Raise a Man Like Roosevelt

Lessons from a man who helped build a president

Theodore Roosevelt was a true family man. The father of six, he considered his family life the source of his greatest happiness. He dedicated himself to providing his four sons and two daughters a rich, full, enjoyable childhood—all while leading his country.

Before the presidential election of 1904, when he believed his reelection was in doubt, Roosevelt wrote to his sister that as disappointing as defeat would be, he could keep it in perspective. Far more important to him was the fact that he had “the happiest home life of any man whom I have ever known.”

The public achievement of America’s 26th president makes his achievement at home even more remarkable. And both were likely inspired by the same source: His outstanding relationship with his own father.

Is there any greater gift a father could give his son?

Young “Teedie” grew up in a warmly and openly affectionate family. His father, Theodore, was a successful businessman and philanthropist, but gave generously of himself to his home and children. Teedie adored him. He later wrote, “I was fortunate enough in having a father whom I have always been able to regard as an ideal man.”

Does your son have “an ideal man” to emulate?

Young Teedie suffered from severe asthma. His loving father chose not to coddle him. Instead he challenged him to work, to endure and to conquer. He transformed a balcony of their home not into a sick bay, but into an open-air gymnasium filled with athletic equipment. He challenged his son to endure the “hard drudgery” of making his body strong. With his father’s encouragement, Teedie embraced the challenge.

Theodore Sr. worked to give his children experience and adventure, to stimulate their imaginations and broaden their horizons through horseback riding, hiking and swimming.

This man expanded his children’s world. He gave them confidence and increased capacity for adventure. He strengthened them physically and mentally. He was a model of activity that increased their ability to embrace a challenge. He stoked their ambition and their thirst for exploration.

Theodore Sr.’s children genuinely enjoyed his vivacious personality, and they knew they were loved. Shortly after Teedie entered college at Harvard, he wrote his father, “I do not think there is a fellow in college who has a family that loves him as much as you all do me, and I am sure that there is no one who has a father who is also his best and most intimate friend, as you are mine.”

After he became president, Roosevelt recalled his days with his father, writing, “Unconsciously, I always find I am trying to model myself with my children on the way he was with us.”

Theodore Roosevelt Sr. devoted himself to raising a man. The results speak for themselves: He raised a man who became not only president, but also a dedicated father himself.

That relationship strengthened and made Theodore Roosevelt into the true man that he was!

Look at your own son. What sort of man are you making?

You first need a vision of the man you would like him to become. Meditate on the God-given role of a man: leader, provider, protector. Study the biblical qualities of manhood—self-discipline, righteousness, responsibility, industry, resolve, ambition, courage, sacrifice. You won’t find many of these in the world around you. You will have to struggle to learn them and to do them. Exemplify these virtues; give your son a model of manliness.

Next, look for and create opportunities to instill these traits in your son. Build his physical body. Build his mental strength. Work together and show him how to enjoy work. Instruct him to accept responsibility for himself. Teach him to own up to his actions and not make excuses. Teach him to obey God’s definition of right and wrong, and to stand against the crowd when he has to, even as you do. Teach him to have godly confidence—and godly humility. Help him overcome self-centeredness. Encourage him to seize opportunities to do things that benefit others at the cost of benefiting himself. Teach him intelligence, sensitivity and magnanimity to identify the needs of others. Teach him to see the big picture. Teach him to see things from God’s perspective.

Set your expectations high. Then encourage him enthusiastically for every inch he rises in reaching for that bar.

Spend real time with him, so he can watch you, emulate you. Time together creates occasions to teach. The job is difficult—but you don’t have to do it alone. You simply need to give God opportunities to use you to shape your future man.

Years later, Theodore Roosevelt said this of his model of manhood: “The thought of him now and always has been a sense of comfort. I could breathe, I could sleep, when he had me in his arms. My father—he got me breath, he got me lungs, strength—life.”

What an incomparable blessing such a strong, reassuring, manly presence supplies to a boy. Be that presence in the life of your boy. Build the relationship that will guide him to godly manhood—and godly fatherhood.

Is there any greater gift a father could give his son?