It may take an entire village to raise a child, but there are some words of wisdom that only fathers and father-figures can best impart upon a boy. These important life lessons—passed down from father to son—can help shape a boy into becoming a courageous, honorable, and kind man. Here are 10 things every dad should say to his son to lead him down the virtuous path of manhood.

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1. I’ll always be here for you, son.
Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad. Reminding your son that you always are available to him and mindful of his needs will go a long way in establishing and building trust over time. Mindful parenting means being present in the moment and aware of what’s happening. Modeling positive, supportive behavior while your son is young will show him that good men are reliable and responsible.

2. Treat others with compassion and empathy.
The Golden Rule may be a simple principle to follow, but teaching empathy can provide a deeper framework for how people should behave regardless of circumstance. Fostering empathy can help young boys to find commonalities between themselves and others who are seemingly different—and encourages them to positively and proactively think about and care for others.

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3. Winning is great, but losing with grace and humility is just as important.
Good sportsmanship is a beneficial trait that goes well beyond what happens on the playing field. By teaching our sons how to win and lose with dignity, we’re giving them strong interpersonal relationship skills that will serve them well in many other aspects of their lives besides sports. Telling boys that the main point of competition is to have fun will alleviate the feeling of needing to win at any cost, allow them to enjoy themselves, and play for the sake of fun.

4. Surround yourself with people who you admire.
Dads can’t always pick our son’s friends, but we can definitely encourage them to choose their friendships wisely. Find out who your son admires and who his heroes are, and you’ll quickly discover the kinds of people he wants to emulate. Real friendships are fundamental in early childhood development, so teaching our sons how to find good friends and to be a good friend will help guide him in the right direction.

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5. Never make an important decision on an empty stomach.
Over the course of a young boy’s life, he’ll have to make many important decisions. These decisions are just warm-ups to the various big decisions that he’ll have to make as a man, and every dad knows that important decisions should never be made on an empty stomach. There’s science to explain why people become grumpy or have poorer judgment when they are hungry. Teach your son to have a full belly before making any major life decisions.

6. It’s OK to play with dolls.
Or dress up as Beyoncé. Or sing like Beyoncé. Or dance like Beyoncé. By the time most boys are five years old, they’ve already learned lots of things that perpetuate toxic masculinity. Break the cycle by letting your son know that there are no such things as “girls-only toys” or “girls-only behaviors.” Instead, teach your son that there’s more than one way to be a man.

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7. What was the best part of your day?
At the end of a long day of work and school, many dads will simply ask our sons, “How was your day?” And the typical response is a bluntly delivered, “Fine.” Rather than try to start a conversation with a generic question, be specific. Avoid questions that can be answered with a single word. As our sons get older—particularly as they enter their tween and teen years—they may be less inclined to volunteer information about what’s happening in their lives. Asking pointed questions will help tease out what’s really going on and what’s really on their minds.

8. I can teach you how to throw a punch, but never start a fight … and always know when to walk away.
It’s a dad’s duty to teach our sons when to stand their ground and when to walk away. Establishing a baseline that it’s never appropriate to hurt others for no reason is a critical, essential first step.

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9. Let’s talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Because if you’re not the person who’s initiating conversations with your son about topics as important as these, then someone else inevitably will and that someone else may not always have your kid’s best interests in mind. There are plenty of resources to help parents talk to our kids about sensitive and sometimes awkward topics. At the very least, make sure your son is indoctrinated in the basics of the school of rock.

10. I’m so lucky that I get to be your dad.
And while you’re at it, tell your son that you love him every day, and give him lots of hugs and kisses, especially while he’s still young so that he gets used to receiving affection from (and giving it to) his old man.

—Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

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