By John Eldredge
The Secret to Boys
Every boy loves adventure. Give a boy a bicycle and it is not enough for him to just be able to ride it. He wants to see how fast it can go, ride with no hands, jumping it off the curb, and make engine speedy screeching and crashing noises. It is no longer simply a bike he’s riding and he is no longer merely a boy. He is a motorcycle racer, a fighter pilot, a starship captain. The stories boys love, the games they play are full of battle and adventure. They love to build things and then blow them up.
Every boy wants to be a hero. Every boy wants to be powerful, he wants to be dangerous, and he wants to know: Do I have what it takes? Every boy, even when he is older, wants to come out on top, wants to prove himself. All through those years, when he’s riding his bike with no hands or trying to look cool or into fast cars or playing computer games filled with battle and adventure or making the sports team or wanting to do well in his test, and doing all those other things that boys do, he is looking to impress his father.
Because every boy shares the same basic question: “Do I have what it takes?”
And every boy looks to his dad to answer that.
The Secret to Girls
Every little girl is asking one basic question too. But it’s a very different question. You can observe it in nearly everything she does. Girls love to brush each others’ hair, go to tea parties, sit down with make-believe china, be very polite, have grown up conversations making the party an entirely feminine affair. It’s all part of those relational games that girls create. Girls invent games like “mommies and daddies”, “wedding day” and “rescue the princess”. Girls do like adventure and love playing sports. But there is something profoundly different between little boys and little girls. On a rainy day trapped in the house, girls will cuddle, care for, dress up, or design outfits for their favourite doll or stuffed animal, while boys will terrorise the cat and play commando. Give girls their mommy’s shoes, clothes and jewelry and they can be captured for hours playing “princess”, “movie star” and generally being beautiful.
For her the question is very different from that of her brothers. Every girl wants to know: Am I lovely?
When she grows older, she talks on the phone for hours and wants to know who is dating whom. She watches shows about relationship, pores over fashion magazines and bridal magazines, loves to get cards and flowers from a secret admirer. Why are flowers such a big deal to women? Because of what it says. I’m thinking of you… I delight in you. All through those years when she’s dressing up and doing shows and playing princess and trying to look beautiful and shedding tears over the fact that she may not be, she is trying to capture her father’s attention.
She wants to know: Am I lovely? That’s the question every little girl is asking.
And she looks to her dad to answer it.
What a Father Needs To Do
Fathering can be very simple: answer your child’s question.
Answer, “Yes, you have what it takes,” or “Yes, you are lovely.”
Answer it a thousand times in a thousand ways over the course of your son’s and daughter’s life, and you will have done your job.
Understand what a little boy and a little girl needs to hear from you their father, understand each ones’ question. Then answer it intentionally, answer it with love, and you will have offered the best a father can give.
No matter how old your child is, he /she will always want and need to hear those words from you.
To a son: “I am so proud of you. You have what it takes. You are a man.” To a daughter: “I love you. You are lovely. You are worth fighting for.”
Somehow when a child is secure in this kind of love, the wounds they experience in life just don’t go quite so deep, and the lesser failings in life are more easily forgotten.
The Most Powerful Man in the World
A man’s worst fear is some version of failure. To lose their job, to mess things up, etc. because all those things in some way prove that they don’t have what it takes.
A woman’s worst fear is abandonment. Most women can survive career setbacks. Failure doesn’t seem to matter as much because a woman fears she won’t be loved. It shouts to the world, “She wasn’t worth pursuing; she wasn’t worth fighting for”.
Fathers need to know that their lives mattered. That when the time came they had what was needed. They came through. There was something powerful about their lives.
“You, Dad, are the most powerful man in the world… at least in their world. Your children are looking to you to answer the deepest question of their lives. How you handle their hearts will shape them for the rest of their lives. Never forget that no one is as powerful as you are in the lives of your sons and daughters.”
We are not saying that Mom is unimportant. Mother teaches us unconditional love, and teaches us about mercy. She is a comforter. When boys or girls want to do something adventurous they don’t usually ask Mom, they ask Dad. But when they cut their fingers or skin their knees, they usually run to Mom. Mother is love, tenderness and mercy.
But identity – especially gender identity – is bestowed by the father. A boy learns if he is a man, if he has what it takes, from his dad. A girl learns if she is worth pursuing, if she is lovely, from her dad. This power is given to the father. Every father can offer this. Every dad has what is takes.