Think for a moment about your own father. You may not have known him well, or you may have years of precious memories. What did your father teach you about being a man? About values? love and family? If your memories of your father are troubling ones, how would you change your own past if you had the chance?
The wonderful thing about raising a son is that it allows you both to share the best parts of your own childhood and, perhaps, to give your son the things you never had.
Work, Money, and Values
Children are always making decisions. They watch what happens around them, and then decide what they must do to find belonging and connection. Children do not automatically mimic the behavior and values of their parents; they are thinking, feeling people who must decide for themselves what works in life.
Still, your own choices, actions, and values are the plumb line that your son will use to measure what matters in life. If you work long hours, no matter what your reasons might be, your son will make decisions about work, about family, and about your priorities. If you compete with colleagues, family, and the neighbors to have the biggest house, the nicest boat, and the newest car, your son will decide whether he agrees with you—or not. If you tell your son that you value honesty, but he hears you calling in sick to go skiing or bragging about how you managed to avoid paying taxes, he will make his own decisions about ethics—and about you.
Researchers spent four years observing thirty-two families in which both parents worked and there were at least two children. These families, they discovered, were in the same room only 16 percent of the time; in five homes, family members were never in the same room. Only one father spent time with his children on a regular basis.
The best way to learn what your son is deciding about life and how to live it is to spend time listening and building a strong connection with him. Children are gifted observers; they rely far more on nonverbal messages than on words. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work with children (especially with teenagers). Remember the list of qualities and character attributes that you want for your son? It's wise to stop occasionally and consider whether or not your own behavior and choices are nurturing those qualities. The good news is that mistakes aren't fatal; they are wonderful opportunities to learn.
Rupture and Repair: Dealing with Mistakes
It is inevitable. Even the most loving and committed parent loses his temper, makes poor choices, or says hurtful, shaming things. No parent enjoys hurting his child, but what truly matters is what you do after a blow-up has occurred. Daniel Siegel, M.D., puts it this way: "Although ruptures of various sorts may be unavoidable, being aware of them is essential before a parent can restore a collaborative, nurturing connection with the child. This reconnecting process can be called repair… Ruptures without repair lead to a deepening sense of disconnection between parent and child."
It is important to notice that your son is not responsible for mending the ruptures in your relationship: Repair always begins with parents. While it may not be easy to admit your own mistakes or to take responsibility for lost tempers and wrong choices, this, too, is part of being a role model for your son. He wants to know that you are capable and competent so that he can believe in his own capability and competence. But he also needs to know that it is okay to admit mistakes, to take personal responsibility, and to say "I was wrong" when it is appropriate to do so. Ruptures can actually make relationships stronger and closer when parent and child—father and son—learn to forgive, find solutions, and reconnect.