I have sat down with a lot of guys in their thirties who are trying to piece together the story of their relationship with their dad.

Many of these guys are successful, but there’s something missing inside of them. I’ll never forget one guy I’ll call Josh, near the top of his game in the industry he was in, who said to me, “I just don’t understand why my dad left when I was three. What was wrong with me? I feel like I’ve spent my whole life trying to make up for something he never gave me. I just want to know my dad.”

Somehow—maybe by design—almost all men long for a strong relationship with their dads. Some guys have an incredibly strong relationship with their dads, but more often the story goes like this:

“He worked so much I rarely saw him.”

“I wish at some point he would have told me he was proud of me.”

“We were just never close.”

One of the things my dad did so well growing up was to show confidence in me. From the time I was little, I wanted to be able to drive (what guy doesn’t?). On my 16th birthday, my dad took the morning off work, took me to get my license, and then told me to get behind the wheel.

He had a few clients to see in Toronto, two hours south of where we lived at the time, and to my surprise told me to start driving. I kept asking him if it was time to pull over and let him drive, but he told me to keep going. I almost pulled the car off the road myself as we neared Toronto, but he insisted I could do it. I drove right through the city into the downtown core and back again. Talk about a confidence booster—and a relationship builder.

Guess what I did with my sons on their 16th birthday?

So what do our sons need? Here are three things, I believe every son would say to his father if given the chance:

I Need You to Believe in Me

I think John Eldredge is right when he says the question every boy asks is “Do I have what it takes?” When you show confidence in them, they develop confidence in themselves. Keep your criticisms constructive and believe the best.

Don’t Withdraw, Even Though I’m Withdrawing

Every teenager withdraws. It’s a natural part of growing up. Most fathers don’t know what to do when that happens and end up making a critical mistake: they withdraw too. Take your son out for lunch. Take him golfing, mountain biking, fishing, to a football game—whatever. Just do something with him. Don’t withdraw just because he did.

Give Me Someone to Look Up To

I’ve told my sons for years that their heavenly Father is their ultimate father and the one they need to look toward every day. But it’s also true that they see me. If my life is significantly different than the life I’m asking them to live, my counsel means little. How we treat our wives is how they will learn to treat theirs. How we handle our emotions (or don’t handle them) will set the standard for them. They want to look up to us. We need to give them a reason to continue to want to. Guys, that means we need to work on our junk. If that means going to see a counselor, do the manly thing and do it.

What else would you add to this list? What’s shaped you for better or for worse?