As a father of a boy, it’s easy to think you have it in the bag — after all, you’ve been there before. That is, until your son starts to grow up and grow into his own personality. Then you find yourself right back where you started, trying to figure out the best way to connect with your kid.
But there’s something interesting about the father and son relationship. While no two are alike, there are a few general guidelines that can help to improve this lifelong bond. If you think back to how much you idolized your dad as a child (before you figured out that all grown-ups are flawed), you might agree with some of these important father-son truths:
1. He’s watching how you treat women. Respect for the opposite sex doesn’t come naturally. It’s learned at home as your little guy begins to emulate everything you do, including the way you treat — and the way you talk about — the women in your life.
2. He’s watching how you treat men. What does it really mean to be a man, and is it OK to be gay? The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and that’s something a son can find out early on by watching how his dad treats the men in his life.
3. He’s watching how you treat yourself. Even the little moments of kindness and self-love have a tremendous ripple effect in your house. Take that extra day off instead of working late again, splurge a little on a family vacation that might only happen once, and he’s going to notice.
4. You can influence his future. It’s not just a rumor — dads play a huge role in their sons’ development, and having an active dad around could even help to keep him out of trouble with the police. If you remember one thing, let it be this: Your impact as a positive male role model is priceless.
5. He needs you to talk to him about sex anyway. He’s going to say no, and he might even slam the door in your face. But pursuing those painful conversations (especially after you find porn on his computer) is all part of the fun of being a dad. Make it easy on him by answering those awkward questions before he asks. Even better, dads who take on this sex educator role with their sons can play an important part in HIV prevention.
6. He wants your hugs and kisses too. Cuddles and tickles aren’t just for the little ladies in the house. Little boys want (and need) physical affection just as much as little girls do.
7. He wants to learn everything from you — not just the “man” stuff. Make a mean omelet? Paint a beautiful portrait? Vacuum like a boss? This is the kind of stuff your little dude wants to learn from you — not just the “manly” tasks, like fixing a car or mowing the lawn (though those don’t hurt either).
8. Sometimes, he needs you to be the tough guy. Those tough love moments are the toughest to execute, but somebody’s got to do it. When he purposely breaks his curfew, when he cheats on a test or even when he hits his little brother, he wants to know that you’re going to be standing on the other side of the line.
9. Sometimes, he needs you to be the softy. And when his heart gets broken for the first time, when his friends go to a party without him or when he doesn’t make the team, he wants you to sit down and sulk and cry with him too.
10. Sometimes, he needs you to say it. There’s nothing sadder than the things left unsaid, especially among fathers and sons. If that’s the kind of house you grew up in, don’t let the tradition continue. Say the words “I love you” much more often than you need to, and he just might start to believe it.
11. Sometimes, he needs you to show it. All those important life skills aren’t going to come from his friends at school. Keeping your word, balancing your checkbook, tipping the server and finishing chores — he’s going to do it if you show him how.
12. He’s not just mommy’s little boy. “Mama’s boy” jokes aside, he really needs you too. As important as the mother-son bond is, in many cases, a dad’s presence can have even bigger impact than a mother’s touch.
13. You’re “daddy” from day one. And the benefits of being a daddy start early — earlier than many fathers realize. Bonding with your new baby boy could help to curb behavioral issues by the time he turns 1, so don’t just push things off on Mom and expect to step in when he’s “old enough to be fun.”
14. You can influence his health. That feel-good feeling boys get from spending time with their dad isn’t just emotional — it’s physical too. Strengthening the father-son bond has the potential to reduce a boy’s health risks and could improve the whole family’s short-term and long-term health.