How Fathers Can Connect with Their Sons

Father’s can connect with their sons by:

  1. Playing together 
  2. Working a project together 
  3. Taking a trip together 
  4. Doing stuff with other men together 
  5. Creating Rites of Passage

It is impossible to overstate the importance of fathers in the life of a child. Children’s mental health, emotional intelligence, and school performance closely correlated with how much time they spend with their Dad’s. Read my article on why Fathers Matter to Their Sons to learn more about the importance of Dads.

Young boys see their dad as their hero and want to be like him. However, as those boys reach adolescence they may start to drift from their fathers and want to spend more time with peers. Consequently, dads may think their son doesn’t want to connect, but this is not true! Son’s desperately want to be close with their dads even into their adolescence.

The problem is they often don’t know how to connect with their dad. As the parent you have to take the lead in rebuilding this relationship, here’s how. 

Play Together

Play is essential for children to grow and develop but it is also important for well-being in adolescents and adults. People who play regularly are happier and it’s also a great way fathers and sons to connect.

If you have a teenage son you may feel frustrated if he doesn’t want to spend time with you. For example, he may not want to do much except play video game which you don’t like. The solution? Join your son in rather than judging him. If he doesn’t want you to join him then look for other opportunities to play.

In his book simply called “Play” Dr. Stuart Brown uses the term “play personality” to describe eight different ways that people engage in play. Some people are jokers, storytellers, or explorers. Understanding what your sons play personality is will help you connect with him.

Use play to connect with your son

Think about the times when your son was the most joyful and alive. What was he doing? It’s likely he was engaged in some form of play. Use that as a starting point to brainstorm with him other types of playful activities he might enjoy. Use this list and create a plan to do some of these activities together.

Think about things that you did for fun as a kid to better understand your own play personality. Combine that with what your son enjoys to give you more of things to do together. It’s important that you never force him to join with you. Play cannot be coerced. Rather, let him know the invitation is always open to doing the activities together.

If all your son wants to do is play video games then work at setting healthy boundaries around screens. This might look like limiting his gameplay to a certain amount of time per day. You may also need to make him take an evening or a weekend day off video games and the internet.

Your son will be more likely to try out other activities if he has large chunks of time away from screens. If you think your son is spending too much time on screens check out my posts on How Much Screen Time is Too Much and How to Limit Screen Time.

Do a project together

Boys are often more comfortable connecting through activities than through words. Teen boys have few opportunities where they feel safe to open up about sensitive topics. By doing a project together you will have ample time to discuss what’s going on his life while you work together.

Doing a project together will help your son learn a new skill. In addition, it will give him a challenge, and the sense of satisfaction at the end of the project. When deciding what project to do try and think of something that would be challenging for your son but that he will be able to do with your help.

Alternatively, you can choose a project which involves an area that he has more knowledge than you. This way you can be his helper and make him take on a leadership role. Ideally, the project would be related to one of his interests. 

Project ideas

  • Work on a woodwork project
  • Fix up an old car
  • Create a video game together
  • Write a song together
  • Cook a fancy meal together
  • Landscape the yard together
  • Do some household maintenance together (put in some new flooring, or paint a room).

incorporate his interests

Your son will be more likely to buy into the project if it’s aligned with his interests or if he gets a material reward, i.e. some money for his labours. For this task, the primary goal is for him to learn skills and build his competence so making the project mandatory probably won’t harm the opportunity to connect (unless he really hates it).

Most boys won’t do more than is required of them, i.e. will avoid work when they can. However when they’re forced to do something that has a tangible end result they get a huge boost to their self-esteem and sense of mastery for completing something hard. As a side bonus, you will also get to spend more time together and deepen your relationship. 

Take a Trip Together 

Is there somewhere that your son has always wanted to go? Maybe it’s to a specific event that only takes place in a specific city once a year like a video game convention, or maybe he’s always wanted to meet a hero of his who lives far away. Pick his brains and find out something he loves that would be a good excuse for a father-son road trip.

On the many long drives there will be lots of opportunities to have conversations about what’s important to him. This will help you to become reacquainted with who your son is and who he is becoming. As young men wrestle with raging hormones, and peer pressure they are in dire need of mature male role models who can show them what it means to be a man.

Do stuff with other men together

Boys have always been molded and shaped male mentors in the community. If your son has male mentors in the form of coaches, teachers, and community leaders then he is especially lucky. If not it’s essential that you connect your son with male mentors in the community who can help him find his path to maturity.

A program called boys to men has helped thousands of boys to become more mature through mature male mentors sharing their stories and encouraging the young men to be who they want to be. Look for father-son groups or retreats in your area, even if it’s a one-off event it could have a profound impact on how your son sees himself and his relationship with you. 

boys need their identity affirmed by men

In my childhood, I didn’t have a great connection with my Dad. I didn’t dislike him, but it felt like we lived separate lives and we rarely spent a lot of time together. So I was surprised when my father invited me to a father-son conference when I was 13. At the end of the conference all fathers all gave their sons their blessing by looking them in the eye and affirming who they were and who they envisioned them to be.

I don’t remember what my Dad said. But I do remember that from that moment on I decided to stop doing the things that I knew were wrong, like smoking pot and hanging out with a bad crowd. During that key time when I was making decisions that would affect the trajectory of my life words of affirmation from my dad in the presence of other male leaders had a profound impact on me.

Create Rites of Passage for Your Son 

In every culture of the world, there have always been rituals, rites, and ceremonies to help mark the transition from boyhood to manhood. Since industrialization, many of these practices have been disrupted and lost.

The closest thing that we have to this nowadays is high school graduation, but that only marks a boy’s academic success. It doesn’t speak to who he is as a man, and if he’s a poor student he won’t value it much at all. It’s important that boys are given healthy rites of passage to prove their manhood so they don’t do it in dangerous ways.

boys use risk to test their manhood

Teenage boys constantly engage in risky and dangerous behaviour to prove that they are “man enough”. This is partly because their undeveloped brain is designed to seek out novelty and is not good at calculating risk, but it’s also because becoming a man isn’t given to you, it must be earned.

By creating rites of passage for your son you can give him a healthy and safe pathway to prove his manhood. It’s not a question of whether your son does rites of passage, it’s a question of which ones will he do?

Will he get drunk, have unprotected sex, or wreak havoc online to show that he’s brave? Or will he take clearly laid out steps towards manhood with his male mentors guiding him at his side? In his book, The Purpose of Boys, therapist and author Michael Gurian outlines a rite of passage template for parents to create rites of passage for their sons. You can use it to create a tailored plan to help your son make the sometimes treacherous journey from boy to man.

What has worked for you in connecting with your son? If you have any questions or helpful advice feel free to leave a comment below.

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