What I Wish My Dad Told Me More Growing Up, According to 12 Men

There's always more to say.

Originally Published: 
A dad and his son sitting on white wooden stairs
Kent Kanouse/Flickr

Raising boys to be smart, thoughtful, tough, and emotionally aware human beings is hard work. It’s especially so in a culture that tends to devalue men’s feelings and instead prioritize keeping a straight face over real emotional health. While the idea of what it means to be a happy and healthy man has evolved, many men struggle with trying to make sense of a world that asks much of them without explanation.

That’s why they need their parents — and fathers in particular — to set a good example and to talk to them about, well, everything. But, often, things that are assumed go unsaid and sons are the worse for it.

So, what should fathers keep in mind? To get a small sense of it, we asked a variety of men what they wished their dad said to them more often when they were boys. While you won’t find all applicable, a few of them might ring true and help you emphasize some lessons to your sons.

1. I Wish He Told Me He Struggled, Too

I wish my father would have communicated more to me that all the values and principles he was teaching me, he also battled with them on a daily basis. That he also sometimes fell short, but still strove towards keeping them. So many times, I saw him as the epitome of the things he was teaching me, only to realize as an adult that he wasn’t as “perfect” and “all knowing” as I had perceived. I would have been less hard on myself, yet more motivated at the same time, knowing that. — Pedro, 45, California

2. I Wish He Told Me I Had Privilege

I wish my dad told me that mine was a privileged demographic, in the same way that talking about starving children helped me be aware that some people didn’t have food. But I didn’t understand it. But when I ran into it, I didn’t have to have a ‘holy shit’ self-discovery moment that made me feel very out of touch with the world. — Ty, 35, New York

3. I Wish He Told Me How to Assert Myself

I wish my dad had told me how to be less passive. As a kid, I apologized all the time. I worried constantly about what people thought about me. And I spent a lot of my youth without opinions or perspectives that were my own. I wish I heard more often that it was okay to like what you like and to admit to others that you like certain things, that there’s nothing wrong with defending your opinions to others. This would have helped me develop a stronger sense of self and solved a lot of problems as I grew older. — Eric, 29, New York

4. I Wish He Told Me About His Work

My father kept his business life and personal life separate. He didn’t share much about his professional life. To some extent, I get it. Why stress out a kid with the horrors of adulting, when you can shelter them from pain? However, I saw him leave for an office like he was working for a corporation rather than a commissioned salesman or entrepreneur. Had I seen that there were options, I might have done something differently rather than assuming that a corporate job was my only path. — Ben, 41, Colorado

5. I Wish He Had Been More Open With Me

I wish my dad told me more stories about his childhood and throughout his life. He seems really reserved and I feel that I do not know him as well as I should have. I want to understand the struggles and challenges that he has gone through, but he does not seem willing to share it with me. I feel that I am missing a part of him when he disengages from these conversations. — Wen, 25, California

6. I Wish He Talked To Me About My Feelings

Growing up I wished that my father had talked to me more about expressing my emotions in a healthy way. Despite spending considerable amounts of time together because of Boy Scouts and sports, he would rarely talk about how he was feeling. With some hindsight, I’ve come to realize that his tendency to sweep issues under the rug only to lash out when things get too intense is not how I want to be. I also saw how not talking honestly about oneself can lead to serious issues with romantic partners; hell, I went through a divorce that I believe might’ve been less traumatic had I shared what I was thinking genuinely. Thankfully, as an adult, I’ve pursued therapy and found a support network that’s helping me to open up and move past placing blame at my dad’s feet. — Andrew, 32, Maryland

7. I Wish He Told Me That It’s Okay To Not Love Sports

And that you’re not “weird” because you don’t like sports or participating in sports as much as everyone else. I spent a lot of time as a kid forcing myself to like things because I thought that was what boys were supposed to like. I’m glad I participated in certain sports — they helped me make friends and learn skills — but I made it define my life for so long even though I was never very invested in it. There were plenty of other things I put to the side, like music and art, because I thought those were things that were not acceptable. — Matt, 35, New York

8. I Wish He Told Me What Dating Is All About

I wish my dad had given me solid dating advice. I have two brothers, and we all have good traits going for us, but we all struggled with dating growing up. My dad would talk about how he’d play spin the bottle in 4th grade and how he dated a few girls before meeting my mom. Maybe things were different back then, or maybe my dad didn’t really know what he was doing either, but I definitely never got any good advice about dating. In high school, I always crushed on someone, but would scare them away with these over-the-top grand romantic gestures — clearly an area where I needed some advice. College was an improvement, but I still had no idea what I was doing, not until I took it upon myself to educate myself half-way through my 20s. — Zack, 36, California

9. I Wish He Told Me He Was Proud of Me

It took my dad forever to say he was proud of me. We still miscommunicate on who I am and what I like. He told me he was proud of me when I was finally good at something — writing. That’s what stung about sports: knowing that a) I sucked and b) my dad knew I sucked. That, and I wish I knew what his dreams were and what did they become before he had me. I have no idea what he wanted to be vs. what he ended up doing, and how he negotiates that, especially coming from a working-class background. — Stephen, 26, New York

10. I Wish He Told Me He Struggled With Depression

I was about five years into college before my dad told me he’d taken antidepressants in college as well. I wasn’t mad at him, and it’s not like that information would have changed too much. But I was just like: ‘Jesus, I’ve been dealing with depression for half my life now, and this is the first time I’ve been hearing about this?’ — Aaron, 25, South Carolina

11. I Wish That He Was More Vulnerable in General

I wish my father had shared more stories of his life experiences with me, both the good and bad that comes with being a dad. He’s generally an introvert and has kept most of those stories and insights to himself, and I know plenty of men who are equally reluctant to share because it requires vulnerability. And that largely describes me too, but hopefully, I won’t pass the same habits along to my son. If he had offered insight into his life: the major decisions, motivations, and, perhaps most importantly, the mistakes, it’d make him less heroic and more human. — Nick, 40, Chicago

12. I Wish He Told Me It Was Okay to Say “I’m Sorry.”

My dad was a good man. But he never, ever apologized for anything. Or at least I never heard him apologize for anything. The most he’d ever say was “okay” when someone told him he was in the wrong. It’s not like he never tried to do better or didn’t live in a moral way. It was just that he never said the words “I’m sorry” so I internalized that it was something that an adult man never does and that hurt some of my relationships when I was a young man. Understanding that it’s okay to apologize would’ve helped me considerably. — Leo, 48, Maryland

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