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4PARENTS: FATHERS & SONS

  
Make Beliefs Comix for Parents

Words Fathers Need to Say
and Boys Need to Hear

By Bill Zimmerman, Creator, MakeBeliefsComix.com

When fathers ask me for suggestions about the things they can do with their sons to build stronger bonds, the advice I give them always centers on words. By that I mean they need to make time to listen to their sons' words - even their silences which can convey much information - and they need to speak and write important words to their boys.

In raising boys, too often adults don’t listen attentively to children and spend too much time telling them what to do as if they have all the answers. Boys need to be coaxed to make their "voices" known, to be encouraged to express themselves. This means a dad making time at the end of a busy work and school day to sit down with his kids and having a meal together, even if it's only pizza the nights when everyone is too tired to cook. Doing a chore together or taking a walk together are also great ways to re-establish connections with our children. This is when we become aware of what’s on their minds and we can help them and show them we love them. Our sons truly need to be heard.

I lost my father when I was young and missed hearing the words that a boy growing up needs to hear from his dad. From my own life experience and in working with many young people over the years, I know that boys - those with fathers as well as those without - need to hear the words that will guide them, encourage and comfort them. None of us ever hears enough of such words.

Here are some of the things you need to talk to your son about:

  • What are the basic things you believe in and which are important to you? I call these "key operating principles." They can be things like believing in yourself, being kind to others, always trying to do your best, not giving up easily when problems occur, or treating others the way you want to be treated. In sharing these beliefs with your son, encourage him, too, to come up with his own operating principles. These are important because they will keep your son steady when live throws him some curves. They tell him what's really important and help ground him when he’s not sure of himself.
  • Tell your son not to worry about whether he's "macho" or manly enough. The strongest guys I know are always the ones who think for themselves and treat everyone with respect. Reassure your boy that the only big muscle he really needs is a good, loving heart. And, yes, it's okay to cry. Advise your boy not to bottle up his feelings all the time - it only will create too much pressure and hurt him inside.
  • Tell your son he has more power than he thinks. When boys are young they may feel they don't have any power, that they are pretty much at the beck and call of parents and teachers. But you can get the message across to them that they have more power or control than they think. That power comes in the form of helping others. This can be as simple as helping out a buddy with a problem and showing their support for him. Power can often come in what you decide to do for others. Ask your son to think for a moment about one positive difference he can make in someone's life right now.
  • Assure your son that it's okay to make mistakes - no one does everything right the first time every time. When your boy is learning something new, he needs to be patient with himself. Share with your son some of the things that took you a long time and hard work to achieve.
  • Encourage your boy to ask for help when he has a problem. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don't have all the answers. Asking for help doesn't mean a person is weak or isn't smart, and no one will every make fun of you for doing so.
  • Teach your boy to walk in someone else's shoes for a while. Trying to understand and accept those who are different from him shows them respect. And that makes the world a better and friendlier place for people to live in.
  • Encourage your son to believe in himself. When he has a bad day, try to help him remember the good things in his life that he has accomplished. Encourage him to keep a list of these hard-won achievements in his wallet to refer to when things don’t look bright. Bad times don't last forever - you know this from your own experience.
  • Convey to your son that he is special. There never has been - and never will be—anyone on earth exactly like him. Just as no one else has his thumbprint, no one on the planet has his one-of-a-kind mind, personality or imagination. He brings to the world something that nobody else has. Every child is special in his own way - some through book smarts, some through athletics, some through sensitivity, some through making music or art. Help him find his own special "intelligence."
  • Encourage your son to be himself. Maybe he's someone who likes to spend a lot of time hanging out with others, or maybe he's more quiet or shy and prefers spending a lot of time on his own. Encourage him to figure out what works best for himself and go with it. Teach him to be comfortable with who he is.
  • Help your boy find ways to keep his spirit strong. In the same way you try to help him take care of his body by feeding it healthy food, you need to help him find ways to fill up his mind and spirit, too. This can mean his doing something that he loves, going out and enjoying nature, reading a book to escape into another world where they are people or places different from what he knows, taking time to pray or meditate. Encourage him to keep a notepad where he can write about his day or his feelings.

I also think that one of the most wonderful gifts you can give your son are written letters or notes of encouragement to him in which you express your hopes and dreams for him. Think how much it can mean for a boy to receive a letter in which a parent or caregiver begins with the words, "This is what I want from the depths of my heart for you" or "This is what you mean to me." Wouldn't you want to keep such a letter for the rest of your life?

Fathers have a special role to play

Fathers in particular need to say and write these words – we can't take it for granted that our children know that we love them. We need to take the extra step and tell them the caring words that are within us even if we find it hard to bring them out of our silences and even if they come out slowly, haltingly. This is our responsibility. Don't be afraid to say the very words that may have been said to you or which you wish had been told to you - but never were. Having a child and showing that you love him or her is your chance to make up for all the lost opportunities in your own life when you were young. Your child needs to hear your hopes and dreams for his or her life - these words will give children courage in their own lives as they take new roads that will be uncharted.

Here follow some question prompts for ideas about expressing your personal thoughts for the young person in your life. You may want to write your thoughts in a separate notebook that you can also present as a gift to a young guy who is important to you. It would make a wonderful gift to give this child in your life on his birthday or graduation, with some of your personal, written thoughts for him to read and refer to over the years. Or you can give him your letters, one by one, over a period of time when you feel this is appropriate.

Just write what is in your heart:

Son, this is how I truly feel about you (no ifs, ands or buts):

Dear _________,

  • This is what I want from the depths of my heart for you:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    ___________________________________________

  • This is what you mean to me:
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • These were some hopes that I had when I was your age:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • This was something important that was said to me when I was a child and which I now pass along to you to help you in your life:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • Son, these are some of the qualities which I hope you will develop and cultivate in your life:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • When I was a child, these were some of the things I worried about and here is how I came to terms with them:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • Son, one day you will grow up and become a man. In my opinion, these are some of the things expected of a responsible adult:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • Son, these are the words which I wish my own father had spoken to me to help me make my way in life:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • And these are the best words anyone ever said to me:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • Son, these are what I see as some of your strengths and which make me proud of you and make you so special:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • These are some important questions which you should think about in life - you don't necessarily need to have all the answers right away, but you need to think about them:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • This is the sort of human being whom I hope you will grow up to be, son:
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

  • What are the words you way to say one day to your own son?
    __________________________________________
    ___________________________________________
    __________________________________________

More ideas for writing letters to young people in your life can be found here and here.

Here follow some words which I address to a boy in my life. Perhaps they will be helpful in giving you ideas to compose your own letters:

For My Boy

If I could I would never allow pain to enter your life
If I could I would keep you in my pocket to make you feel safe
If I could I would plant seeds of joy in your soul
If I could I would make you believe that no hope is impossible to attain
If I could I would catch your sweet dreams and save them for you
If I could I would grow beautiful colored flowers that blossom for you in the snow
If I could I would borrow the songs of birds to give to you when you feel sad
If I could I would jump through hoops of fire to free you from dragons
If I could I would steal away all your doubts to bring a smile to your face.



(Bill Zimmerman, creator of MakeBeliefsComix.com, is the author 100 Things Guys Need to Know, a book of encouraging words for boys; Lunch Box Letters: Writing Notes of Love and Encouragement to Your Children and Laptop Letters: Sending Wise & Loving Messages to Young People in Your Life.)

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