water fight

Building a Strong Father-Son Relationship

water fight
Father and His Children in a Water Fight, by Rudy Anderson

Dear Son,

I’m not sure how much “behind the scenes” articles on how and why I chose to parent you the way I do will have much interest to you – they will probably have a lot more interest to others who might stumble across this weblog – my friends and family for example.  But then, I have been thinking about how to be a good father since I was thirteen years old.  Who knows? Maybe you’ll be like me and know you want to be a parent from an early age.  Or maybe this will offer you some “aha!” moments about your childhood – hopefully good ones.

It is definitely my hope that you cherish these letters in some form or another, maybe this sort of letter will be valuable to you much later in life when you are considering children of your own.

In my years of working with men who have suffered the long-term effects of abusive parents, hard discipline, neglect, or experimental parenting there is one thing I learned:  Harsh childhoods do not produce happy adults.  Nor does a religious or ideological upbringing.  Bullying, punishments, and mind games from a parent only leave men who struggle to succeed later in life.

And on the other hand parents who are compassionate, playful, and rational in the way they teach their children discipline both have children who want to behave, and eventually raise rational, wise, and happy adults.  This has been true for my happiest and most successful clients, and it has been true in my own life:  Oma and Opa raised me with kindness, playfulness, and compassion to the best of their ability.  There were dark times in our lives where they struggled, and they couldn’t always be as patient with me as I know they would have liked.

Even at the worst of times, when everyone in the family was dealing with their own troubles, their gentle leadership helped me make good decisions. I didn’t get into much trouble because I wanted to behave.  I wanted to live up to the expectations my parents set for me – and my own for myself which were often much higher.

The thing that made them such amazing parents, and made me so happy to live by their rules was simple, they worked hard to have a good relationship with me that was built as much on trust and respect as on fillial love. They realized that their relationship with me, just like every other relationship in life, was a work in progress, and so they worked hard to build a good one with me.

They understood intuitive what the sciences are just beginning to teach us now:  that the key to raising, happy, intelligent, and empathic children is a matter of building up many positive experiences together.  That children will trust the adults in their life as guides and teachers when they have a relationship that is fun, positive, and respectful together.  And that the best way to teach a child boundaries and discipline is a mix of coaching them, setting limits, and giving them options to help them make good decisions.

My childhood was full of boardgames, water fights, science experiments, fishing expeditions, camping trips, bedtime reading, day outings, and crafts together.  Because I felt loved, and I felt like we were on the same team,  I trusted my parents to give me good advice, and I knew that their rules were there for a reason.

And so my hope is to fill your childhood with adventures, games, and trips, too.  So that I can build a solid relationship with you, and the few clashes we have will be a drop in the bucket to the good times.  That I will make sure that the Magic Ratio is more than met – that there will be dozens of good experiences for every bad one.

And what I hope to add to that is an understanding of how to help you express your emotional needs.  I did have a hard time expressing myself as a child.  I swallowed a lot of emotions.  While my parents saw me bottling things up, they never knew how to get me to process.  That is one place where I hope to be a better parent.  I am learning now how to use play to teach children to confront fears and negative emotions, and process them creatively.

I am looking forward to this journey, and have been since I was a teen myself.  I hope I can meet – or exceed – my own expectations.

With purpose,

Dad

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