I love Benedict. I love the way he laughs uncontrollably as I hold his arms above his head and tickle his tummy with my nose. I love the way he gets excited when I snuggle up close to him and kiss all over his face. I love how much he enjoys being close to me and sitting in my lap. I love how he'll sit still anywhere if I'm rubbing his back or scratching his head. I love how when he's about to cry or is actively crying, he holds his arms up, hoping that I'll pick him up.
I know that the day will come where kisses from me won't be as welcome. I know that the day will come when our physical contact will change. It’ll be a sad day, but thankfully, that day is far off.
I've never understood men who believe that showing tenderness is weakness. I don't think it's manly to be cold and distant towards those that you love. This "manly stoicism" doesn't communicate deep affection, it communicates a great divide between the emotional needs of a family and the father's ability (or willingness) to meet those needs.
The relationship between father and son should always be intimate, full of physical contact. As humans, we have an innate need to be touched. Even more, children need reassurance. They need confidence in knowing that they're loved. They need to learn how to be a good parent and, truthfully, you're going to be their primary source. There are so many adults who are "bad parents" because they themselves had poor role models. Parenting problems are perpetuated from generation to generation because no one knows any better.
Certainly the bond between father and son must evolve as the boy grows. It's not a good idea to smother your son with kisses as he leaves for his first middle school dance. At the same time, I do think that the relationship that you've had during those formative years will set the tone for where your son puts up his boundaries. If you've been cold and distant for 12 years and are now trying to go full throttle in showing tenderness, there's going to be really big problems. Rather, if you have a solid relationship where your son feels safe, you might find him putting up fewer boundaries.
The point of all of this is that tenderness should be a hallmark of a good father. A man's ability to relate to his family and his children in an emotional and physical way will be the greatest tool in helping to raise his kids to be the best people they can be. They'll be better adjusted, get better grades, have higher self-confidence, and make fewer poor choices.
A father who shows tenderness will have the trust of his wife and his children. They'll feel comfortable trusting him with their problems, hurts, and struggles. In that way, a man is able to fulfill his role as shepherd.
A son needs a strong father who's able to show compassion, love, and tenderness. A daughter needs a strong father who can open his heart to her and understand her needs.
Tenderness can extend beyond just physical signs of affection. Tenderness can also shine through when a child is hurt or has made a mistake. Instead of growing angry, perhaps a calm and collection reaction can lead to improved outcomes. I know that when I make big mistakes, mercy and understanding can heal the embarrassment and shame that I feel.
While it's true that as a father you often find yourself in the position of disciplinarian, you can find yourself in that role far less often if you're able to develop intimate relationships with your kids.
Be strong, be constant, be gentle, be tender and in all of these ways, you'll be a real man.