10 Things Every Father Should Teach His Son

This Father’s Day, while every hack features writer is wearing another layer off of the already threadbare clichés about thanking dads for all of their contributions to our lives, I thought it might be helpful to give new, potential, and unsure fathers out there a few suggestions for wisdom to impart to their growing sons.

These are all skills that people can learn from other people, from books, or organizations, or the internet. But the fundamentally important thing that a boy learns from his father is how to be a man. That is probably the most difficult thing for a boy to learn, and the one that no one else can properly teach him. Every boy grows up, not every boy grows into a man.

It should be noted that dads also play a vital role in the development of their daughters too, but being neither a dad nor a daughter, I am wholly unqualified to dispense advice in that arena. It should also be noted that there are no links in this post to studies, surveys or other scientific bloviating on what constitutes ideal parenting. This is for two reasons: first, for every study that supports one claim about parenting and its effects, there are two others that  support the opposite claim, which reveals more about the limits of the scientific method than it does about the effectiveness of parenting. Second, I am both deeply skeptical of the science of human development and a fundamentally lazy writer. So on that note, on to the advice!

1) How to Read

This one should be a no-brainer. Every kid needs to know how to read if he or she wants to succeed in life. And while the child-pens that they spend their 7th through 18th years in will impart that skill, kids who learn it before going off to school are better equipped than those who do not. Besides which, spending time reading to and with your kids teaches them that reading for both knowledge and pleasure are things that well-rounded adults do.

2) How to Swim

Water covers 70% of the earth’s surface, including oceans, lakes, rivers and swimming pools. If your son doesn’t know how to swim, he is ill-equipped for traveling on most of this planet. While it’s true that people can live full happy lives exclusively on terra firma, being unable to swim means a child is basically doomed to flailing death if his plane crashes, or his car goes off a bridge, or he gets pushed into a swimming pool in a hilarious party scene. Besides, teaching your son to swim also teaches him both to trust that you won’t let him down in his time of need, and to make those first struggling paddles toward independence.

3) How to Ride a Bike

Within about an hour of being issued a driver’s license, most people forget how important a part of their lives the bicycle is. It teaches you balance, coordination, and judgment skills that are applicable anywhere. In addition, knowing how to ride a bike extends the distance that you can travel on your own, and gives you the freedom to explore your world alone or with your friends. Opinions vary on the right age for kids to learn to ride, but they should be on tricycles as soon as they learn to walk, and bicycles when they have the coordination not to biff with the training wheels on.

4) That Work = $

Kids should be taught from a very early age to pick up after themselves. That they keep their rooms clean, and keep their stuff neat and out of other people’s way is a basic expectation. But when you put them to work doing more than maintaining their own personal space, by say mowing the lawn or washing the car, it is not only reasonable to reward them with a little extra money, it also forges the crucial connection between performing jobs that other people value, and getting something of value in exchange.

5) How to get a haircut

This one is not so obvious. There are places that specialize in cutting kids’ hair, and until your son reaches the cutoff age, they are perfectly fine places to take him. But once he is around probably ten or eleven, it is time to take him to the barber shop. It’s okay to tell the barber what to do initially, but you should gradually allow your son to decide on his own style as he grows. Having the freedom to make decisions about his own look helps a boy develop a sense of identity. Having the knowledge of the options (clipper guards, sideburns, neckline, etc.) and one’s own head gives him the tools to make those decisions confidently. Besides, the barber shop is a bastion of masculinity where guys can bullshit about sports, jobs, and women in a welcoming environment of camaraderie.

6) How to Use Tools

Using a hammer to bang in a stray nail or a screwdriver to build a piece of IKEA furniture is a skill that everyone, son or daughter, should have, and it can be learned through trial and error if you don’t have a father handy to teach it to you. But being able to use power tools to shape wood or metal to build something new is a fundamentally creative capacity, and one that gives a man the ability to literally shape his world and do something for himself that he might otherwise have to settle on.

7) How to Drive

Obviously most kids first learn to drive from their parents, so this one is kind of a given. But in addition to teaching your son to drive a manual transmission as well as an automatic, it is important to teach a kid to drive before he’s old enough for a driver’s license.  Most states issue learner’s permits between 14 and 15, but when I learned to drive at age 13, it was also a lesson that my parents and my judgment about my own capabilities were more accurate than the judgment of the state. That’s a lesson that carries even after you park the car.

8) How to Drink

This is another instance where the government’s restrictions are no substitute for a parent’s judgment. Teaching your kids to drink in moderation from a young age will shape their attitudes toward alcohol and other drugs. Specifically, it will teach them to pace themselves and to have someone they can trust around if they are going to drink to excess. As a bonus, getting drunk with your parents will take away some of the rebellious appeal of doing it when they are not around.

9) How to Dress

There are a couple of things that fit under this category. A dad should teach his son how to buy a suit and have it tailored. Some guys wear a suit to work every day, others only wear them to funerals. Either way, a suit should be the outfit that a man looks his best in, which means first and foremost that it should fit properly.

Second, a dad should teach his son how to tie a necktie. The necktie is an outdated, pointless, uncomfortable fashion accessory, and the day our civilization leaves it behind will be one day closer to the perfect world. But until then, you need to know how to work one to get a job.

Third, though not strictly dressing-related, a father needs to teach his son how to shave. No matter what your preferred method is, you need to teach your son how to hit the tricky spots, how to avoid razor burn, and to use after-shave sparingly.

10) How to Learn

One of the things that bugs me the most when I am out is overhearing kids earnest questioning about the world answered with “I don’t know” or “because I said so” or just “because.” Kids not only lack the knowledge that adults have about the world, they also lack the experience and frame of reference to either find out the answers for themselves or to make an educated guess. Answering their questions not only gives them a better understanding of the world, it also rewards and encourages their curiosity.

Not knowing the answer isn’t an excuse, either. Nobody has all the answers (except maybe the State of California), but educated adults know how to find the answers on the internet, at the library, or even on the Discovery Channel. So if you don’t know, say so, but always follow it up with “let’s go find out.”


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