In Part I, I raised the question about the function of the father and suggested that the function of the father is that of introducing a human being into a world of social responsibility. But what does that mean and how does that work exactly? Please, let me explain.
A father's law is the law of his word
First and most importantly, a father is someone, whose word holds true. A father’s law is the law of his word and his word is supported by his actions (as well as by the actions of his partner). The same is true in society - we live by the letter of the law and we face real life consequences if we brake it. The law has no value of it is not properly executed.
Similarly, a father’s word holds no value if it’s empty of actions; something that we often observe in the mental health field when working with troubled children and adolescents. The ultimate failure of the father function is evident in tragic cases such as the shootings at Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary and the Boston Marathon bombing, to name a few.
This isn’t to say that these young men’s fathers (or lack there of) were to blame for their sons’ ruptures from the social link. The human mind is more complex than that - more than one variable contributes to any single event, and this is especially true in cases like the aforementioned, where the surge of adolescence, family history and social circumstances such as gun availability play a role.
It does, however, mean that the function of the father to usher a human being into social responsibility has failed. This is often why young men like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who push the limits of society, choose to end their lives after committing the crime - facing the consequences of their actions could only mean death.
Why is this a failure then?
Because the function of the father is to promote life, not destroy it. The father puts forward certain limits on the human drive and jouissance (a French word that means enjoyment or ecstasy), in order to allow for other, socially constructive pleasures that promote growth and development as opposed to destruction and nihilism.
Constitutionally, this holds more true for boys and men than for girls and women. There is a difference between fathering a girl and fathering a boy with different social consequences. This is a topic I will save for another time. For now, it is important to say that the role of the father is equally important for girls and the function remains the same - to introduce a law, a necessary limit, a boundary if you will, that promotes life.
How do you do that?
#1. Say "No" to your kids, especially when they violate social norms, safety and the law. Setting appropriate limits and boundaries is an essential part of your role as a father and ultimately prepares your children to live in a world where actions have consequences and where we bear responsibility for our personal choices. That said, in order to set a limit, you need to
#2. Give consequences - both positive and negative depending on your kids' behaviors. Be sure to forewarn them that if they do X, Y will follow. Then, if they violate your limit and challenge your word,
#3. Follow through on your word and find an appropriate consequence that matches their behavior appropriately and that will teach them something about themselves or the world. For example, if they stole money, make them do some kind of "community service" so that they can pay it back.
#4. Lead by example. This is probably the most important tool you have at your disposal - to model and lead by example. You cannot expect to teach your son not to hit other kids and to follow the rules if you hit him and break the rules yourself. Children are very sensitive to hypocrisy and will use it against you to get away with misbehaving.
And finally, #5. Show affection and play with your kids. Love and affection - is there a better way to promote life than that?
For more on common mental health issues affecting you and your family, subscribe to Mental Health Digest and get the latest issue emailed to you today by leaving your name and email address in the contact form here.
Do you have questions? Found this article helpful? I would love to hear from you.