STOP PUTTING THE CART AHEAD OF THE HORSE

By Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC

A Sons Need To Feel Valuable To His Father

My last article focused on the growing issue of mother/son conflict and the response I have gotten has confirmed the trends I am seeing between moms and their boys. However, it is important for me to note that the relationship between fathers and their sons is still primary to emotional health and the overall development of boys.
In this article, I want to caution all of us dads out there to make sure we don’t put the “cart ahead of the horse”. You know, make sure first things are first when dealing with our sons. This is a sensitive area because the truth is that many of us guys don’t have a clear idea of how to build a healthy relationship with our boys. The reason for this is because many of us had fathers that were equally uncomfortable in the process of building intimate relationships. It is so true that many of us grew up with dads who were much more comfortable in their roles at work than they were in their roles at home. In general, men have more difficulty than women in developing intimate relationships. This is a well-known dynamic that is common in marriages and in parenthood. Women tend to be more verbal and have a much higher value for relationships than men do. This is certainly not across the board (my wife has often urged me to stop talking... haha), but it is fairly common in the relationships between men and women. The truth is that, if this is not dealt with, that same dynamic carries over into the man’s relationship to his sons. To make matters worse, those sons often struggle themselves with the idea of emotional intimacy and the building of relationships. Therefore, it is not unusual for a father and son to have little idea how to reach out to each other. So, many men just pull away and leave the sons to fend for themselves in the pursuit of manhood. Some men spend time with their sons but do so in a vacuum of silence; neither male knowing what to say. So, in this case, the two males may fix the car together but never say a word more than “pass me the wrench” or “let’s go in for dinner”.
Now, one of the biggest problems occurs when a father demands achievement from his son before he has built a relationship with his son. One of the fundamental truths about boys is that they strongly desire to feel valued by their dads. Believe me, they pine for it. Especially during middle childhood and into early adolescence, most boys will go out of their way to get the attention of their dads. However, if the father has not reached back for his son; whether it is out of self-centeredness, busyness, or a perceived inability to do so, the boy may begin to rebel against his dad. This is often where problems arise.
Many times, a father expects and even demands high achievement from his sons. Often, it is because the father truly wants his son to experience a better life than he himself has lived. Lots of fathers have come to realize the importance of a good education or they want their sons to excel in athletics because of their own unmet needs. It sounds cliche, but it’s true that many fathers want to live through their sons. There is a plethora of men who reach a point in their own lives where they become disillusioned with how far they have come. Thus, they want their sons to achieve at higher levels than they have. It is at this point that they really push their sons to get good grades, or practice incessantly for sports. Men are “fixers” by nature so when the son gets into trouble the first thing many men turn to is stronger discipline. The idea is that they can force their sons to shape up. Boundaries get tighter, privileges are taken away, and arguments become louder.
Here comes the rub: If a son does not feel truly valued by his father, he will (more often than not) resist the father’s attempts at discipline or guidance. Conversely, if a son feels valued by his dad, he is much more likely to take his dad’s advice to heart and, eventually, take the right path. When I say we, as dad’s, need to stop putting the cart before the horse, I mean we must work (and it is definitely labor for some of us) to develop an intimate relationship with our sons BEFORE we drive them towards achievement.
I was lucky in this regard. My dad was a great guy and showed me that I was loved. Now, he was not perfect and I certainly have my own “father wounds” that I’m working to deal with, but I never doubted that my dad loved me. In fact, I lost my father just over a month ago and it has left a void that will never be filled this side of heaven. As I grieve over the loss of this mammoth figure in my life, I am challenged to make sure that my own sons know that I love them as much as I felt loved by my own dad. I didn’t always listen to my dad’s advice and I definitely made bad choices in my early adulthood, but I always returned to my father’s example and legacy. Why? Because I felt loved by him and, in return, he was a man I adored and revered on a grand scale. My life will never be the same here on earth now that he has gone to be with the Lord.
Fathers, don’t we all want our sons to respond to us like that? Don’t’ we want our sons to love and respect us enough to try to carry on our family legacy? Don’t we want a strong bond with our sons?
If so, we must strive to build that relationship with them. I know it’s hard for some of us. I know it may even be uncharted territory for some dads out there. But it is so worth it to blaze that trail. When we are older, don’t we want our sons to proudly come to us with their successes, failures, and hearts? Don’t we want our sons to feel so valued by us that they can’t wait to have sons of their own to pass on that legacy? I know I long for that more than anything and I’m working to make it happen.
For those of you who aren’t sure where to begin, here are some suggestions on how to build a relationship of value between you and your sons:

1. SPEND TIME WITH HIM. I know this sounds elementary but “time” is something that doesn’t just free itself. We have to MAKE time for our sons. I try to encourage fathers to spend 20 minutes of time with their children, each day, as much as possible. You will be amazed at how much this bonds you with your son AND helps you with discipline later on.

2. DO THINGS THAT HE LIKES TO DO. Bringing your son along with you to do things you want to do is great; but only if you balance that by sacrificing your interests in order to enter his life and interests. This is a part of the “20 minute” rule I mention above. When you spend that 20 minutes with him, let him lead the play or the interaction. Is it always fun to sit on the floor and play with trucks? Is it just a blast to go out in the yard and try to play ball with your son, only to have him play it the wrong way? No. It’s not always fun for us but it IS fun for them and, when they see that you will do things that they like, it will go a long way in building that feeling of value between you.

3. LISTEN: DON’T LECTURE. It’s okay to offer wisdom to your son. They need that. BUT, they won’t respond to it if they don’t feel like you are paying attention to their feelings or thoughts. Again, I know we guys like to make things better but, sometimes, we need to just be quiet and really pay attention to what our sons are telling us about themselves; their hearts, their fears, their lives. I have never met a boy that didn’t want to be truly KNOWN by his father.

4. SHOW HIM HEALTHY AFFECTION: I know.............many of you just groaned at reading this sentence. I, myself, just had an urge to go pump some iron or hit something really hard, just to prove that I’m still manly after such a taboo suggestion. But, honestly, our sons need us to touch them in appropriate, encouraging manners. I don’t mean that you have to embrace them constantly, although would that really hurt us? I mean...............pat them on the back often, squeeze their shoulder while you talk to them, high- five them, play-fight with them (yes, girls, we see this as affectionate), wrestle with them. And, yes, sometimes just give them a hug or even a kiss. If we are honest with ourselves, didn’t we all want to receive affection from our dads?

5. TEACH HIM HOW TO DO THINGS. Don’t be so impatient that you just work to get things done as fast as possible. Take the extra time to show your son how to build a cabinet, how to manicure the lawn, how to fix a car, or how to hit a baseball properly. No boy is born with the knowledge to do any of these things. We must show them.

6. WORK ON YOUR OWN ISSUES. If you have trouble reaching out to your son or your wife or anyone, get help from someone. Is it really more manly to alienate your family than to ask a professional how to improve those relationships? Wouldn’t you rather grow in this area than end up divorced or estranged from your kids? I know I would.

7. BE SUPPORTIVE OF HIS INTERESTS. This is similar to #2, but it expands the meaning. As your son becomes involved in sports, or band, or debate, or the scouts, or whatever...........show him support. Even if it is an activity that you wouldn’t do, show him that you support him no matter what. For instance, where I grew up, well, ahem..........our view of soccer was............hmm.........(cough, cough)..........that it was not so............what’s the word?...........manly? :) Yes, I know it is the world’s favorite sport but it wasn’t in Beverly, Ohio! :) However, if my son chooses to go down that destructive path, who am I to stop him??? :) Seriously, your son is unique. God made him that way. Encourage him to be the man God made HIM to be; instead of pigeon-holing him into who YOU want him to be.

8. EXPOSE HIM TO HEALTHY MALE FELLOWSHIP. As he grows older, take him with you outings with your guy friends. Send him to basketball camp to learn from a strong coach. Get him involved in his youth group. The more godly men he is around, the better his chances to develop into a godly man himself.

9. BE WORTHY OF HIS RESPECT: Be a good leader in your home. Be a loving husband. Take care of yourself. Let your son see you doing things that you are good at and you like to do. Exercise to stay healthy. Be a man that faces his fears and handles the hardships of life with courage.

10. TEACH HIM TO KNOW CHRIST. There is no greater lesson he can learn. If you continue to grow in your relationship with Christ, make sure you teach your son how to do the same.

Guys, I know that building relationships is harder than excelling at your job. At least, for most of us it is. It takes courage. It takes effort. It takes making yourself vulnerable. It takes time. And, truly, it takes desire. But, boy, is it worth it! Dads, your son needs you so much. He desperately desires to feel valued by you. No matter how old he is, that longing is still in his heart. I pray that all of you who are fathers will resolve to build that relationship with your son and, THEN, encourage them to achieve. Anything else............is putting the cart in front of the horse........and we all know how effective THAT is.

About the Author: Aaron Welch is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has devoted his life to reaching out and helping people to grow and mature through difficult life situations. Whether it has been through clinical counseling, pastoral ministry, youth camps and conventions, public speaking, leadership training, educational instruction, athletic coaching or small group ministry, Aaron has over eighteen years of experience in assisting people through life struggles and personal growth. His genuine love for people and his outgoing personality combine to create a safe and caring environment for putting the pieces of life back together

The LifeWorks Group, Inc.
1850 Lee Rd. Suite 250, Winter Park, FL 32789
407-647-7005, www.LifeWorksGroup.org

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