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What Boys Learn from Their Dads

Critical Dads, Hungry Sons

Sadly, many loving fathers never learn to communicate love in ways their boys can hear and feel. Think of this scenario: Paul was six years old when his mom and dad divorced. Paul had a close and loving relationship with his mom, but he adored his dad. They spent hours digging in the garden, watching basketball, and hitting baseballs together. Paul's parents worked hard at minimizing the effect of their divorce on their only son. Paul spent an equal amount of time with both parents, and his dad came to Scouts and to all of his soccer and tee-ball games.

Over time, though, things began to change. Paul's dad remarried, and his new wife found Paul's presence an inconvenience. Paul's dad began to appear less often at his games and school programs. Paul was a gifted student and a hardworking athlete, but his dad began to find fault with his accomplishments. No matter how hard Paul tried, his dad seemed to think he could have done more. He became so critical and demanding that even Paul's stepmother began to notice and to tell her husband to "take it easy on Paul."


As boys reach adolescence, their inborn drive to individuate, to become independent people, may lead them to compete and argue with their fathers. Fathers often react by trying to control their sons' opinions and actions, causing conflict. As your boy grows, remember, he is becoming himself and needs your support and understanding.

By the time he was in high school, Paul began to avoid spending time at his dad's house, eventually choosing not to spend the night there. He airily told his worried mom that it didn't bother him, but secretly his dad's distance and disapproval broke his heart. Paul's grades remained good, he was never in trouble, and he had solid friendships with good young men. He even convinced himself that his dad's constant criticism was a sign of love. Still, there was an empty spot in Paul's heart. Deep down, he longed for his dad to be proud of him.

Chances are that Paul was right—his father certainly loved him. But fathers don't always know how to connect with their sons. As Dan Kindlon, Ph.D., and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., report in Raising Cain, "…they find it difficult to think in terms of 'love' or to express the love they do feel for a son. Instead, they tend to fall back on what they have been taught to do with other men—namely, compete, control, and criticize."

In a recent study, male executives and managers were asked what single thing they would have changed about their childhood relationships with their fathers. Most of these successful men answered that they wished they had enjoyed a closer relationship with their fathers, and that their dads had been able to express more warmth and emotion.

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From The Everything Parent's Guide to Raising Boys Copyright © 2006, F+W Publications, Inc. Used by permission of Adams Media, an F+W Publications Company. All rights reserved.

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