10 Ways Dads Communicate That Actually Damage Their Sons

Photo: Stock Rocket / Shutterstock
dad talking to son

Boys do not listen to their fathers. They probably don't listen to their mothers, either. 

That's just one reason why what you say matters 1% as much as what you do. Male behavior is the message — a phrase expressed by doing rather than saying anything.

Remember, guys, we are all human. Even the best fathers on the planet do things they shouldn’t do at some point. It seems to me, it’s just a matter of doing them less.

Bad behavior is like a pendulum. Without awareness, it swings wildly out of control, damaging your son. You can gradually slow the swing with awareness until it’s almost still, but it will never come to a complete stop. By doing these things less, you will lead by example and show your son courage, love, and service.

Ask for help from other dads if you need support, too.

Here is what not to do as a father

1. Be silent

As fathers, the most painful thing we can do is ignore our sons — to retreat into yourself and not see the amazing child right in front of you. Make physical contact with your son if you can.

I first really saw my son while I was feeding him a bottle and could feel his heartbeat next to mine. As I sang to him, I was not silent. I felt God in my arms.

2. Look at your phone

We all get sucked into work, social media, and electronics from time to time. When you are with your boy, be present. Try not to sit at the dinner table looking at your phone.

When they follow your lead and do the same, an opportunity for connection will be lost. Put the phone away and ask him questions. Be curious and his day and tell him all about yours.

3. Put your work first

As men, we are programmed to be workaholics — to believe that by making money, we are loving our sons.

Men who work so hard they never see their boys are crushing their sons’ souls, even if it's the opposite of your intent. Your time with your son is limited and precious, so treat it that way. Blow off work and don’t bring it home physically or mentally. Give your son quality time all the time you're together.

4. Show arrogance

As men, the ego is our enemy because it causes us suffering. By playing ‘big shot’ in front of our boys, we model that success is the answer, that we think we are God, and that we have no perspective on life.

Show and model humility and service. Be vulnerable. Admit when you mess up, even to your kid. Show him that as a strong man, you don’t need the armor of arrogance. A strong man is kind, imperfect, compassionate, and works for others.

5. Model inappropriate lust

Our boys are trying to figure out their sexuality. It’s uncomfortable, complicated, and confusing. The last thing they need to see is their father misbehaving. Talk to them about sexuality openly. Talk about the importance of honesty, particularly with anyone they are in a sexual relationship with. Talk about not being selfish in those relationships. That sex and lust are nothing to be ashamed of. They are a healthy part of being a man and a gift.

But the world is littered with traps that will make us as men keep secrets, feel ashamed, and ultimately fall into unhealthy behavioral patterns. Talk about all that and then model the right behavior. Don’t say one thing, then engage in harmful behavior that will crush the soul of your son.

RELATED: Mom Tells A Stranger On A Plane It's His Fault Her Son Burst Into Tears After Seeing What Movie He Was Watching

6. Get angry and show rage

We all feel anger, have disagreements, and life does not always go our way. How do you deal with the people you disagree with, especially when it’s your child’s mother? Do you always treat women with respect? Can you navigate disagreements calmly, expressing your point of view and feelings and then listening to what the other person has to say?

When we feel the rage coming on, do we walk away to calm down, pray, or talk to a trusted friend? Can we experience negative emotions without letting them take us over and hijack our body into a state of rage or even violence? Do we model constructive ways to deal with conflict?

7. Allow greed to run the show

We live in a society that values money above all else and where male “success” is narrowly defined. Both are false gods. Suppose we are buying fancy cars and glorying in whatever money we have, exerting the power of a big job, and allowing our egos to run rampant. In that case, we are underscoring this dangerous message for our son. Do we model humility? Do we emphasize the trap of materialism? Do we talk about great men of ideas, sacrifice, and courage?

8. Be too busy to serve

It’s easy to feel like there is no time to help anyone else when we are all drowning in our own lives. But our sons are watching. Where does service to others land on our list of priorities? Ultimately, love and service are the keys to happiness—human connection and living for others, not self. It is never too early to model that for your son.

When you coach his team, how do you treat his teammates? How do you ask them to treat each other? Do you mentor young men? Do you and your son serve others together? Does he see how much you care about helping people? It is truly enlightened self-interest to be of service, not drudgery. But he won’t know that unless you show him.

RELATED: 15 Conversation Starters To Help You Connect With Your Son

9. Shy away from adventure

The goal should always be to live a small humble life with massive ripples that spread out into the world. This involves the constant spirit of adventure. Doing cool things, getting out of your comfort zone, and doing it all with your son. This could mean reading books out loud about faraway places, going to remote locations, exploring the tough neighborhoods nearby, or going on a service trip to a third-world country.

What you do with your son doesn’t have to be materially big or egotistical. Being adventurous simply means modeling and leading with a big heart, willing to step out of everyday life to explore the unknown. Be curious, observe, ask questions, and see the world in all its glory.

10. Be emotionally closed

So many men walk around with their emotions locked away in the safe inside their souls. This disease is literally killing us as men. It impacts our young men most profoundly, with the highest rates of suicide, death by overdose (OD), and terrible academic and life outcomes. To break the cycle, we have to be willing to be vulnerable emotionally and allow our sons to see what that looks like, and to understand that it's okay. It is the single most important thing on this list.

Say how we feel. When we are sad, we can cry. When we are happy, show exuberance. When something is tough, don’t pretend it is not. Model having close, loving friendships with other men. Include your son in that circle. Better yet, create a ritual around their participation.

Positive masculinity is a force for good in the world. Make clear that you want them to join the club. If you have spiritual mentors in your life, talk about them. Introduce your son to them. Never, ever let your son feel alone or isolated or like he does not belong to the brotherhood of manhood or that vulnerability is weak. It is the ultimate superpower.

RELATED: Dear Son: This Is How To Treat A Woman

Tom Matlack is on a mission to help men. His weekly speakers series and writing on Substack help men connect with one another and their own emotional well-being. He adores his wife of 20 years and his three children. 

This article was originally published at Tom Matlack's Substack. Reprinted with permission from the author.