Q: My father was a no-nonsense man who didn't share his feelings. He taught me to be tough, work hard and make my own way in life. My wife gets upset because I'm the same way with our son. What do you think? Should men express affection to their sons?
Jim: In some ways I understand; my own upbringing was pretty rough with no fatherly connection, and that definitely shaped me. Maybe it made me tougher, but it also left a void.
I think you should take another look not only at your relationship with your son, but at your own deepest feelings and needs. Are you absolutely certain that, deep inside, you aren't hurting — resenting your dad for his lack of tenderness and empathy? Could you be taking out your resentment on your son by treating him the same? It's a possibility worth considering.
Meanwhile, remember that life itself will give your son plenty of adversity. 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.
Love and compassion are absolutely critical to effective fathering. Many men don't seem to understand how desperately their sons need their affection, approval and verbal affirmation. In raising two sons of my own, I've learned that boys even need a certain amount of appropriate physical touch from their dads.
Also, many guys make the mistake of trying to live vicariously through their sons — to require that a boy share all of his father's interests and grow up to be "just like Dad." Resist that temptation with every ounce of determination you've got. Help your son become who he is uniquely wired and gifted to be, and you'll both be winners.
Q: My relationship with my girlfriend has been one of convenience; neither of us considered it permanent. But now she's pregnant. She intends to raise the baby, and I want to do my part. But we'd face huge obstacles if we married. What's your advice?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: Let me begin by commending you for accepting responsibility for the choices you've made — including life for your baby. That said, marriage shouldn't be seen as a "quick fix." There are a number of things that need to occur and questions that need to be answered.
First, you need to sit down together and work though the practical implications of the pregnancy. At that point it might be appropriate to broach the subject of marriage. You should consider factors like emotional maturity and stability, shared values and spiritual commitment, the support of your families and adequate financial resources.
If these considerations would significantly hinder either of you committing to a lifelong relationship, I'd suggest you set aside thoughts of marriage for now and prioritize how you can financially support your child and stay engaged as a dad. But if the foundation for a strong marriage looks to be in place, I'd encourage you to consider premarital counseling with a qualified marriage counselor.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that marriage isn't the only way to provide for your child's future. A plan for adoption may be in everyone's best interest, so you and your girlfriend might want to talk to a local Pregnancy Resource Center about this option.
No matter what path you both believe to be wisest going forward, responsibility doesn't come without sacrifice. But it's important that you consider how your decisions will affect the baby's life. If Focus on the Family can help you through the process, please call us at 800-A-FAMILY.
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.