“The Top 4 Conversations Dads Need to Have with Their Sons” originally appeared on Fatherly, and was reprinted with permission.
Think it’s hard having three kids? Try 1,703. That’s the total number of kids Dr. Tim Hawkes has as headmaster of The King’s School. The educator and author’s brood at the Sydney, Australia, boys school might dress funny in their floppy hats and stodgy coats. But under his direction, they take a respectable approach to topics fathers should take seriously with their sons: like mental health, pornography, and how much it’ll actually cost them to buy a car. Hawkes’ new book, 10 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son, serves as a road map for some of these essential chats. Here, he discusses four talks men need to have with their boys more often.
1. Discuss the ups and downs of depression.
The most common causes of death of teenage boys in the Western world are accidents and suicide, says Hawkes. The fastest growing ailment is depression. He says fathers have to teach their kids how to insulate against this “black dog,” and that means bringing the conversation out into the open.
Hawkes said he once had a boy come into his office who was upset about the comments of the other kids. “I said, ‘Who’s in control of your life? You’re giving permission to these people you don’t respect to control your mood’,” he says. He advises urging your son to “give the keys to well-being to people whose opinions you respect.” It might not work the first time. Hell, it might not work the tenth. But this advice will lead to a new understanding, and open the doors for more conversations about mental health.
2. Talk about the birds and the bees and porn.
You’ve definitely had sex (tada, a kid), but most dads don’t do a sufficient job of talking about sex in a straightforward, giggle-free way. When you don’t say anything, your kid’s peers do the talking for you. You’ve seen your son’s friends. They’re fine wingmen in Call Of Duty, but they don’t know anything about that booty.
Hawkes says, ask your son if he wants to be a “porn man or a real man.” Explain to him that a porn man is into self-gratification, self-indulgence, and domination. He’s living in a fantasy world inspired by Dan Bilzerian’s Instagram account. A real man, on the other hand, is interested in self-control, offers protection and commitment, and lives in a real world where he’s earned the respect of his family and the people around him.
He also says to open up the lines of communication by encouraging your kids to ask questions like, “When did you no longer like Mom, but you knew you loved her?” says Hawkes. It’s a conversation that will lead to others. He also says to start bringing up sexual topics during the elementary school years, because unfortunately, that’s when it starts to get real nowadays.
3. Get all Jim Cramer with your kids.
As the warrior poets of the Wu-Tang Clan once said: Cash rules everything around me. Yet, despite how many dolla, dolla bills you have, most know very little about being responsible with money. And those little people you’re spending it on know even less. Hawkes advises you make up for the lack of financial literacy lessons in schools by doing it yourself.
Begin by talking about the one thing nearly every little boy loves: cars. Well before they have their license, price out how much buying and owning one will cost. Now they can see that life is a highway, and if they want to drive it all night long they have to pony up for gas and insurance. How do lease payments work? What’s the difference between premium and super premium? And why will they hate paying bills for the rest of their lives? You can move onto other topics from there. Otherwise, they’ll hit college and not know how to handle a car payment, let alone a credit card.
4. Communicate your love by simply showing up.
Fathers tend to show their love through providing for their family. This hardwired “love language,” to use a phrase from Hawkes, was ingrained from the days when all men had to do to earn a kid’s love was drag a mammoth into a cave. But, just providing isn’t enough. In order to raise strong, well-rounded boys, he says fathers need to show kids they’re loved. “It’s not our bounty but our presence that’s hungered for by our sons,” he says.
This is the easiest trick of all — you just need to show up. Research shows that most dads spend only a few minutes a day with their sons. So, be the dad who logs a ridiculous amount of time driving to whatever karate class, finger painting show, or recorder recital they’re having. That commute might also be a good time to bring up something you’ve been meaning to talk to them about.
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