It is a huge privilege to be a father, and one that entails a large number of joys and responsibilities that go with it. In particular, it is a true gift and unique privilege to be a father of a son, and I would suggest there is something inherently special and almost magical about that bond. Now let me be clear, daughters are no less valuable or important, and for the record, I have both a son and a daughter, and couldn’t imagine life without them. I love my little girl more than she can possibly know, and I always will. At the same time, the connection I have with my boy plays a foundational role in his life that is difficult to compare with that of my daughter.

As fathers of boys, it is important to be aware of just how much they look up to us. An article I came across this week nailed that point home in a way that was almost too painful to read. It related the story of a man watching another father and his young son waiting in line at Costco (parents know how daunting a challenge that can be with children!). The son knew ice cream cones were available at the concession just a short distance away, and excitedly asked his father if they could enjoy one together afterward. The father, likely frustrated from his wait in line and simply wanting to focus on the task at hand, quickly and sternly let his son know that no ice cream would be happening, and that he had better be quiet and stop bothering him. An effort to forget about the angry reaction from his father soon had the boy singing a tune to himself, only to bring about a scolding for making too much noise, and being told to be quiet in no uncertain terms. The boy slinked over to a nearby wall, crushed and disappointed.

I’m sure you can imagine how crestfallen and hurt this boy must have felt. On one hand, it was an everyday situation, and children often have a way of testing our patience, and bringing forth needs and requests and the least convenient times. On the other hand however, words cannot express the degree to which, for a short period of time, fathers are no less than their son’s biggest hero! Dad means everything to his boy, and the young pair of eyes wants nothing more than to spend time with him, learn different skills, and run and play with this magnificent individual. Allow me to make a bold suggestion: every father begins with this potential to meet his boy’s hopes and needs, particularly during that critical period between about 5 and 8 years of age.

Knowing this range, all fathers have an important decision to make; and they will make it, even if they do not realize they are doing so. The decision is this: what, if anything, do I wish to create with my son’s limited-time openness to connect on a very personal, joyful level? I have an invitation to show him what it means to be a person and a man with a level of respect from him that will be unmatched through the rest of his childhood – how do I choose to respond? Our actions as fathers will give our sons all the answers they seek. We have the right to make the most of that critical time, or alternatively, give them a message resembling “we will be together once I have time, but until then, give me the space and quiet that I need”.

The true challenge comes in prioritizing time with our boy(s) who are at this special age, and making it clear to them and to ourselves that spending time together is important, and though life is busy and full of demands, there comes a place where even the most critical work responsibilities and home tasks must take a back seat to connection. What are we prepared to delay or cancel in the name of feeding a boy’s need to spend meaningful and fully-present time with his Dad? Can we show patience when we are most tempted to yell or get angry? This can be very difficult, and I am far from the perfect father in this way, let me tell you. Your son is getting to know your heart at this special age, and your choices will help him to know who you are, deep down, for years and even decades to come.

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