By Homer Purdy, Crosswalk.com
Very few people will deny the fact that words can be very powerful. Every person on the planet has likely experienced both the negative and positive effect that words can have on others. It’s so common that the Bible has plenty to say about the power of the tongue and the good and bad things it can do.
Fathers, because of the God-given influence they’re meant to have in the home, can cause great pain with careless words.
While the Bible has much to say about being careful about the words we say, as fathers, what we don’t say can be potentially more damaging.
Countless studies and research into the psychology of addiction and crime in men and women have revealed, time after time, the crucial role that “father wounds” play. However, even in homes where the father is a hardworking and devoted man, many men (and women) live with lifelong pain and emptiness due to the lack of affectionate or loving words from their fathers.
There’s much to say about what daughters need to hear from fathers, but for now, let’s focus on the unique and powerful bond between father and son. Using God, our Father in Heaven, as an example, here are the words that every son wants to hear from their dad.
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1. I’m Sorry
Any good father teaches their son to apologize—to own up to their mistake and accept responsibility. I’d bet that the same good man has had to apologize to friends, coworkers, a boss, or their wife more than once. But so often, these same good fathers fail to apologize to their children and while it’s important to teach your son to “man up” and apologize, it’s equally important to model that humility to your son.
Apologizing for a mistake you’ve made in front of them or involving them demonstrates to your son that you are humble and willing to admit when you’ve been wrong. Contrary to the opinion of many men, it’s not weak or effeminate to say “I’m sorry.” Admitting you were wrong is not saying that you’re less competent, less intelligent, or less strong.
In the same way, many fathers forget or don’t feel the need to apologize because they feel that their son shouldn’t be hurt by what was done or said. Expecting others to experience life as you do is arrogant and self-centered. The fact that you think your conduct is acceptable is not good enough reason that your son should just “accept it” or “get over it.”
True apologies don’t try to justify the bad behavior. A bad habit that men can fall into is using the word “but” after an apology to excuse themselves or save face. For example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you made me really mad” is not an apology it’s a defense. An apology has no “but.” If you’re truly remorseful and wish to express that to your son, then “I’m sorry” is a perfect and complete apology.
Ask your son to tell you what you did that was hurtful and listen without responding. Accept responsibility and say “I’m sorry.”
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2. Will You Forgive Me?
Hand in hand with a heartfelt and effective apology is asking for forgiveness. An apology from a father can be a profound experience that brings healing and bonding, but asking for forgiveness communicates to your son that you want a second chance, a “do-over.”
Asking your son for forgiveness is asking him to wipe the slate clean, strike the record, or permanently delete the file. Seeking your son’s forgiveness is what we’re commanded to do in Matthew 5:23-24. Forgiveness brings reconciliation—it brings resolution. It’s a reuniting of his heart to yours.
It’s been said that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. So in asking “will you forgive me?” what you’re offering is freedom from prolonged bitterness and resentment. Understand that asking for forgiveness doesn’t obligate your son to forgive you, especially if a lot of time has passed since the hurt was caused, but it is a step in the right direction. You are not responsible for their unforgiveness.
You must apologize and ask for forgiveness as soon as possible, to keep hurts from becoming deep wounds. The more time that hurt is allowed to go unchecked, the more difficult it will be for your son to believe your apology is sincere and more difficult to forgive you.
Unforgiveness can be like cancer to your son’s soul and manifest emotionally, socially, mentally, and even physically. Asking for your son’s forgiveness puts him and keeps him on the path to lifelong peace.
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3. You Make Me Happy
Think of a memory you have of your father being truly happy. Think about how it made you feel to see him so happy. Now, think about how you would’ve felt if you knew that your father was that happy simply because you were in his life.
Sons need to see their fathers being happy, of course, but sons also need to know that they are the source of their father’s happiness.
It’s all too easy to express to your son how disappointed you are in a certain behavior or how angry he might have made you, but you must be intentional about telling him how happy he makes you. Additionally, your happiness must not be tied specifically to your son’s behavior, otherwise, your son will grow up believing that they will only make you happy if they perform well.
Choose a quiet time or ordinary time when nothing special is happening. Tell him when he gets up in the morning. Tell him when he’s eating breakfast. Tell him when he’s brushing his teeth. Tell him when he tells a terrible joke or tying his shoes. More than likely, he’ll respond by asking you for a reason and that’s the perfect opportunity to reinforce the idea that HE’s the reason you’re happy.
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4. I’m Proud of You
If performing for your happiness were a handcuff on your son’s right hand, performing to make you proud would be the handcuff on his left hand. Sons instinctively want to make their fathers proud. If you love baseball, they’ll “love” baseball and likely play at least one season. However, too many times, a son isn’t the athletic specimen they believe you’ll be proud of and will struggle with insecurity.
It’s one thing for a child to make eye contact with their parents during a school choir concert—feeling reassured that you’re there. It’s another thing completely to connect their good performance—athletically, academically, or artistically—with the amount of pride you feel toward them.
Sons are often unsure of how proud their fathers are of them. No son wants to be an embarrassment to their father. And no loving father will allow their sons to believe that they are one.
The pride you feel in your son should also be unmistakable in how you speak of him to others. Speaking honorably about your son to your friends, coworkers, and other fathers will reinforce your son’s belief that you are proud of him—not just when you’re alone, but everywhere you go, in every interaction.
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5. I Love You
These three words combine to form what is arguably the most impactful and powerful sentence in the human language. This sentence doesn’t lose its potency with repetition and cannot be overused. If said with sincerity and intent, the person to whom this statement is directed will likely never grow tired of hearing it.
Telling someone you love them is quite possibly the greatest show of strength, loyalty, and commitment a man can perform. So why do so many men find it so hard to say “I love you” to their sons?
Throughout recent history, men have been taught that showing or expressing affection is not masculine. Men have been taught—whether directly or through observation—to be uncomfortable communicating their fondness for male family members and friends.
Sadly, a father that struggles to say “I love you” to his son, likely didn’t hear it from his father.
Fathers who struggle to express their love to their sons, usually try to show it in other ways. They’ll give gifts or take their son camping or hunting. Some take their sons to a sporting event. Others will give their sons money or a car. Whatever substitute you might try to use to express love to your son, nothing will ever be more effective than those three, simple, powerful words.
Our Heavenly Father, throughout the Bible, expressed over and over again how much He loved us. And while He loved the world so much that He sent His son, Jesus, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, He never shied away or hesitated to tell us that He loved us.
1 John 4:8 reminds us that God IS love. The most powerful being in the Universe embodies love—not power, not strength, not will, but LOVE.
You should be the living example of strength and patience and will to your son, of course, and the strongest thing you can do is to say “I love you” to him, confidently and without wavering.
The Time Is Now…
Today is the perfect day to start saying what your son needs to hear from you. Make these phrases a habit. Use them frequently, boldly, and humbly.
Even if you never heard these words from your father, you can change generations to come by making them part of your son’s life. Your son will grow to be a strong, confident, loyal, and loving man, who will know how to use these words with his son.
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