Successful Fathers: The Subtle but Powerful Ways Fathers Mold Their Children's Characters by James B. Stenson

(New York: Scepter, 1989), 66

Our Focus

  • "The greatest challenge a man can face, by far, is that of raising his children well." (9)
    • falling short as a father is rarely intentional but comes through unwitting neglect
  • "Raising children who have strong character is an essentially mysterious process."


  • character = virtue
  • bosh: a great word as an alternative to "BS"
  • "Character is what you have left over if you go broke" (13)

It Needn't Be Traumatic

  • Adolescents look to their father to give final form to their conscience (21)

The "Natural" Family

The features of the historic, universal, "natural" family:

  1. The home was essentially a small business.
  2. The children played a low-level but necessary part in this enterprise.
  3. As children grew, they would take on increased levels of responsibility.
  4. Because cash and materials were scarce, everyone in the family had to wait for things, and to earn them.
    • Living directly or indirectly off the land taught some truths about life: Some things have to be earned, some things can't be hurried, some things are inherently out of anyone's control.
  5. Practically every family had other adults aside from mother and father associated with it.
  6. Conversation and reading were the principal ways in which young people learned about adult life and the whole world outside the family (they lived the life of the mind).
  7. Parents did not think overmuch about the children's eventual careers. Rather they thought in terms of their children's future character.
  8. Families were united in prayer and religious conviction.
    • Since so much of life was perilous and essentially out of control the whole family was conscious of their dependence on God.

Western Middle-Class Families Today

The features of a typical western middle-class family today:

  1. Middle-class children today almost never see their father work.
  2. The home itself has become a place of play rather than work.
  3. Conversation with the father and other adults is minimal.
  4. Older children and adolescents today function as consumers, not producers.
  5. Adult society, outside the family, also fails to make responsible demands of older children and adolescents.
    • If everything important is done for children, then how much do they really learn about adult life or themselves?
  6. Television and the other entertainment media have become the principal means by which children form concepts of adult life.
  7. The practice of religion is seldom a significant part of family life.
    • Wealth gives us the illusion that we have life under control

Successful Fathers Today

The features of a successful father:

  • "A great many fathers think they are adequately filling their fatherly role by simply providing for their family's comfort and then sharing in it. They're wrong." (50)
  1. Successful fathers have a sense of supportive partnership with their wives.
    • show appreciation for their wife in front of the children, especially since she often won't receive that appreciation elsewhere
  2. They think long-term about their children's future character as grown-up men and women.
    • see yourself as raising adults, not children
  3. As a consequence of this vision, they frequently talk with their wives about the children's character strengths and weaknesses.
  4. They frequently discuss things with their children.
  5. They listen to their children.
  6. They keep television-watching to a minimum
  7. They see discipline not as punishment but as a means of building the children's self-control. "No" is a loving word.
  8. They are confident of their authority, and not afraid of being temporarily unpopular.
  9. They have a number of close friends.
  10. They have a deep and active religious faith.
    • A lifelong habit of prayer is the greatest thing they can teach their children
  11. They teach their children to be poor in spirit.
    • work alongside children at home
    • sparing in allowances
    • make children wait for things and earn them
    • give time and money to the needy
    • don't fill the home with gadgets
    • budget and save for the future
  12. They always put their family's welfare ahead of their jobs.
    • parents have only one chance to raise their children right