The Father as Mentor and Model of Pure Love to His Sons
ARTICLES The Father as Mentor and Model of Pure Love to His Sons

 

Event_FOH2015To say that parents are the primary educators of their children is not simply to claim that the authority of parents should be protected and upheld.  This is true, we should uphold it, and society and the government should respect the fundamental right of parents to make educational decisions regarding their children.  But the claim that parents are the primary educators of their children is much more than an assertion of parental rights.  It is also a statement of the simple fact that from the earliest age children look to their parents to understand the world around them and their place in it.  Parents mediate the world to their children, and a large part of how a child understands reality is the result of his or her experience as a person in a family.

A clear example of this mediation is the indispensable and irreplaceable role of the father in the education of his sons in the area of human sexuality.  A father’s authority to teach is intimately connected to his living example as the father of his children and the husband of his wife, the children’s mother.  Simply because he is the father, his sons naturally look to him as a role model for the proper treatment of women, imitating how he cares for their mother and sisters.  The father has a privileged position from which he can teach his sons about God’s plan for human sexuality and fruitfulness, unfolding this topic in its proper context and full dimension.  This is an area where it is simply not possible for a school to adequately assume the father’s role.

What follows are some practical considerations regarding how a father can educate his sons.  These considerations are partly based on my own experience with my older sons.  And while this essay is specific to the father-son relationship, much of what follows also applies to how a mother could go about talking with her daughter.  Ideally it is best if boys feel comfortable talking with their father about these matters, and girls go to their mother.  In some situations, where one of the parents is missing or unable to provide guidance, then it is obviously necessary to make do with the particular situation as it is.

Getting the right message out first…

If possible, it is best to present one’s son with information about God’s plan for human sexuality before he hears a version of this plan from another source.  Just as a big deal is made in the business world about a company getting an important message out first so as to be able to manage the message, sometimes through hiring a public relations firm, so a father should let his son know that God has a wonderful plan for human sexuality before he hears about a different version of this plan elsewhere.  If a boy first hears from his father that human sexuality is part of God’s wonderful plan for life, then any reductive presentations of the topic that he encounters will be less damaging.  The boy will also be more likely to feel comfortable coming back to talk to his father about anything that is bothering him.

In times past it was less likely that a boy would be presented with a deficient view of human sexuality at a young age.  This is not the case today.  Even if a young boy does not himself view material that presents human sexuality inappropriately, it is likely that some of his peers will have been exposed to such material.  His first introduction to this subject could be from a conversation on the playground.  So it is important that parents reach their children with the right message first and then support this perspective throughout the formative years.

Parents initially pass the right message about human sexuality to their children through ordinary family interactions and through a few messages that parents should deliberately get across in a natural way. Children see that their parents love and respect each other and that this love overflows to include the whole family. This good example is very powerful in conveying truths about human love.

A father can make this early formation of his children even more effective by verbalizing a few particular messages to his young ones. He should tell them (more than just once) that he is very thankful to have met their mother, to have been lucky enough to have this wonderful woman say yes when he asked her to marry him, and to be able to spend his life with her and the wonderful family that has resulted.  In this way the child will gradually see the unfolding of human sexuality in the context of a loving relationship between his mother and father, coming to see that children are the result of the loving relationship between a husband and wife.  Parents can consciously choose to follow this approach even though it may also naturally happen without any planning.  The normal experience of human love lived in a family and occasionally spoken about should be adequate for a boy up to about fourth grade.

The first planned father-son talk…

Around fourth grade a father should have the first of a few “planned talks” on the topic of human sexuality with his son (and mothers with daughters, but this is not the topic of this article).  I first spoke with my oldest son, Michael, when he was in fifth grade.  I told him that I had something that I would like to talk about with him and set a day and a time.  We drove to a nearby park with some trails that meander through the woods.  We started to walk and I told him that I wanted to tell him about God’s plan for human sexuality, that this is a very beautiful and good plan, and that it is under attack today by people who want to ruin it.  He listened attentively and asked some questions which I patiently answered.

At the end of our discussion I told him that it is best if boys hear about God’s plan for human sexuality from their fathers and that this happens for many boys.  I also told him that some boys may not hear about this from their fathers but learn some of this in other ways, which is not as good.  I told him that he should not be the one to teach anyone else about what we had discussed.  Specifically I told him that he was not to fill in his brother Thomas (16 months younger) on this topic (or anyone else at school).  And I told him that he needs to be strong in defending what is right in these matters; that if he hears anyone speaking badly about these things he should tell them to stop and, if necessary, tell me or another adult depending on the situation.  He seemed to understand.

When we arrived home Thomas was very curious.  From his perspective, Dad had just left to have an important discussion with his older brother, and he wanted to know what it was about.  He asked Michael several times and all Michael would tell him is that he completely refused to talk about it, that he would hear about it from Dad when the time was right.

This would not do for Thomas, so I agreed to take him out to talk with him.  I had a similar talk with Thomas, going to the same park and walking along the same trails, about one week after doing so with Michael.  Thomas was in fourth grade at the time.  Since then, I have had similar initial talks with two more of my sons, Joseph and Stephen, when they were in fourth grade.  At the end of each of these talks I emphasized that I am happy to answer any questions, encouraging my sons to feel free to come and talk with me if they have any concerns in this area.

The following are some points that I think are helpful to keep in mind when getting ready to have the first father-son talk about human sexuality:

 

 

 

 

How long should the first father-son conversation be and how much should be covered? I think the answer to these questions is that it depends. If the first of these father-son conversations takes place around fourth grade there is not really that much of a need to cover things in depth. The main point is to have this conversation as a way of getting the right perspective to your son before he hears other perspectives, which he will. The first conversation does not have to cover everything. A good rule of thumb is to present the basics in the right way and then let your son’s questions guide how much further to go in various areas.

Ideas for ongoing father-son conversations…

After the first father-son talk other conversations should follow. These conversations may happen because a son comes to his father with questions or because a father realizes that it has been a while since the last conversation and that it is time to gently initiate a further conversation. If a boy has questions about these matters he hopefully will feel comfortable going to his father. In many cases, he may be shy or embarrassed. In thinking about each of his sons a father can usually tell when it is time to connect. If a year or two go by and all seems well it still might be a good idea to go for a walk with your son and ask him if he remembers the earlier conversations about God’s plan for human sexuality. Your son will appreciate you taking the time to ask him if he has any questions and using this as a chance to again cover the beauty of God’s plan and the virtues that we are called to live. What follows are points that could guide additional conversations or, in some cases, could be brought up in the first father-son talk as appropriate:

The virtue of chastity…

Chasity is the virtue by which one possesses oneself so as to be able to love others with the pure love that God pours into our hearts.  It is a virtue meant for everyone, married or single. A chaste person is someone who does not seek to use other people for his own benefits or pleasure. A chaste person is someone who can love in the best way possible because his loves are all in proper order. It can be a struggle to live this virtue. In talking with young boys it is probably enough to just let them know that we are called to have a clean heart and that if at any time you have questions about this you can always ask me, your father, or ask a priest in confession. In talking with older boys it can be helpful to talk about the practical side of striving to live chastity, how to “guard one’s eyes” and “guard one’s heart.” A great story to bring up is the fall of the great King David, who is called “a man after God’s own heart.” David’s fall starts with his failure to guard his eyes. He looks at Bathsheba in the wrong way and one thing leads to another, culminating in the planned murder of Uriah. Even so, David repents when corrected by Nathan the prophet. Talking about this story with your son can be a good way to teach about the struggle to live the virtue of chastity, as well as the healing mercy of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Details at home…

Fathers should also make sure that certain practical preventive measures are followed in the home. These details, though very important, are in no way sufficient to protect one’s family. It would be a mistake to think that taking care of these points can serve as a substitute for good father-son communication and trust.

 

 

 

 

 

Teens and dating…

As their children grow into young adults, parents will need to carefully consider how they will handle dating. On the one hand, most would agree that parents who forbid any interaction with the opposite sex for their high school age sons and daughters are being too strict and risk rebellion and potential problems. On the other hand, it is well known that an intimate personal romance among a high school age couple rarely ends well.

The very nature of an exclusive personal relationship between a man and a woman is that it is ordered toward marriage and can only be fulfilled completely through marriage and all that this union involves. Ideally a young man and a young woman would only begin such a relationship if the intention is to be open to discerning a vocation to marriage. If conditions are present that make such a marriage impractical at the time and for the foreseeable future then any personal relationship that forms has a built-in tension that is unfair to the couple. There are examples of long periods of courtship that have led to stable and happy marriages, but this is rare and can be difficult. For every high school couple that has ended up happily marrying after college, there are many more examples of broken hearts and sadness. Too many high school students who become involved in intimate relationships end up broken hearted, depressed, or worse. Problems with high school romance can impact all areas of life: academic, social, family, ethical, and faith.

So how should parents navigate these challenging waters? What guidance should parents provide their high school age children in this area? While there is no perfect set of guidelines that covers exactly how to do this, the following general points can be helpful:

 

 

 

 

 

The father-son conversation prior to the first date…

Parents who are working to avoid the extremes of forbidding all interaction between the opposite sexes and allowing their children to enter into exclusive personal dating relationships will often find that the school prom, typically during the junior and senior year, provides the first dating situation. The prom ideally is a dignified event where, even though a young man and a young woman attend as dates, they are with their peers in a setting that has a higher tone than a typical high school dance (these are not recommended). Some schools do things to help set a higher human tone at this event, such as beginning with a sit down dinner and hiring a live band. In some cases there are even dancing lessons. The prom can be an excellent way to help train young men and women how to interact in a more formal setting.

Prior to the prom (or whatever the occasion of a first date) a father-son conversation could cover the following points:

 

 

 

 

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