The Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers by Dr Ken Canfield (Book Review)

In Recommended Reads by Engagement

Dr. Ken R. Canfield, founder of the National Center of Fathering (US), will be speaking at the Dads for Life Conference, at Suntec City Convention Centre on 27 May 2011. Ten thousand voices went into his book, The Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers, which has won various awards.

What then, are these sought-after secrets?

The First Secret: Commitment

“I am a father, and I will stay a father”.

This is a statement which represents dedication commitment, a promise to follow through a decision and strive at it. Your readiness and willingness to perform your fathering duties is a good indicator of your own level of commitment.

On the other hand, constraint commitment draws out a sense of obligation and acts as “the force pushing you from behind”. Mixing your dedication and constraint commitment together will help you be the most effective dad you can be while enjoying the journey.

Effective dads claim their children as their own, resolve to act as a father and fulfill their commitment daily.

The Second Secret: Knowing Your Child

A good gardener knows how to cultivate his plants such that they yield the desired fruit. Similarly, effective fathers who know their children well are able to nurture them to the best they can be.

The garden of your children’s lives will blossom when you combine common general knowledge about children with specific knowledge of your own children as individuals. There are two components to knowing your child.

Developmental awareness familiarises you with the growth processes in life and “tells you which plants need how much water how often”. This provides a general expectation of certain phases, some more difficult than others, that you can expect your child to experience.

Knowing your child specifically enables you to identify unique “personality traits, talents, strengths and weaknesses”. This specific knowledge will assist you in navigating through the challenging phases with your child confidently, and in a climate of learning and maturing.

The Third Secret: Consistency

“An effective father is consistent in his person and in his actions,” Canfield singles this secret as his “greatest weakness”, even though being regular and predictable often seem like reasonable benchmarks to meet.

Children venture into the unknown and explore the world around them using you as their reference point; a steadfast parent they can always come back to.

Being consistent in your moods, presence in the family, keeping of promises, morality and ethics, daily schedule and hobbies and interests will go a long way in building strong relationships with your children. Being part of a group of fathers who share, help and advise one another in their fathering journeys can also be a reference point for you as you apply the third secret of consistency.

The Fourth Secret: Protecting and Providing

The protector/provider role is perhaps most easily identifiable for local fathers. The amount on your monthly paycheck often doubles up as a score for how well you are providing for your family. But while financial provision is important, “the level of income is not as important as a steady income that provides for the basic needs of the family”. Tweak career goals to include using your abilities to provide for your family.

An effective father protects his family by handling crises “calmly, effectively, and constructively”, which leads to a restoration of stability in the family. While we will never be able to predict the future, facing challenges with a positive attitude is the best buffer you can provide for your children.

Your responses will serve as models for how they will react to crises in later life.

The Fifth Secret: Loving their Mother

Using the analogy of a smooth-cutting axe, Canfield likens your children’s mother to “the wedge that joins with the ax handle”. Indeed, no man could be a father without a woman. The fifth secret is split into two components: marital interaction and parental discussion.

Marital interaction involves loving your wife and keeping the relationship alive. This will lead to direct benefits for your kids. A strong marriage creates a loving and secure atmosphere in the home, and is a primary model for how they perceive and behave in their own future marriages.

Parental discussion has father and mother working as a team to better parent their children. You might be surprised at the depth of insight she has on your children (and yourself!) that will go a long way in fine-tuning the way you parent your children as partners.

The Sixth Secret: Active Listening

“Your children want you to know who they are, so you can accept them fully. Your children want to tell you where it hurts, so you can fix it”. The sixth secret requires listening before speaking and turning down the noise around you so you can achieve meaningful communication.

Listening can also be a way of showing affection, a non-verbal declaration of love by “expressing to them that they are worthy of being known and understood”. In order to arrive at open and honest dialogue, fathers have to prove themselves as active listeners in past conversations that seemed like idle chatter.

Finally, a motivating force for you to be better listeners is the purest joy of being in a relationship and having intimacy.

Dads, your children (want to) trust you with their private thoughts and emotions. Listen to them.

The Seventh Secret: Spiritual Equipping

In this chapter, Canfield elaborates on the significance of God and religion on fathering. He draws lessons from his beliefs and how religious education and upbringing moulds a child’s relationship with God.

Being mindful of the various belief systems out there, it may be helpful to reflect on how your own spirituality can assist you in being a better father, and take active steps towards that.

The Eighth Secret

This one is a mystery, your own expression of fathering that only you and – hopefully – your children, know. You cannot control how your children turn out, but from now till then the power to equip them with the knowledge and environment to make wise choices rests in your hands.

Everything began with the birth of your child but it is your job, Dad, to keep the garden growing.

Getting Together with Other Dads

A guide for group study is provided at the end for use in small group settings. Arranged according to the chapters of the book, Canfield poses a series of deeply self-reflective questions that calls for openness and honesty as fathers evaluate themselves.

You may be uncomfortable sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with a group of unfamiliar men, but remember that fathering is universal and most experiences are less uncommon than you imagine. Alternatively, use this guide with fellow father-friends you feel at ease with — you might kill two birds with one stone by strengthening your friendships and your fathering skills!

Moving from Father to Effective Father

Punctuated with numerous anecdotes that tug at the heartstrings, Canfield rolls out fathering secrets in a manner that is easy to identify with, grasp and be motivated to take action. In one of his stories, he introduces Doug, a man who had unintentionally neglected his son. Just as Doug was told ‘“All your son really needs,” the highly trained professional said, “is a father”’, all your children really need, is you. Be there for them — starting here and now.


Canfield,K., (1992), The Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers, (Tyndale, USA)

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 28-03-2012.