Skip to content

A Dad’s Letter to His 18-Year-Old Son

October 5, 2009

One of our jobs, as men, is to father our sons. It’s a challenge for us because we’re constantly faced with our own demons, obstacles, experiences, expectations, fears, self-doubt, and high hopes for our progeny.

And yet, many of our sons grow up to be fine men; often times, we believe, in spite of ourselves. But in fact, it is because we are their fathers (and other important influences) that they grow to be the men they are.

Today I want to share with you a letter written by a member of our BetterMen circle to his 18-year-old son. Rather than offering my feelings about the letter, I invite you to offer your comments and to share yourselves and your experiences as parents and children.

A Letter from A.M. in Colorado

Son,

A few thoughts for you to consider as we enter what will be your final year living with us:

You’re 18. That means in the eyes of the law, you are a man. You can go to war, be tried as an adult if you commit a crime, do your own thing (within reason), etc. From another perspective, though, 18 is just a number. Many “men” can live their whole lives and die at a ripe old age without ever having let go of the boy inside of them. Often, these are guys who could never make marriages work, don’t know their kids too well and end up sad and lonely despite whatever financial or career successes they’ve realized over the years.

Part of the reason for this is that men today often don’t get any cues as to when they’re supposed to start acting like men. You’ve probably heard of manhood initiation ceremonies in some cultures, where the 13-year old kid has to spend a night in the jungle, or whatever. And when he comes back to the village he is treated as a man, he acts like a man, and he sets aside childish things. There’s a lot of validity to this kind of ceremony, but we don’t use it in our culture. As your father and the main man in your life, it’s my job, then, to do what I can to help point you in this direction.

From my point of view, you have a few things you should be working on in addition to your “core” activities (doing well in school, your work, etc.) One of those is trying to discover a better way of managing your relationship with us, your family. As you’re no doubt aware, your biggest challenge is with your mom, and I would strongly encourage you to take ownership in improving this relationship as soon as possible. I think you can understand why this would be beneficial immediately, but it also has long-term ramifications for your future relationships with women. Whether it’s your mother, your wife or some other woman in your life, you have to understand that women are wired differently than men, and that not everything boils down to winning an argument. We have a saying in the men’s group I used to be part of, and it relates to arguments with our wives but it applies here as well: When you lose, you lose; and when you win, you lose. What that means is that even if you score that touché! point, and anyone might agree that you were, in fact, correct, if you’ve left your mom, wife, girlfriend, sister etc. feeling hurt and shit upon, you’ve lost, pal. And if you can’t work up the balls to apologize, you’ve lost even further.

Our antidote (or at least one component of it) to this is simple: Don’t argue. I know, it sounds impossible, but it’s not. Many of the men in the groups I’ve been in have tried this and found it to be a life-saver. Doesn’t mean you won’t ever have a disagreement, doesn’t mean you’re letting mom/wife/whomever walk all over you. It’s just a pact you make with yourself that if you love this woman, whoever she is, you’re not going to let your little boy inside argue with her and be a dick to her if he’s not getting his way.

I know mom has her unique way of looking at things and that it can be frustrating. I also know that pretty much any woman you ever encounter and have a close relationship will have a different but equally frustrating set of idiosyncracies and maddening ways of communicating and viewing things. As men, our job is to learn to appreciate these fundamental differences (even if we will never understand them), because the other stuff that comes with those relationship is so great, so important to our well-being. When we look at our mothers, for most of us that’s the woman who would walk through fire for us, cry because she’s proud of us, even visit us in prison if we screw up. Other than your wife – if you find a good one – your mother is your Number One fan and always will be. So why would you want to piss her off and make her cry for any reason whatsoever? Isn’t that unconditional love worth swallowing some of what you think is pride or knowing you’re “right” and letting things go once in a while in the name of peace and respect?

I’ll answer that one for you: Hell yes. You’re 18 now kid, time to start silencing the little boy. It’s not easy, I know, and it won’t happen over night and you will have slip-ups even if you commit to this. What I’m telling you is that it has to start happening, because your success in life depends on it – much more than your grades, the kind of car you get, the shiny furniture in your apartment. None of that stuff matters if you can’t realize yourself as a grown man, get past the little boy who needs always to “win” and can’t ever find it in his heart to apologize or recognize that his own actions are just that: his own. The little boy will always seek to blame someone or something – anything but himself. A man can be honest with himself and admit error and apologize. And believe it or not, it feels good to do so — a lot better than stubbornly hanging onto some righteous indignation that’s nothing more than a magnet for bad feelings, bad karma.

I would be very surprised to learn that you, upon reflection, see how you treat your mother as entirely OK and acceptable. I think you would also see, upon reflection, that an 18-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman see the world very differently, and that expecting her to see things your way all the time is unrealistic — and harmful. Regardless of who is “right” in all these arguments is besides the point: What I’m asking you to do is focus on what you can control, which is your own behavior. As soon as you start to say “But she said x, y or z …” then you’ve failed. I have talked to mom (and will do so again) about working to improve how she relates to you, but again, I’m asking you to work on your side — you can’t ‘fix’ mom (or anyone else).

One more thing: Tolerance is one of the greatest virtues we can hold as human beings — and often one of the most difficult for us to achieve, especially when we’re younger and very self-focused. Tolerance can range from not condemning a passerby who looks different than you to accepting that your wife inexplicably likes some cheesy painting of seashells on the wall in the bathroom. There’s that old Chinese saying about how the wise bamboo that bends with the storm outlasts the ‘tough’ trees that stand against the wind. Right now, I see you as that unbending tree, and your unyielding presence is damaging to yourself and those around you. True, you have only a year left here, but it’s my great hope that, with a little work, we can make it more enjoyable than it is now. Also, you don’t want to ride off into the sunset with a boat-load of bad feelings in your wake. As our picking up your brother at the airport Saturday demonstrated, we will still be there for you even if you’re pissing us off because you’re our son and we love you. But you have to give as well, and I hope you can find it in your heart to see where you’re at and how YOU can make it better.

Love, Dad

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken Kendall permalink
    October 5, 2009 5:55 pm

    This is fantastic. Thank you so much for helping men see their role in fathering. I find myself so concerned about why men don’t talk to their sons about how to be great husbands. I truly don’t know of any men that discuss this with any real depth with their sons.

    I have decided to change that for my sons. I blog about how men can better love their wives. How they can be great husbands. I hope you will check it out. Maybe we could put each other on our blogrolls. Let me know what you think of the blog.

    http://whatsheneedsfromyou.wordpress.com

    Thanks,

  2. Robert Korthuis permalink
    October 5, 2009 6:22 pm

    I hope he gets it
    Good luck
    Great letter

  3. Jeff permalink
    October 5, 2009 6:37 pm

    Great letter! My oldest boy isn’t even 12 yet, and already he sometimes “gets into it” with his Mom in ways that leave them both frustrated. When I talked to him a few days ago about it the only thing I addressed is how he is and is NOT to talk to his Mom. As he gets older and is more able to understand what’s contained in this letter I’ll address more with him. The big challenge for me is to teach him how to handle things better, while resisting the temptation to ally myself with him and sympathize with him too much. I think my wife should “know better” than my 12 year-old about not arguing, so I’m often tempted to side with him, but making Mom out to be the one who’s to blame won’t help him any!

    • October 9, 2009 6:34 pm

      Maintain that “love affair” in the house, Jeff. Always protect and defend your woman. There’s time after to take your son aside and teach him.

  4. October 5, 2009 7:05 pm

    Awesome, inspiring bang-on letter.
    Love this: “As soon as you start to say “But she said x, y or z …” then you’ve failed.”

  5. bruce1953 permalink
    October 5, 2009 8:46 pm

    Hmmm, is that letter written for my son? Wise words…thanks!

  6. Jesse Hinds permalink
    October 6, 2009 8:40 am

    Nicely put. thanks for sharing that. I feel like that was written for me, albeit a looong time ago. . .

  7. Mark Baillie permalink
    October 6, 2009 5:20 pm

    Great letter.Still a little old for my 13yr old step son but I’m using the BetterMen tools to carve out a really respectful and fun relationship with him.In a few years a letter like this will come in very useful.

    Mark

  8. October 9, 2009 6:33 am

    Hey Wayne – this is really right on. So many of the self righteous coaching tips from other men’s trainings send men in the wrong direction. Thanks for teaching men what works – hey we can compete with each other whenever we want, but we need not compete with our wives.

    • October 9, 2009 6:37 pm

      That’s why I wanted to hear the wisdom from the men. What we teach through the work is terrific. But I particularly like to see how the work is amplified and applied by the men. We need all the wisdom we can get. Thanks Kris.

  9. Craig Hamilton permalink
    October 15, 2009 6:10 am

    Great letter! We have a 16 year old son who is constantly at odds with his mom. When I step in to “protect” my wife I usually get attitude and told to mind my own business.

    Getting over the little boy is a great concept. Unfortunately still working on that at 50! This gives me some great ideas for sharing with our son.

  10. Greg permalink
    November 5, 2010 10:29 am

    You curse with your son?

  11. A 18 year old permalink
    January 4, 2011 3:35 am

    Wow great read. I hope he gets it and It has helped me look at A few things different. Thanks for posting it.

  12. Joseph permalink
    October 1, 2011 12:07 pm

    A Dad’s Letter to His 18-Year-Old Son

    Lose or win verse or being reconcile; winning or losing seems a male centered attitude that look s at the final outcome verse being able to allow the relationship to blossom in the middle of adversity… measuring what is good for relationship.

    I think there is more to this letter and the relationship. The son is given one year to modify his behavior, which, probably began to sway between 10 years old to and the time the letter was written.

    The son may not simply be responding to his mom’s views but to how she expresses them. She (or) he may be overly aggressive when expressing their views. Also, both son and mom seem to have personalities issues. Dad, according to the tenor of his letter, has a “Thinking” personality type, which looks to fix things based on. Dad is making a decision, based on principle to be applied, regardless of the specific situation involved. He is analyzing the pros and cons, and then be consistent and logical in deciding. Dad is impersonal. The Dad is suggesting the son begin trying to fix the problem in a year… never happen.

    Men, women in our American culture address problem very differently. Recently there have been plethora of material, which offers insight to personality and emotional intelligence. Telling the son… to get it together does not seem to have worked thus far, and to suggest you are leaving in one-year does not appear to be the optimum condition. Youth today will wait out the year and, may never return. Dad should leave the door open and not give an “or else” decision.

    Finally, I think the Dad should begin researching out information which he can better advise his son. There is a book titled, “Raising Modern Day Knights: Giving Boys a Vision for Manhood” along these personality types will serve his son, father and mother in their relationship and relationships with colleagues, friends.

    I found these resources attractive to the youths. I would suggest saying, “We all have strengths and weaknesses. What’s right for one person may not be right for another: There are things that are important to me, which you don’t care about at all! And sometimes your behavior doesn’t make any sense to me. But I want for us to understand each other, and communicate well, because we live together in the same world. I know I can’t expect you to want the same things that I want.” We are not the same person, so we will not always see things the same way. I have my own Thoughts and my own Ideas, which may or may not fit into your vision of who I should be. By learning more about my own Personality, and about other Personality Types, I can come to a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses.

    If Dad can help improve his son interpersonal relationships, realign his expectations towards others, 
and gain a better self-knowledge this will help him define and achieve life-long goals.

  13. K.H permalink
    May 28, 2012 8:14 am

    Hi , I am a mother of a beautiful 15 yr old daughter very smart , a 4 yr old daughter that could run the country and an 18 yr old son that thinks he does run the country. My Husband is currently working away and has been for about 3 months in this time the 18 yr old has decided to date a 30 something woman and now wants to move out of the family home . I have no objections to the moving thing providing its not moving in with the woman thats only about 5 years older than me , i have tried to say its not necessary and you know you will never save money when you do move out . My parents upon there departure from this world have kept a small amount of land for him and we had all hoped he would save and build on it as it basicly is a 250k leg up , the thing is he does want to do that but in reality if he moves out thats never going to happen but apparently i dont know anything . I have cried more in recent months than i have ever cried , i feel like i have failed as a parent and am as a wife as my husband and i constantly argue about this child . Our son is consuming most of my thoughts and i know i am suffering from depression from the total lack of respect to not only me but to us all as his family and lack of respect for himself and his home,job belongings almost every aspect of his life. He was raised to always show respect and that manners are free please use them as they make people smile and respect you.
    I have just read this letter and again the tears are streaming down my face , i think partly from relief that i am not the only woman on earth that is treated so terribly, and partly because i would so dearly love for my husband to speak to our son and explain all this to him . So to A.M THANK YOU, THANK YOU,THANK YOU …for helping me feel human again if only till morning when it all starts again.

  14. Jeryl permalink
    July 8, 2012 1:10 pm

    Would you accept a rather long reply from another mother who is on the other end of a situation like the one described in the letter?

    My 18-year-old son has been verbally abusing me (not the usual “get out of my room, I hate you” type comments-those don’t faze me), but cursing (F-word and more, manipulation, judging, lying, smoking pot, yelling, and even using his body to block my entrance and exit to and from rooms). To his credit, he can also be very affectionate and loving, but this doesn’t compensate for the abuse. I take some responsibility as it always takes two to tango. I am not always easy and I have some health issues (have a mood disorder that is very well under control with meds and also have some memory problems that are a result of some treatments years ago). In spite of this, I am a very high-functioning online university professor, a musician who plays in a band and I take care of a large home. I have also raised my son alone every other week for the last six years. I have another son who is 20 and not living with me, but that’s another story.

    My 18-year-old is an amazingly gifted kid (gets it from his dad:-). He does well in school, works and will be attending college in the Fall. He has a very bright future ahead of him. He has had some minor scrapes with the law, usually as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His abusive behavior seems to be confined to his interaction with me and of course, I don’t like that he is smoking pot, even occasionally. Consequences for his smoking have gotten me nowhere.

    His dad, who is remarried, has provided virtually no help . He has given my son consequences on a few occasions and although he was a great husband, also became very verbally abusive after our divorce.

    After taking my son’s abuse for several years ( I threatened to send him to his dad’s many times but could not follow through with it) and after taking a month-long vacation when my son turned 18, I decided that was it. I told him that he and I needed counseling and that if he refused, he would have to stay at his dad’s until time to move into an apartment in the Fall.

    Well, he refused the counseling and is now at his dad’s permanently. I have pretty much received another message that I am the world’s worst mother My mother-in-law, with whom I have managed to maintain a good relationship in the last six years, told me that you never tells a child he is not welcome in your home unless he meets certain conditions.(in this case, counseling). So, I think that relationship has come to an end as well.

    I love my son immensely and very, very sad. Yet, I knew if I let him return to my home after my trip, with no intervention, it would be more of the same. The stress of the last six years has been beyond belief. I feel like I had to set this limit and dole out some tough love in order to show my son that he cannot treat me in an abusive manner. Over the years, I’ve told my ex and my son that it is the father’s responsibility to teach his son to respect his mother so that the son will grow up to respect his wife one day. So, I was amazed when I read the incredible letter above. I am considering sending the letter to my son’s father, if only to show him that other males share my perspective.

    Again, I know that I am responsible for some of our problems and also realize that it is difficult for teens to empathize with problems that their parents may have. They tend to see them as annoying and in my case, I firmly believe that it has affected my son’s ability to respect me. And, combine that with such examples as my phone call to the local deputy sheriff one day when my son was really out of control and his father telling him to tell the officer that I was mentally ill. I also agree with one of the posts above about angry teens. My son is very angry about many things, but if I cant’ get him to counseling or get him to talk to me, what can I do? I am probably also the “safe” parent for many reasons, but that isn’t always fun..I think it best that he be with his father right now.

    Thank you for letting me ramble and for reading my letter. If I sound like I am defending my son, I just want to make sure that I am presenting the whole picture. I hope I’ve done the right thing and that my son and I will be able to have a happy and healthy adult relationship one day. Any feedback would be appreciated.

    “I couldn’t stand my ex-wife, but I defended her because I loved my children.” -From my next-door neighboor……

    • anne permalink
      November 17, 2013 7:58 am

      Your mother in law is wrong. Of course parents set boundaries with children. Then we have to man or woman up to uphold them. It can be so tough. I feel for you. But from what you say your son has started to physically intimidate you. This is completely unacceptable but YOU have tried to be proactive and seek help. We teach our children through our actions as well as our words. If you continue to accept being treated so poorly it gives a message to your son about what he should accept from others and the way they treat him in the future. I wish you well.

  15. Jeff permalink
    December 22, 2012 7:33 am

    I get what Dad is trying to do but >>>. First, Dad needs to be Dad and not talk like an 18 year old kid. You want your kid to grow up, then set the example. Second, real men don’t manipulate women expecially Moms. Yes they are in some ways different and thank God for it. Their differences can make up for some of Men’s shortcomings if we have enough sense to listen. The childish talk and the implied manipulation, I can do without but Dad’s point ” do not argue” is right on point. Sons should keep Mom in the loop, listen to her insight and then act. Dad’s other point is also true. When Sons act and at times mess up, Mom is there. Once Sons realize and value how special that is, keeping Mom in the loop and listening is not so hard to do. Who knows, Sons may even learn something without having to learn everything the hard way. Dad sounds like a good Dad, just loose the childish talk and implied manipulation.

  16. Nikhil permalink
    January 4, 2013 10:03 am

    A nice read on question asked by a son for improving relationship with father. Do share it and improve your relationships.

    http://asknrj.com/how-can-i-improve-my-relation-with-my-father/

  17. August 4, 2013 11:21 am

    I was crushed when my lover of three years left to be with another woman. I cried and sobbed every day, until it got so bad that I reached out to the Internet for help.And i saw a testimony of a spell caster who help a girl called caston and i said let me give it a try so i contact him for help and he cast a love spell for me which i use in getting my love back and now i am a happy woman.Foe what you have done for me,i will not stop to share your goodness to people out there for the good work you are doing.I hope God blesses you as much as you have help me to get my Love back,visit him on okayaspellhelp@gmail.com,he is the only answer to your problems okayaspellhelp@gmail.com

  18. Tom permalink
    October 21, 2013 2:33 pm

    Jerly I feel for you. After my divorce from my first wife she took off with the kids and for 6 years I did not know if they were dead or alive. I don’t blame her either I was much like my father very controlling and verbally abusive. She just could not take it anymore so she packed up the kids and left. It took losing my wife of 12 years, two sons, a non-biological daughter that was conceived from an affair, and hitting rock bottom for me to wake up and see what I did and what I lost. Several years later she dropped off all three of the kids with me because her new husband didn’t want any kids and she never looked back. Not even as much as a birthday or Christmas card. All three of the kids were filled with the same anger I grew up with and I felt so ashamed of myself for not being the dad they needed. They took their anger out on me, my new wife, and our baby daughter.

    The daughter of hers that I tried to raise as my own never got over her anger at me, her mother, or her stepfather. I tried for two years to get her some psychological help, family counseling, group therapy, even hospitalization but she refused our every attempt and kept the house in constant state of stress, which I blame myself 100% for. I failed her and her mother completely.

    The twin boys were also very angry and violent. When I was out of town working they attacked my wife, tried to burn down a barn, and attacked my wife’s father. It took a long time lots of tears, family and one on one counseling but we made it through and my son’s and I are closer than ever. Are we the perfect family? No, not by no means but at least we are a healthy family now.

    I hope the girl I tried to raise as my own will someday find it in her heart to forgive and heal from the things the adults in her life put her through. Then maybe we can all unite as one family and stop the vicious abusive cycle that was started by my father.

    Just about any male can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad. Dad is a title that is earned and is easly lost. I am trying hard to make amends for my past failures so that my youngest daughter and my sons will never feel the need to take the honor of being a dad away. I can only hope that sometime in the future my oldest daughter will give me the honor of proudly calling me her dad as well.

  19. mistywE permalink
    December 10, 2013 7:24 am

    Thank you for writing this and for being “that dad”. I have been struggling with my relationship with my 12 yr old for a couple of years. My boys went to live with their dad about 3 yrs ago and it has strained our relationship even more. The father does not get disrespected the way I do so he is not supportive and doesn’t teach our son how to respect me. My son feels like I should have to respect him first (give in to him) before he will respect me and even when I’ve tried that it doesn’t work. My son half the time will not answer my phone calls or texts and when he does and I ask him about his life ( where he’s been, who he hanging out with, what games/movies he’s watching etc…) and what’s going on for the days he’s not with me, he gets an attitude with me and wants to know why I’m asking so many questions. He has no idea how a mother constantly thinks and worries about her children when they’re not with her.. I’m at my wits end with him. I’m glad you get it. Thank you and your son’s mother thanks you I’m sure.

  20. Robin Welch permalink
    August 10, 2014 8:51 am

    Thank you for writing this. This is my son. I’m printing this out and giving to him his first day of school this year…his senior year. You really summed it up. The only thing different I will add is making God the center of his decisions and life.

  21. Robert Jeffrey permalink
    September 30, 2014 6:23 pm

    A big thank you for this letter. I’ve read it and drawn from it with regards to my son and myself too,in all honesty. There’s times I’ve been a complete fool by not letting things be,getting the last word in,arguing the toss;all to my detriment,not noticing my eyes were ‘closed’ when thinking they’re open.

  22. J Palmer permalink
    October 25, 2014 7:30 pm

    Great letter and thank you for teaching your son that his mom is his greatest protecter and will love him unconditionally! I have been my son’s greatest supporter through some very rough times in our lives…I am at every baseball game, school event, birthday, holiday, special event and always try to make it very special while raising him 1/2 time (as a single mom) against his dad and step mom that have put things in his head since he was two about me. They have spoken horribly about me. More recently, sent him texts that called me “bipolar”, told him to “take” his step dad’s computer while we were talking about breaking up, so they could see what was going on in our lives, they even got him to go as far as saying his step dad was “abusive”. My son was simply “brainwashed” all these years and I have watched him go from a very loving, affectionate young boy to a very disrespectful and ungrateful young man. It tears me apart to see him like this. His dad has NEVER supported me as his mother.
    When I had breast cancer 7 yrs ago, it got back to me that his dad just wished I would die, so he wouldn’t have to “deal” with me. His dad has chosen to not communicate with me in any way except email and then only if he wanted to for the last 14 years. I am now trying to instill in my son how important learning to do his own laundry, mowing the lawn, and helping out around the house is, especially since there is no man in our house for him to see this with. His dad does not require him to do anything at his house. I feel like I am constantly on him to clean his room, pick up after himself, etc. All I get is attitude. When I call him on it, he gives me very disrespectful comments back or talks down to me. Needless, to say…I am ready to give up on him as I have given my everything for my son and he does not give anything back. I even told him to stop pretending to give me a hug/kiss goodnight unless he could wrap his arms around me. I am extremely loving and affectionate. I am old school in that I believe children should become more responsible as they grow, especially through their teen years.

    I am at a loss. I try every day to work on building him as a young man. I can only do so much at this point without pounding my head against a wall. His dad is no help and would never give our son this type of letter. I am very afraid that my son will go on to treat a woman the way he does me. When I stand up to him, he just walks away or says something rude. I have been trying to figure out how to reach out to him and give him this perspective, however, if it comes from me, he will just blow it off.

    Any suggestions on how to have something like this given to my son??? I have a year and a half until he graduates, however, it has been going on for over a year now and I really don’t have much more in me to live like this (with him in my home).

    Thanks for being a great dad and knowing how important a relationship with your mother is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: