What Dads Need to Teach Their Sons

I believe the family is the primary determinant for establishing order out of chaos and serving to mold the larger social realm we are all a part of.  Within that context, a most critical responsibility falls upon the father to teach their sons that though their strength may be based in part on a physical advantage over the other members of the family, it is not one that should ever be used to destroy their self-esteem that is so vital for a fully productive life.



There are only a few people in this world that I can’t express any tolerance for and at the top of that short list are the men who abuse children and women.  The pedophiles, the abusive boyfriend, the wife-beating husband or child-pummeling dad.  I, my two other brothers and one sister were raised by a father who, though never a likely nominee for the father of the year award, never physically abused us or our mom.

Yes, there was physical discipline that he administered but often as a directive from Mom.  Those quit occurring however at an early age when dad informed mom he was no longer going to be her punisher.  She could issue the physical discipline herself when she deemed it necessary or not at all.  As I recall, we never were “whipped” again by our father or even from mom for that matter.  Other forms of discipline came into play, like groundings and household labor tasks.

Dad hated the whippings and I’m sure mom did too.  They were both raised by a generation who deemed such practices as part of parenting.  This was one tradition I’m glad they saw little lasting value with.  There was however a more noble tradition that my parents were raised with and that was that a man never hits a woman – EVER.  Not that this ugly practice didn’t still exist or that some Southern Christian men even felt it was their natural right to physically correct women who would “forget their place” in the social order of the day.  But dad always viewed those men who would beat a defenseless woman as someone beneath him and I remember a conversation we had in my pre-teen years where he made this known to me.  Just that once, but it stuck with me.

Role Models

As a child of the 1950’s when TV was just starting to become a common fixture in most households, most of what we became engrossed in were the movies from the 30’s and 40’s that had strong male figures who served as role models for most of us.  Mine were Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.  Their masculinity always shined through in their performances but not in any overtly aggressive fashion.  If the plot involved a scene where a woman struck them across the face for some offense the man had said or did, he would not retaliate in like manner.

Only the villainous character would strike a woman and if our hero was in the same room when this happened, Bart the bad guy would soon realize the mistake he had made.  I identify with that reaction to this day.  These on-screen examples and my dad’s own words etched in stone for me, as it did I’m sure for many of my friends growing up then, that hitting a woman is never acceptable.


In a scene from the 1939 film Dodge City, Errol Flynn offers Olivia de Havilland security with his respect for women and his six-shooter.  Today however there is less respect for women and over half of the violent acts perpetrated by men against women occur with guns

So was this life-lesson lost on too many other males of my generation?  Did some miss it and thus fail to pass it on to their sons?  Perhaps it isn’t that there are actually more instances of women and children being battered and abused today as a result of men who were not properly raised to respect women.  Perhaps we are just hearing and seeing more of this intolerable behavior because public attitudes have changed where it no longer remains behind closed doors.  This and the fact that we are more exposed to such behavior through the social media sources present today could account for what seems to be an epidemic of male aggression towards women and children.

I don’t know either if there is a link between those who abuse women and children and men who were raised under some strict orthodox view about the roles of men and women.  No matter what the political, philosophical and religious influences, there are examples of each where men have abused members of their family.  Yet, while I am sure no man with so-called traditional values would align themselves with wife beaters and child abusers, there exists a mindset inherent with conservative males where many take offense to the role of modern women today – working outside the family and raising children by themselves – and still hold that some forms of corporal punishment are acceptable for children.  The traditions of their youth where they were raised with such notions have perhaps been ingrained more permanently than others who take a broader view of social conditions today, especially as it relates to the family.

Do such men ultimately cross a line where physical abuse feels right to them?  If so, did their fathers fail to instill in them as mine did for me that you never hit a woman, or worse, did their fathers themselves serve as a role model for wife beating and child abuse?  Do their conservative values that fostered the notion that women are subordinate to men and sparing the rod spoils the child create a crack in that taboo wall of wife beating and child abuse?  Are the ones who cross that line also victims of abuse themselves or suffer mental health issues that prevent them from controlling their actions?


I have no real sympathy for people like Ariel Castro who’s been charged with kidnapping three women in Cleveland recently, two who were teenagers at the time and held them as his personal sex slaves for 10 years.  There’s that part of me that wants to see him hung by his male genitalia and die a slow death from a thousand cuts.  Then there’s that part of me that knows that Castro is not normal in the head.   This makes him a victim too, albeit an unsympathetic one.  Sane and mentally healthy men raised in a manner as I and millions of other Americans were don’t easily fall prey to victimizing weaker people, especially women and children.

The brain is a durable organ under most of what life gives us.  But when it is traumatized from physical or emotional injuries, something breaks down that no longer allows one to see their world “normally” anymore.  Castro has already stated that he was an abused child but how much of this is a move by the defense and how much is real and related to what led him to do the awful thing he did to three innocent girls remains to be seen.  I’d be willing to bet that he was traumatized in some way that effected a healthy brain.  I’d also bet there was a father who never had that conversation with his son about respecting women and limiting any discipline to a child to things NOT physical or emotionally disturbing like, “you’ll burn in hell for that”.

I don’t know that people like Rush Limbaugh who belittles today’s modern woman the way he does is capable of caring out a heinous act like Ariel Castro.  But what makes a man publicly vilify a woman for her stand on birth control and refer to her as a slut and a prostitute?  Limbaugh’s audience numbers in the millions and I suspect more are men than women.   Mentally healthy male listeners who tune into Limbaugh’s talk show regularly are not going to victimize women in abusive fashions from Limbaugh’s frequent femi-nazi slurs.

Limbaugh  sandra-fluke-the-view

Limbaugh attacked Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke last year after she spoke to a congressional hearing about supporting birth control legislation in Obamacare

But what of those men who themselves suffered some early childhood trauma at the hands of their father or a step-father or a bullying uncle?  Are these men who also listen to the Christian-right preachers who rail against “promiscuous women” and warn of End Times to punish a “sinful” nation.  Does all of this congeal into a state of mind that pushes such unstable men over the edge and validate a notion that says they have a right to control women and children in some sick demented version of doing it for their own best interest?  Is this part of the thinking of some male conservative christian legislators in those states who pass laws that do all they can to control a woman’s right to an abortion?

We Need to Change

Back in March of this year there was a rally held in Dallas supported by conservative Mayor Mike Rawlings that featured notable sports figures including Emmitt Smith and Roger Staubach along with other local male religious leaders and politicians.   It was an effort to bring attention to domestic violence in Dallas where boyfriends and spouses are physically injuring and killing their lovers and wives.  Such an event, something unheard of when I was a child, tells us that our sons have not undergone that right of passage where a father talks to his son about respecting women.

mike rawlins

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on stage March 23rd of this year in front of city hall with other notable speakers calling out men to act against domestic violence in the city

In Dallas [alone] last year, 26 women were killed by their intimate partners, up from 10 the year before. The death of Karen Cox Smith—whose husband has confessed to shooting her in a parking lot in January—has become a rallying point for those hoping to reverse the trend. Mayor Mike Rawlings is a big part of that effort, becoming a high-profile advocate against domestic violence in the last few months, and urging Dallas men to speak up and take responsibility.    SOURCE  

The group that had been formed from this effort is called Dallas Men Against Abuse.  When I went to its website and clicked on the link at the top of the page “What  It takes To be a Man” I was thoroughly delighted to see at the top of the list something my dad told me fifty something years ago – “A man never hits a woman”.  It’s corollary was also on that list – “A man teaches his son to respect a woman”

It’s good to have these ideals I’ve held so long validated by other men my age.  And its good to see some men standing up and trying to address the issue of domestic violence.  But a closer look at this group shows that they are simply “good Christian men” who appear to view wife beaters and child abusers as men who suffer a character flaw and tend to characterize such deviant behavior as “sin” rather than as a mental health problem.  Nowhere on their website does it discuss addressing mental health needs of known abused children and especially young boys who were raised with no fathers or fathers who were far more absent in their lives than they were present.


This cycle of violence by men towards women and children needs the message that Dallas Men Against Abuse is advocating to help deter further abuses, but like any deviant behavior that deals in violence, we can’t merely issue a “Just Say No” proclamation and expect everything to magically disappear.   There needs to be early intervention and constant support for men who show any signs of aggressive behavior in their family settings.  We need to watch male children who are known victims of sexual and physical abuse and track them during their formative years to ensure that the ill-effects of their abuse doesn’t lead to more of the same in any future relationships with women.

To never hit a woman is not something imprinted in our male genes. It is a learned trait and relies heavily on being brought up in a stable family environment where the father serves as a role model who respects his wife, loves his children and doesn’t routinely fall back on uncontrolled rage when life doesn’t play out the way he wants.  Our culture sends a mixed signal to many men with the media images played out in the cinema and the extremist voices on radio and TV that chastises women and children who don’t tow a strict religious interpretation of archaic scriptures.  It doesn’t help either when we force women to have unwanted pregnancies and men are too often absolved of their responsibilities for a child that has ever right to be raised in a loving, stable environment.  

16 responses to “What Dads Need to Teach Their Sons

  1. I agree with you on this excellent post…well done.

    I have a cure for people that abuse other people…..there first arrest you start with the little finger of the left hand and cut off a joint and you continue with every act afterwards …they either alter their behavior or become fingerless….it is cold and harf but lessons will be learned.

    • You know, my baser instincts agree with you on your “cure” but as I pointed out a lot of this results from a breakdown in the family and even the “system” at times that could have stopped a lot of this abuse before it got started. But inevitably each person has to be held accountable for their actions if their mental state doesn’t show 5-star lunacy ratings.

      Like gun violence the fix can’t lie solely in an item of violence. There is an entire culture out there that needs repair if we are to have any measure of success in reducing violence of any kind. And it needs to begin in the early formative years.

  2. Well said! I had a Domestic Violence caseload when I was a Probation Officer. Abuse, in all forms, is like a plague out there.

  3. It is true: abuse begets abuse, and your appeal to monitor victims through their formative years is spot on. It’s very easy to view violence as some isolated behavioral malfunction, but wires typically don’t cross as random happenings.

    Great post. I’m constantly amazed at how sound your thinking is, Larry. There’s a sturdy calmness in the way you write, and its an impressive thing.

    Sounds like I had a dad very similar to yours.

    • Thanks John. This blog exists in part to allow me to lay out my thoughts slowly and view them before making them public. Speaking doesn’t come in such an organized fashion for me, which is why I greatly admire those who can ad lib on the spot and articulate things clearly and in such great detail.

      “Sounds like I had a dad very similar to yours”

      Believe it or not that has come through in your writings.

  4. The causes of violence are broad and thus in the end, there is no answer except a blanket–DO NOT DO IT. I would argue that women have no right to hit men either, and in some cases the woman has the greater physical heft. I’d be just as harsh on the woman who abuses a man (though most men don’t come forward out of shame perhaps) as on men who abuse women or children. But as much as we might know that there are “causes” that may be in some sense legitimate, there is no viable alternative that a prohibition that allows for no excuses. Only then can we perhaps get past this and hopefully start addressing the myriad reason which cause humans to strike out in anger at those they claim to love and those they don’t even know.

  5. Good post. In my World Politics class we discussed the Rwandan genocide in detail, along with issues like human trafficking. I think the key component in everything from those to domestic violence is abstraction – abstraction is the root of all evil. If humans are abstracted into some category, it is possible to objectify them and not see them or treat them as a subject – a human with value. You can’t do like Castro did if you see women as humans with value – you can only behave as he did if he believes them simply an instrument not use for his own purposes. To me the key solution is to raise children with values that include connecting with others, empathizing, and stressing common values. Abstraction is learned.

    • I think that’s definitely an aspect that plays into domestic violence Scott. Despite the fact that many Hutus and Tutsis were close neighbors and friends, it seemed to be lost on those who viewed them in the abstract manner you refer to.

      Perhaps that is what is going when the messaging of people like Limbaugh and religious-right fanatics dehumanize those people they don’t share certain bonds with or see them caste in a way that reflects some outdated world view. If this type of indoctrination is going on in some early stages of a man’s life, will it likely carry over to the one he falls in love with and marries and the children they raise?


  6. Great post, Larry. Throughout the world, rape is occurring on a daily basis. We’re all doing something terribly wrong to have allowed this to become part of our lives. Yes, parents have to deliver the right messages at the right time. And punishment has to be severe for those who think that violence is the answer. In the case of Castro, he’s plain nuts. I wish we could all recognize those folks long before they become the monsters they are.

  7. Interesting. Growing ;up my father and mother always had a attitude of non-violence of any sort, except for self defense. Dad then taught me that a left hook to the nose is the quickest way to end things. A system of last resort. I amplified that with my son. Never look for trouble, and if it walks into you, try to walk away. If that doesn’t work….just looking like you CAN deliver a left hook is usually enough. And if all else fails….a good left hook to the nose.
    I taught him that instigating any sort of violence is announcing that you do not have the intellect, self respect, manners or tact to resolve conflict. A truly poserful man respects all humans….plus puppies, kittens, butterflies, goldfish……and mice—if they are not in the house. And if they are in the house, try a live trap first.

  8. The advice your Dad gave you mirrors the advice my Dad gave me. He only gave me one piece of advice about women. He said, “Always treat a woman right — and if you can’t do that, then get the hell out of the way and let her find a man that will treat her right.” I never forgot that, and it’s served me well over the years.

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