice at my mother. The love and affection he showed her is something I took for granted. I didn't know there was any other way to treat a woman because I never saw anything else. He treated her with respect, as a partner. His example offered me the pattern for my own marriage.

Dad, you have a tremendous power to bless the generation of young women growing up alongside your sons. You can show your sons how to treat them with respect. You can remind them each of those girls has a father who wants what's best for his daughter - even if he has difficulty showing it.

Teach your sons, "Don't do anything with a girl you wouldn't want someone to do with your own sister." That should cover it!

Sons need to hear God's perspective on sexuality. We have to talk to our sons about scriptural views of the dignity of sex. We also need to discuss the negative impacts of premarital sex or pregnancy outside of wedlock, how far is too far, oral sex, masturbation, pornography, lust, sexually transmitted diseases, and homosexuality.

Why? They already know the world's perspective; they are bombarded with secular views every day. We live in a sex-saturated society.

Who is talking to your son about the views of Jesus if not you? Dad, teach your son that God has not put limits on sex; he has put limits on sexual immorality. Teach him that sex within the boundaries of marriage is an altogether good thing, but God has guidelines for human sexuality. Because God created sex to make babies and for a married couple to enjoy intimacy, sex outside these limits can cause a lot of pain.

Invest time in your son

My dad's generation - the depression era "builders" - showed their love for my generation by working hard to provide for us. Often, though, it would have been better to give us more time. By contrast, my generation - the baby boomers - when present in the home have become more "hands-on" fathers. While I was far from perfect, these are ideas I successfully employed as a dad:

  • I decided not to work past 6 p.m. or on weekends and not to take work home. This was tough because I love to work, but I disciplined myself. Every day on the way home, I drove over a creek about three minutes from our house. Before I got to the bridge, I would allow myself to think about business. But when I drove over that bridge, in my mind I would pick up my papers, put them into an imaginary briefcase, toss it over the wall, and watch it splash into the creek. That gave me three good minutes to prepare for re-entry into the world of my wife and kids.
  • I gave myself to my family from the time I got home until we went to bed. Well, almost from the time I got home. First, I would take 15 minutes to change clothes, wash my face, look at the mail, and see what kind of day my wife, Patsy, was having. When the children were young, we played board games - endless repetitions of Chutes and Ladders® and mind-numbing rounds of Candy Land®. When they started playing sports and taking music lessons, we followed them around to offer encouragement.
  • Our family ate dinner together. When the kids became teens, we had to work to make this happen. So we compromised. Sometimes we ate early. Sometimes we ate late. Sometimes we ate at Burger King®.
  • When the kids didn't really want to have Dad as their "friend" anymore, I started "dating" them. Each week I took a different child to dinner. And they genuinely looked forward to our time together.

Dad, can I be frank? Fathering a child creates responsibility. The chief responsibility of fathering is time.

My son, John, recently married, and he and I were talking about the kind of career he wants to pursue. He said, "Dad, you were there for all my ball games. That really meant a lot to me. That's what I want to be able to do for my kids. I need a career that let's me do that."

I was there for him because my dad was there for me. To "be there" takes time. Because my dad broke the cycle, I was able to "be there" for my son and daughter. What joy is mine to see the legacy I have passed on! No matter what your experience has been, you, too, can break the cycle if you will invest the time.

Father the heart

Building godly character into our sons and daughters is perhaps the role of the Christian parent most under assault, and for dad it's the most important.

What is godly character? Unfortunately, many people think it means getting children to behave in a certain way: "Be this way, talk like this, don't dress like that..." This is performance based fathering.

Godly character, though, is something that forms in the heart, then overflows into a child's behavior supernaturally. Matthew 12:34 says, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Behavior does matter, but only because behavior reflects what's going on in the heart.

I didn't father for performance. Producing a particular behavior was never my goal. It didn't matter to me if my son dyed his hair gold (he did) or wore his hair long (he did). Patsy and I let him experiment with things as long as they were not permanent (like tattoos, though some parents may permit them). Instead, I practiced fathering the heart. I was more interested in the intentions of his heart than his behavior.

Habits that make a difference

How can you father the heart of your sons? Patsy and I are fortunate to have two grown, married children who are walking with the Lord. We attribute this to the grace and mercy of our Lord. But she and I did practice a few things that, looking back, seem to have made a difference in parenting their hearts.

Regular time spent with God as a family

During the school year (but not in the summer) we took 15 minutes before school three or four mornings a week to spend time reading and talking about Scripture and in prayer. To avoid only self- centered prayer, we always prayed for someone who had a special need. I also set an alarm so they could relax that they wouldn't be late for school.

Rewarding our children for spending time in prayer and Scripture reading

We told them, "If you will have a daily devotion for at least 25 days each month, we'll buy you a CD."

"That's not all," we added. "If you do your devotions at least 25 days each month for 10 out of 12 months, we'll give you $250." Their eyes popped open. "Are you kidding?"

"No we're not kidding. But that's not all. If you will do your devotions 12 months in row, we'll double the amount and pay you $500. And you still only have to do 25 days a month."

You may be thinking, That sounds like a bribe. Here's what I can tell you: My kids spent regular, personal time with God throughout high school; few of their friends did, and one year they said, "You don't have to pay us. We're going to be doing this anyway." And they still spend regular time in prayer and Scripture reading.

Mandatory church attendance

Many parents ask, "Should we force our children to go to church if they don't want to?" This can best be answered by another question: Should you force your children to go to school if they don't want to? The best way to damage their faith is not to take them to church!

Pray for your children every day

We realize we are probably the only people who are willing to pray for our children on a consistent, daily basis.

Lead your children toward faith in Jesus Christ

We shared how to have a personal relationship with Christ at the appropriate time. (This meant we had to have a personal relationship with Christ ourselves.)

Patrick Morley is an author and president of Man in the Mirror.

Payment Options: LifeWay Account, MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express

LifeWay Accounts are for churches, ministries, and businesses only. Organizations having a not for profit status may also enjoy savings by not having to pay sales tax on qualifying products.

Your trusted source of Christian resources since 1891

LifeWay Christian Resources, Religious Goods, Nashville, TN