Four Things Boys Learn From Their Fathers 


Whether it is a toddler who wants to carry his father's tools as he works around the house, or the six-year-old who insists on accompanying dad on his errands, early on, boys obtain their idea of masculine behavior from their father. 

1.  How to deal with, look at, and think about women [1]

Fatherly experience teaches two important lessons: First, boys, from a very young age, want to be with their father, and will model their behavior after his.  Second, Dad's voice can be heard over and above almost any crowd.  These facts argue for a father's key role in his son's forming the virtue of chastity.

Whether it is a toddler who wants to carry his father's tools as he works around the house, or the six-year-old who insists on accompanying dad on his errands, early on, boys obtain their idea of masculine behavior from their father.  As our society more and more tries to pass off hyper-sexuality as manly, one of the first and best antidotes to this is the father's own chastity.  Although it may seem like a near-lost battle, being one of the few voices singing the virtue of pure love, there is a factor that tilts that balance into Dad's favor: to a growing boy, there is no greater authority on manliness than his father.  So dads, take heart: you can have a great effect on your son in the area of keeping a chaste heart.  Teach him the precautions one should take to guard the eyes, mind, and heart.  Let him know that you pray daily for holy purity (or, better yet, make that prayer with your family.)  Tell your son, when he's ready for it, of the beauty of chastity as a fostering of something very good.  Most of all, speak to him with your actions, whether or not he is watching you; if you live the virtue of chastity yourself, he will be more likely to follow you in it.

2.  Confidence

As a colleague of mine points out,[2] the number one factor which influences a boy's confidence is his relationship with his father.  This is not to minimize the love and care of the mother, for she plays an equally important, but perhaps differently oriented role in her son's self-confidence.[3]  Yet, there is no replacing the positive, and necessarily sincere, encouragement of a boy's father.  Why?  A boy is constantly assessing himself, testing himself, not only with regard to who he is, but with respect to what he will become.  As he will some day become a man, he finds the easiest measure in that regard to be his own father.  For not only is Dad the model of masculinity, but in a very real way, he is the family's own representative of the outside world.  If the son's truest boyhood hero thinks he is good, capable, and worthy, the boy himself is most likely to believe it.

3.  Strength, Sacrifice, and Service

As noted earlier, the first and truest hero a boy can have is naturally and properly the boy's own father.  This is especially key if the young man is to learn the virtue of sacrifice.

We may fool ourselves into thinking there is nothing heroic in our daily lives.  After all, our day-to-day is hardly newsworthy, nor does it approach the level of notice reserved for medals and public honor. But just as there is a white martyrdom, the silent and bloodless giving of one's life for Christ, so also there is an everyday heroic, which often finds itself played out in the silent offering of one's daily life and work to God.  Although the world's noise blares tales of its supposed heroes from myriad near-ubiquitous loudspeakers, the father's quiet giving of himself, day after day, and year after year, is still noticed by the son.  The quiet shouldering of burdens, the anticipation of someone's needs, the use of strength to defend the weak: these are the lessons sons learn from watching their father's daily life.

4.  What it means to be loved by the Father

St. Paul reminds us that the first, and truest, fatherhood is not that of men in this life, but is rather that of God the Father.[4]  We fathers on earth are mere imitators of the eternal Father begetting His Son; the primary fatherhood is in heaven, not on this earth.  And yet, the order in which we learn of fatherhood is inverted: our first knowledge of a father comes from our earthly dad.  This makes the role of the human father that much more important.  If Dad is cross, stern, and overly demanding, won't it be hard for a child to imagine God's intense and personal love for him?  Yet, if the father can better emulate the loving nature of our Father in Heaven, so much more can the child grasp just how loved he is.

Of course, this is true not only for sons, but for daughters as well — all children need to know the love of their fathers.  Still, there is one son-specific benefit that we cannot afford to overlook: the son who is sure of his father's love is much more likely to become a loving father, should he have that vocation, to his own children someday.  Hence, all fathers should strive to imitate God's eternal love for us, and we should all pray for fathers in that regard.


  1. Dr. Meg Meeker's book, Boys Should be Boys, makes this point very clearly; I am  partially indebted to that book for suggesting these topics.
  2. Colin Gleason, if you must know . . . but I don't want to give him too much credit in my award-winning blog post.
  3. Meeker, 91-95.
  4. Ephesians 3:14-15.




Tom Steenson. "Four Things Boys Learn From Their Fathers." only@theheights (May 18, 2012).

only@theheights is the blog of The Heights School.

The Heights School is a private, independent, preparatory school for boys, grades three to twelve. Our mission is to assist parents in the intellectual, moral, physical, and spiritual education of their sons, with dedicated teachers training boys rigorously in the liberal arts. This formation in virtue fosters respect for every person, a desire to serve God and others, and an optimistic attitude towards life's challenges. The School's Christian orientation and spiritual formation are entrusted to Opus Dei, a Personal Prelature of the Catholic Church.


Tom Steenson teaches grade 5 at The Heights School at Potomac, MD.

Copyright © 2012 Tom Steenson

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