Focus: Dad's Distance More Damaging Than He Realizes

Q: My father didnít offer me much in the way of affection or emotional support, and Iím implementing this same style of fathering with my boy. Though I realize this approach might be softened, Iím convinced it will ultimately make him tough and spur him on to achieve more than he otherwise would. What do you think?

Jim: As an orphan who grew up without a nurturing father figure, I learned the hard way how critical the demonstration of love and compassion is to effective fathering. Many men donít realize how desperately their sons need their love, affection, approval and affirmation. Boys even need a certain amount of appropriate physical touch from their dads. There is a tendency among some fathers to withhold emotion, tenderness and approval in their interactions with their sons. Iíd caution you, though, that this approach can be destructive and damaging.

Just as dangerous is the impulse to insist that he share all of your interests and grow up to be ďjust like dad.Ē You can communicate genuine love for your son and validate his manhood by encouraging him to follow his natural bent and develop his own unique God-given talents. If heís a born musician, donít force him to play football. Or if heíd rather turn a wrench than crack a book, donít expect him to become a Rhodes Scholar.

Itís all well and good to talk about the importance of being strong and learning to overcome obstacles. But Iíd suggest that life is capable of giving your son all the adversity he needs without any help from you. Your role is to get on his team and help him face the opposition with confidence. Instead of adding to the pressure, stand beside him as an encourager, comforter, cheerleader and friend.

Q: My friend and her husband are divorcing, and sheís asked my husband to provide counseling and advice. I think she should be getting support from another woman, but he feels he should help her. What do you think?

Dr. Greg Smalley, executive director of marriage and family formation: Your question reminds me of a story I read about a group of New York firefighters who had been charged with caring for the widows of fallen firefighters following the 9/11 tragedy. Sadly, although they had accepted the assignment with honorable intentions, within two years up to a dozen had left their wives and families for the women they were asked to help support.

The point: Even if your husband is gifted with unusual wisdom, and even if your friend genuinely values his opinion, itís still vital to maintain proper boundaries in marriage. To put it more bluntly, you and your husband need to protect your own relationship. As we see it, the kind of help your friend needs requires a level of intimacy and trust that simply isnít appropriate between a woman and a man who isnít her spouse. A mature, wise and caring woman would be in a far stronger position to relate to all that sheís experiencing at this moment. If she really wants his input, invite her to come over and talk with the two of you sometime.

One last thought before closing. As a man of integrity and good sense, your husband needs to realize that he earned this good reputation by setting reasonable boundaries. If he wants to hold on to it, heís going to have to maintain those boundaries and keep those fences in good repair. Our advice to both of you is to get on the same team and do everything you can to prevent this from driving a wedge between you.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.

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