Boys need real dads, not just fathers to put food on the table, set curfews, and make sons clean the garage. Real dads play catch, lead hikes in the woods, tell stories at bedtime, wrestle on the living room carpet.

Real dads shoot their sons like arrows to impact the next generation. It is tough to be a real dad. The price to become one must be paid in time and commitment. Our world is short of both; there are demands and distractions that call us away from the things that matter most.

Life is a never-ending series of changes and dads must listen to the call of opportunity. They must test their skills against greater challenges, but they must test their hearts against the worth of their sons.

A father’s life can be filled with building bigger barns to store our achievements and wealth. We are eager to respond to their deep desire to achieve and accomplish. In the process of building bigger barns, fathers must be very careful not to destroy the priceless little barns. The valuable little barns in many men’s lives are their sons. Too often the price that is paid on the way to the top is the souls of the sons.

Sons lose the security of knowing they are worth more to us than a corner office. They lose the instruction that can be given only when they are ready to ask the question. They lose the mentoring of a tested warrior.

Life is a series of wonderful, curious, powerful, eternal moments that form the collections we call “life.” These collections of moments change little boys into men. Moments can be cold, hurtful, painful, destructive, or meaningless, scattered in disarray over the days of childhood. Or they can be warm, strong, joyful, healthy, and intentional. Ordered to create insightful, stable, noble young men who are able to meet the challenges of the next generation and beyond.

Dads must be involved in these moments of maturation. They must invest time, energy, and wisdom to make each moment achieve its strategic impact. Since our societies have moved from the country to the big city and from the farm to the office, many dads have lost touch with the hearts of their children. The core of many fathers’ worth and satisfaction exists at the work place. Home becomes an annoyance, a sideshow, or a disposable appendage. Dads have learned to delegate tasks. Making good decisions is the greatest skill to be acquired in the information age. After a long day of decision making the easiest decision is to delegate the child-rearing to Mom. Children need Mom, but they need Dad too.

Sons need the model of maleness that they can best find in their father. They need Mom’s love and warmth, but they need Dad’s love and strength.

It seems odd to me that when a mom spends time with her children she is “parenting.” But when it is a dad’s turn to watch the children, we say he is “baby-sitting.” The difference between parenting and baby-sitting has to do with the motivation of the heart and the length of the impact. Dads need to parent with a heart of love and with a desire to prepare each son (or daughter) for a life that will make a difference for generations to come.

No father’s deathbed regret is that he did not spend enough time at work and too much time with his son. The pain of misplaced priorities has haunted many “successful” fathers. We don’t intentionally destroy the souls of our sons, we just fail to attend to their needs. The natural course of events, free from a father’s support and guidance, claims its prey.

But somehow, our kids “make it.” Somehow, despite our carelessness, ignorance, and incompetence as fathers, our kids make it. The challenge is to help them make it with as much strength, skill, wisdom and confidence as possible. Here are 10 suggests to help you invest in your son:

  • Tell him stories about yourself when you were his age.
  • Admit you are wrong and apologize.
  • Work together to wash the car and then his bike.
  • Write your son a letter telling him the things he does well and the positive character traits you see in him.
  • Hug and love his mother.
  • Look at him when he is talking.
  • Choose a service project you are both interested in to work on with your son.
  • Give him an allowance that is dependent on his completion of assigned chores around the house.
  • Help coach his baseball team.
  • Tell him “I love you!” as often as he can stand it.

Adapted from How to Be Your Little Man’s Dad. By Dan Bolin and Ken Sutterfield. Published by Nav Press. Copyright © 1993 by Dan Bolin and Ken Sutterfield. Used with permission.