Sign up

Father Your Son - Part 1 - How To Be The Father You've Always Wanted To Be

Article Index

A new book by Stephan Poulter, Ph.D., says there are five fundamental fathering styles. For your son's sake, you need to determine yours - and take steps to make it better. Do you make an effort to father your son? At first glance, this seems like a ludicrous question. Didn't you provide half his genetic material?

Don't you go out every day and earn a living to keep a roof over his head and food on his table? Don't you take him on vacation, teach him to ride a bike, and attend his Little League games? But there's a difference between being a father and actively, consciously, deliberately fathering. According to Stephan B. Poulter, Ph.D., most men put more thought into how they pursue their careers than into how they influence their sons. And that's the problem. If you don't pay attention, you will end up fathering by default - a mode that was most likely determined by your own father.

 "It's not that men who are less-than-ideal fathers don't love their sons," explains Poulter, author of the new book Father Your Son: How to Become the Father You've Always Wanted to Be. "They do love them desperately. But fathering is a learned skill, and there's much more to it than paying the bills and playing an occasional game of catch in the backyard. Fathering your son means connecting with him on a deep, emotional level. The problem is that if your father didn't connect with you in this way, you're operating under a handicap. Whether you unconsciously repeat it or deliberately reject it, your father's parenting style does affect yours."

A big part of becoming a good father has to do with exploring your relationship with your own father. Poulter calls this process of introspection 'going into the cave.' Once you've confronted the sins of your father, grieved the hurt he caused and forgiven him, you can leave 'the cave' better equipped to forge a strong, healthy bond with your own son.

Father Your Son explains how to approach this often frightening process. First things first, however. Job number one is to get a handle on how you currently interact with your son. Poulter says there are five fundamental fathering styles, and while you may employ elements of all five, one of them will predominate.

The five styles are:

Super Achiever: The super achiever father is a man who never received nurturing from his father. In order to compensate for this loss of emotional support, he develops a competitive nature that is always looking for perfection in work, relationships or anything else that will cover up the loss of a relationship with his father.Part and parcel of this competitiveness is a hypercritical nature. This is one reason men frequently engage in cruel teasing; such teasing is a way of unloading all the anger and self-hatred they harbor. It is also the reason they constantly criticize and are hostile to their sons. As fathers get in their verbal digs, spend little time with their sons and always ask for perfection, these sons feel like losers if they're not the best at whatever they're doing.

Time Bomb: This style of fathering is based solely on the fear factor. Authority in this house is maintained by sheer volume of emotional expression. The use of threatening language, anger, yelling, and promises of physical violence are the status quo. The norm is the unpredictability of this father's response to anything and everything. A harmless comment such as, "How was your day, Dad?" can set off an explosion. These explosions do not have to be alcohol related but many times are fueled by it.

The son of this father is also in a constant state of chaos and fear. He looks terrified and fearful much of the time and nothing feels safe for him. This boy is the first stop for the father's abuse in all its forms: physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and mental. It is not necessarily what the father says that is disturbing, but the way it is wrapped up in a ball of fire and hatred. Everyone in the house is sensitized to this phenomenon. In order to survive, the son learns to develop amazing people pleasing skills early on.

Passive Father: Mainstream culture refers to this father as the '1950s, Ozzie Nelson, Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best' type. He is stable, consistent, hard-working, calm and reserved. He would never contemplate or engage in any type of self-destructive behavior toward his son, family, or self. What is missing is a strong emotional connection between father and son. While they don't fight or have any animosity between them, they also lack energy, understanding and willingness to display love toward and support for one another.

Sons of passive fathers grow into men who, in their thirties and forties, find themselves unable to express themselves emotionally. Since mom handled the emotional expression duties in the family, the son assumes that his wife also will take on this role. In today's environment, however, Ozzie will not make Harriet happy; she expects him to be more emotionally involved in Ricky's and David's lives.

Absent Father: The 'absent' style of fathering can be literal (a deadbeat dad who abandons his son) or figurative (emotionally or intellectually absent). All types of absent fathering lead to the son's profound sadness and anger. The natural psychological response to a loss is fear, pain, and then anger to cover up the wound. A father's death is also a loss, but his involuntary departure versus the voluntary exit creates a different type of effect on the son.

Typically, boys cope with absent fathers in a number of ways. First, they become over-achievers, attempting to be the man their fathers never were and thereby please their mothers. Second, they personalize their fathers' indifference and rejection, assuming they are at fault for his departure. Third, they take their anger out on society and people closest to them. Trusting relationships are difficult for sons of absent fathers to form. It's why so many of them have difficulty working for others, especially male bosses. These men often aren't sure why they distrust, disdain, and dislike male authority figures, and this lack of insight may seem irrational from an outside perspective.

Compassionate/Mentor: The Compassionate/Mentor (C/M) style, as the name implies, combines emotional intelligence with a wise teacher approach. Sons feel that their dads are making them their number one priority, and fathers are willing to do whatever it takes to raise their sons properly. This style of fathering involves providing an emotional safe harbor in which the toddler, pre-teen and young man feels he can take chances, fail, and still be surrounded by his father's love.

As part of the C/M style, fathers help their sons learn how to reason. This might seem like a relatively innocuous task, but fathers who help their sons reason allow for the differences of opinions that independent reasoning produces. Rather than ignore or mock their sons' arguments, these fathers encourage their boys to think for themselves. Because these boys have felt their fathers' love, they are able to love and support others.You probably recognized your own father in the above descriptions. Hopefully, you recognized yourself in the last one. If, however, one of the first four scenarios hit home, you've got some serious work to do. You must come to terms with your relationship with your own father. And you must take steps now to add elements of compassion and mentoring to your interactions with your own son.

There is nothing more important that you can do with your life. "Fathering is a 'calling' and not a part-time job or something that can be approached casually and effortlessly," Poulter writes in his introduction to Father Your Son. "Fathering requires everything a man can give to his son. If you make this commitment, you and your son will reap the benefits for the rest of your lives. As you assess how you're doing as a father, don't be discouraged, no matter where you're falling short or how problematic your father-son relationship might be. Trust that you have the power to forge a strong, healthy relationship, and that above all else, fathers matter."

Excerpted from Father Your Son: How to Become the Father You've Always Wanted to Be (McGraw-Hill, 2004, ISBN 0-07141713-3, $14.95). Available at bookstores nationwide and all major online booksellers or by visiting For more information, visit

Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2024 Calgary’s Child