Father Your Son by Stephan B. Poulter

Father_Your_SonFather Your Son is written by Stephan B. Poulter, a licensed clinical family psychologist who has worked in a variety of settings with over 2300 fathers and sons for nearly 30 years.

Drawing upon engaging real-life case studies derived from Poulter’s clinical experience and research, Father Your Son offers fathers a comprehensive programme to confront – and conquer – their fears of repeating destructive relationship patterns from their childhood so that they can confidently assume their fathering role. Poulter’s book is refreshingly free of psychological and clinical jargon. He successfully explains important psychological concepts in clear and accessible language that the average father will appreciate.

This parenting book is divided into ten chapters within two broad segments. Every chapter, which revolves around a parenting theme and can be read as a standalone. Interspersed with handy tools and stories comprising self-assessment quizzes, checklists and role-playing scenarios, these help fathers translate concepts into direct practice, leading to longer-lasting change. The stories, including Poulter’s own experiences, will resonate deeply with most fathers, and provide insight into the day-to-day parenting issues dads face.

The first section of the book is centres on healing past demons, helping men address unresolved issues from their childhood that might be affecting their current parenting behaviours. Poulter declares that “we would be much better fathers to our sons if we had a much better understanding of our own fathers” (p. 15). He concedes that delving into the past can be painful and counterintuitive to men’s tendency of “[avoiding] intense, life-shaping feelings from their childhood” (p. 16). Yet, he argues that exploring such emotions is essential as it will enable dads to be truly “conscious fathers” (p. 16).

Poulter offers concrete exercises for fathers to get a handle on how their actions and words negatively and positively impact their sons. Poulter shows fathers how to “leave [their] lost inner boy behind”(p. 63) and let go of unconstructive negative feelings such as shame, hopelessness, excessive guilt, inferiority, overcompensation, anger, and poor relationships with male authority. A central message of Poulter’s book is that fathers must put in the effort to acknowledge the emotional trauma they have experienced so that they can heal themselves and be equipped with a clear frame of mind to focus on the present.

In part two of the book, Poulter focuses squarely on the here and now, offering tips on what fathers can do during each stage of their son’s development, from the time their wife is pregnant through the end of adolescence. Poulter compels fathers to assume responsibility for the mistakes they may have made when their sons were younger, and be more aware of how their parenting styles may have profoundly shaped their sons. Poulter devotes significant attention to the development phase of adolescence, recognizing it to be one of the most trying, draining and complex phases of the life trajectory.

In his concluding chapter, Poulter examines the unique challenges of being a 21st century dad, suggesting that it seems to be “more difficult to be a father today, especially a father to boys” (p. 155) Yet, Poulter retains an optimistic tone throughout his narrative, reassuring dads that they will be able to meet these challenges effectively if they are proactive about developing more self-awareness and reflecting on their impact on their sons.

At the same time, Poulter urges men not to strive to single-handedly undertake the parenting role, and dispenses tips for dads to work with the son’s mother to find the proper intersection of roles in raising emotionally healthy boys. He points out that even if men are divorced or estranged from their wives, they should attempt to maintain regular communication and make joint decisions. Poulter cautions men against badmouthing or bickering with their ex-spouses in front of their sons, underscoring the importance of helping sons “develop a balanced view of the opposite sex” (p. 159).

Poulter takes a down to earth approach, reminding men that they need to “‘transcend’ fatherly imperfection” (p. 166) and to expect that they will make mistakes in raising their sons, just as their own fathers made mistakes in raising them. He suggests that it is inevitable for some wounds to be inflicted along the way. However, it is crucial that fathers “think, talk about, and feel (their own as well as their son’s) wounds” (p. 166), as this allows them to become more patient, compassionate, forgiving of themselves and their loved ones.

The lessons offered in this book are applicable to a wide range of Singaporean fathers, beyond those fathers who are in a traditional role i.e. married to and living with the mothers of their children. Its benefits are threefold. Firstly, it can enhance a father-son relationship, regardless of the developmental stage or age of the son. Secondly, the book teaches dads to raise principled boys who will think deeply about issues of right and wrong, and grow up to lead meaningful lives despite being immeresed in an increasingly amoral world. Finally, the book empowers dads as fathers and transforms their hopelessness and helplessness into confidence and security.

Poulter’s book will no doubt inspire dads to make the commitment to fatherhood so that they and their sons will reap the benefits for the rest of their lives.

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

 First published on 25-04-2013.