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Father Your Son - Part 2 - How to Become the Father You've Always Wanted to Be

You love your son and want to be the best father you possibly can be. But when you read Dr. Stephan Poulter's descriptions of the Five Fundamental Fathering Styles, you recognized yourself in one of the four 'bad' categories. Now you feel sad and anxious, fearful of scarring your son for life.

Don't despair. There are steps you can take right now to add elements of the ideal Compassionate/Mentor style to your interactions with your son. They may not produce changes overnight, but keep them up and you will see an extraordinary improvement in your relationship with your son.

If You Are a Super Achiever:
  • Keep a 'criticism' journal for a week in which you enter any remarks you make that are directly critical of your son. At the end of the week, total the number of critical comments. The following week, be conscious of your criticisms and try to reduce this number by at least one. Keep a journal for the second week and see if you can achieve this goal. If you do, try and reduce the number by at least one for the third week. Keep at it until you reduce the criticisms by 50 percent from the original total.
  • Practice complimenting your son. Think about specific things your son says or does that merit your approval and support. If he's a young child, you might compliment him on his ability to build blocks. If he's a teenager, it might be a subject that he does well at, whether it's in school or an outside interest. The rehearsal will help you overcome your natural inclination to criticize. Concentrate on what it is that he cares about, that he tries hard to do well at, that he shows promise at. Resolve to tell him that he did a good job or that you appreciate his hard work.
If You Are a Time Bomb:
  • Videotape yourself exploding when no one else is around. Set up a video camera and record yourself reproducing a recent tirade against your son. Attempt to come as close as possible to what you said and did when you exploded. Don't hold back. Try and mirror both the words, tone of voice and physical gestures or expressions that you used. Once you're done, watch the video and put yourself in your son's place. Imagine being on the receiving end of your tirade. Ask yourself if this is the main memory of you that you want him to carry into adulthood.
  • Create a substitute action for your physical or verbal assaults on your son. In other words, think of an alternative way of venting your anger when you feel it starting to boil over. It may be something as simple as getting into your car or some other isolated environment and letting loose a scream. It may involve going outside and shooting baskets or running around the block. By having this alternative action firmly planted in your mind, you've given yourself an escape route from the spanking or shaking that is your reflex to anger at your son.
If You Are a Passive Father:

Test your emotional exchange capacity. Review the following list of common ways fathers create emotional bonds with their sons, and make a check mark next to the ones that you regularly employ:

  1. Hugging him.
  2. Allowing him to see you cry.
  3. Laughing together.
  4. Communicating to him through words and gestures when you're disappointed about something that happened to you.
  5. Venting healthy anger - anger without hostility - against everything from your boss to a disappointing sports team in his presence.
  6. Telling him how you feel when someone close to you dies.
  7. Allowing him to accompany you to funerals, weddings, family reunions and other emotionally-charged events.
  8. Encouraging him to tell you how he feels and not judging his emotion or trying to tell him he shouldn't feel this way. Use this list as a guide for establishing an emotional connection with your son, trying to engage in at least a few of these activities with him weekly.
  9. Start with small emotional expressions when interacting with your son and build on them. For instance, you may find it uncomfortable to hug him initially. Therefore, start by patting him on the back or even shaking his hand. These small, physical connections will provide both you and your son with positive feedback and will allow each of you to warm up to each other. It also might be difficult for you to tell him you love him at first. Try to be more specific with what you love about him. For instance: 'I love the way you hit the ball' or 'I really enjoy the way you sing 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm.''
If You Are an Absent Father:
  • Increase the amount of time you spend with your son in increments. In a worst case scenario, if you haven't seen your son in weeks or months, start with as little as an hour weekly. If you've simply been spending long hours in the office, try coming home an hour early one day a week when you know your son will be home. Increase the time you're together slowly, so that it feels like a natural progression both to you and him.
  • Increase the quality time you spend with your son. Try to get your son involved in something that interests you; your natural enthusiasm for the endeavor will be felt by your son, and he'll want to please you by trying to like the activity, especially if he's not yet an adolescent. At the same time, figure out what interests him and make an effort to be a participant in that interest. This often leads to a real, meaningful exchange between father and son, rather than the customary empty inquiries such as, 'How was school today?' or 'What did you do last night?'

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 mcgraw-hill.com.For more information, visit fatheryourson.com.

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