The Secret to Building Great Dads

June 13th, 2013

Deadbeat dads.  Absent dads.  Father wounds.  Dumbed-down TV sitcom dads.  The labels are not handsome.  And increasingly, they seem to ring true.  No wonder a few years ago a major magazine featured this headline on the cover of their June issue (released on Father’s Day weekend): Are Dads Even Necessary?

Research proves again and again that dads are not only necessary, they are vital to the well-being of their children.  But because so many dads have dropped the fatherhood ball, more and more women are choosing to or having to raise their kids without dad.

Recognizing the lack of fatherhood skills in many dads today, several organizations from political to religious, have dedicated themselves to “building” great dads, among them and  These organizations recognize that high impact fathers must be “built” over time, equipped with the necessary tools to meaningfully raise their kids.

But rather than starting that process after a man becomes a dad, perhaps we need to start earlier—in fact, much earlier, when potential dads are still boys.

Much of what a father does or does not do is “built” into him as he grows into manhood.  The values he embraces, the parenting he receives, the decisions he makes, are the materials of future fatherhood.  Denny Coates (Conversations with the Wise Uncle) reminds us that the thinking, reasoning, critical part of the brain develops in kids in their teen years.  How they use their brain and what they put into their brain during those years will set the course for the rest of their lives, including parenting.

So rather than trying to play catch up with men who become dads, let’s start building great dads now by training our boys in the art of fatherhood.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Give boys a heroic vision for manhood: A vision built on honor, courage, commitment, sacrifice, love, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom, and grace.  This happens through mentoring, teaching, correction, and rites of passage programs.

Give boys purpose: As you see his emerging gifts and talents, affirm them in him.  What he’s good at is a powerful clue to his purpose for life.

Give boys masculine energy: In their report, Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education, looks, in part, at the impact of boys being raised without dads.  In addition to listing the often cited downsides for boys without a dad, the authors offer this unique perspective: If children aim to emulate adult roles of their same-sex parent, then girls may increasingly expect to fully support both themselves and their children, whereas, conversely, males may come to anticipate a less central or more transient role. (p. 47).  In other words, girls being raised by mom see that raising children and working outside of the home are what women do.  Boys raised by moms see no role for the male in the family and more often than not live down to that level.  Dads are built by dads.  So the key to building great dads is to surround our boys with great dads—their own dads or other men—who can model responsibility, love, compassion, and fatherhood to these dads in the making.

Give boys the chance to interact with children: When age appropriate, give boys the chance to mentor younger children, either by helping out in a church Sunday School class or nursery, or through connecting with local organizations that offer kids clubs.

Connect boys to their Heavenly Father: Through worship, prayer time as a family, involvement in Sunday school and youth programs, boys have a chance to experience the power, grace, and love of their Heavenly Father–the One who calls them to follow Jesus into honorable fatherhood.

Imagine a world where deadbeat dads are replaced by life-enhancing dads; where absent dads are replaced by fully engaged dads, and where fathers are no longer the source of deep wounds, but the source of strength, affirmation, love, and hope.

The secret to that kind of a dad: Start building him early, when he’s still a boy.

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