As you may know I have written a book. It is currently being edited and re-edited, moved around, paragraphs deleted… as I need lot’s of help! My working title has changed from “Everything your dad should have taught you, but didn’t” to the above; if you have a better title, let me know
Here is some of Chapter 1: The Making of a Man.
When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.
— William Shakespeare
I was blessed to have a dad who taught me how to be a man in many ways. At a young age, he taught me about how to properly introduce myself to someone. Equal emphasis was placed on the eye contact as it was on the firmness of my handshake. I was expected to work every summer after the age of thirteen; I spent my summers bailing hay, working on dad’s construction crews, and cleaning horse stalls.
My dad also made me a cowboy; riding through the snow driven Rocky Mountains of Colorado while hunting, or jumping creeks and logs on horseback as we would race through the wilderness. If not by horseback, we would take the four-wheel drive truck over these same mountains bouncing, laughing and praying that we wouldn’t roll over! He taught me how to fearlessly race motorcycles, back a horse or boat trailer with mere centimeters to spare – I also watched him seek after God with all his heart and he showed me how to give my life away to the poor and orphans of the world.
Working summer after summer taught me some of my greatest lessons on old fashioned manners and hard work. To this day, I think it is something every young boy needs to learn. My own children heard continually about the value of hard work in our home. They knew that if they wanted something—whether it be a bike or motorcycle, they were going to have to earn it.
My dad taught me the hidden lesson– a lesson of which I have since tried to pass onto my kids– that parents should never steal the value of the hunt from the child. As a father (and as hard as it is), never rush to buy your children everything they ask for. The value of something often is how hard you have had to work to attain it. In our family, after spending thousands and thousands of dollars on competitive sports teams, we learned that if our kids wanted to play a sport, they had to pay for it. In all the years of all the rugby, football, baseball, lacrosse, basketball, and even cricket, that our sons played, they rarely—if ever—missed a practice, which I attribute to their understanding of enjoying something they had worked hard to earn.
To many parents, this may seem harsh. Of course, there were plenty of moments we helped out, and even over-parented. But now that we have grown kids, it is evident that not a single one of our children is afraid to work for what they want. When they were young, they shoveled manure just as I did in the horse stalls. For them, it was alpacas. They babysat, mowed lawns and sold lemonade—no work was beneath them. They learned how to work, and also to work with all of their hearts. All of our older kids have put themselves, or are currently putting themselves through school by bar-tending, serving, and fulfilling as many odd jobs as they can.
Dads, I cannot instill this often enough: do not steal the hunt from your son. If he wants something, encourage him to go get it for himself. Show him how he can go about that, and then let him do it for himself.
Anyone who has a child knows that parenting is not an easy road to walk. My father struggled raising my brother, sister and me. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother died when he was very young. As a result, my dad was never really parented. When it came to raising my siblings and I, what he knew was self-taught, For most of my childhood, he was angry, and he had no idea how to “transform” his pain. We were poor by American standards until I was thirteen, but then when his hard work paid off, he began overcompensating by giving me nice cars and trips in my teenage years.
Even though I never stopped working, I became spoiled and complacent. So many things came easily to me, so I began to take my high-school years for granted; I took for granted, girls, money, my freedom, my parents, I took for granted things that didn’t matter, and things that were sacred. At the age of sixteen, I was kicked off the basketball team for bad grades. To my own bad luck—unbeknownst to me— my dad chose this very occasion to come to watch me play.
I was sitting in the stands, growing in agitation as the game went on. I so desperately wanted to be playing. I found the situation ludicrous and unfair. Eventually, my entitlement and irritation reached a boiling point. Against my coach’s wishes, I walked out and went home muttering with arrogance under my breath the whole way. As I reached the door at the end of the gym, I felt a familiar arm around my shoulders. Agonizing fear and nausea overtook me.
Begrudgingly, I turned sheepishly to face my very angry father, as he said “Get home now, and meet me in the kitchen.” As I drove my new Z-28 Camaro to our home, I tried to prepare my arguments out of my predicament, though I was pretty sure the better option was to stay on the road and protect my own hide.
Still, I turned mechanically into the driveway, parked the car, and made my way into the kitchen. I found him waiting for me, arms crossed, eyebrows down, with a scowl that still burns in my mind to this day. I knew I was going to be disciplined, but something bubbled up inside of me. Before he could start yelling, I unleashed years of anger, hurt and frustration that had been stewing for a decade and a half. I started shouting at the top of my lungs at him.
I had put myself in a pretty bad position, but at this point I figured I had nothing to lose. I let him hear the years of pent up hurts: “You know dad, I can never please you. I can never live up to your expectations. Nothing I do is ever good enough for you!” As I screamed, I could feel hot tears running down my face.
After what seemed like hours of my raging at my arms-folded father, I stopped. I waited for my head to be knocked off my shoulders, but what I saw was something completely out of his nature: his thick tears were mirroring mine. For the first time in sixteen years, I saw my father crying.
I knew in some respects, I was justified, but I had never expected to be met with understanding. In hindsight, I can see I was battling against the performance-orientation of my father, who was reflecting his own father-son relationship he had with God, The Father. My dad was a devout Christian man; he was always disciplined in studying the scriptures more than anyone I knew. However, it took my screaming match in the kitchen for him to finally realize he had never experienced the “father’s heart” of God he needed to father his own children with tenderness and compassion.
In that moment, he looked square in the eyes and said, “You know son, if I lined up all of your friends in a line—Josh, Tom, James, Jesse— and didn’t know you from the rest of them, I would choose you to be my son every time. Your strength, your heart, your ability.. who you are outshines all of your friends and any young man I have ever met.” I fell into his arms sobbing, and our relationship changed from that day forward.
I became best friends with my dad, and he continued to father me. Yet, I inherently knew the difference.
To give a fuller understanding of life at home, my mother was always in the picture, and she was everything you would ever want in a mother, nurturing, kind and present! She was abused most of her life, and had raised her sister and herself. She remained pure until the day of marriage, and knew she had to fight for her children in prayer. She never had a mother on which to base her own role, so she simply took care of everything for my siblings and I. While my dad demanded, yelled and was harsh, my mother over-compensated; She cleaned our rooms, cooked every meal, did our laundry, drove us anywhere we wanted, picked us up from school when we would fake sick.
It took me a lot of life to realize my own experience was the classic prototype of many American young men. I had a mother who had enabled me, without empowering me, and I had a father who was simply absent unless I had performed well. I was over-mothered and under-fathered.
I see the effects of this all the time in the men I mentor and coach. They talk to me about their ideal woman: someone who will do their laundry, cook their meals, and serve them as their mommies did. They see no flaw in it—simply an extension of the American dream!
Boys, if they get married, many times are trying to marry someone just like their mother.
Young men: when you are over-mothered, you are being enabled, not empowered. Take the powerful lessons your mother has shown every day, and learn from her. Let her teach you how to cook. Let her teach you how to do the dishes and the laundry. Watch your mother, and learn how to serve. I promise a young lady of quality and wisdom will be much more attracted to you if you know how to do your share of the tasks.
No woman is impressed by a boy-grown-into-man’s-body that sits on the couch, plays video games, and streams music all day, while she does the grocery shopping, cooking and raising the kids. To her, you are just another boy to have to take care of.
To be clear, a boy grows out of this by having a revelation of the responsibility and compassion of manhood, which comes through fathering. Every young man should be, and needs to be fathered. This epidemic of Peter Pan boyhood we are facing stems mostly from the lack of fathering. Today, in the United States, 23.6% of children live in fatherless homes (2014), which rises to a staggering 70+% in our inner-cities. Our country is facing fatherless on many fronts—from absence to outright divorce.
Nearly every young man that comes through our ministry has talked about or admitted to looking at porn weekly. Realizing this staggering fact has brought me back to the lessons of my teenage summers: learning how to hunt. I see that pornography has weakened our men’s understanding of earning the love of one woman, of her intimacy. I hear tale after tale of short-term satisfaction destroying the thrill of working to love and give love to a partner.
Most of these boys, facing down these battles, are now becoming fathers. Many of them are amazing fathers, waging wars on self-initiation alone. If this is you, know that you are not alone.
However, that exclusivity is not an excuse. You, like many of us, need to understand transformation. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:15, “For you have ten thousand teachers in Christ, but you do not have many fathers.” Even if we are present in our boy’s lives, we need to continue to grow and mature for their sake. We need to grow in being better fathers, into “Masters”, not just better teachers.
This lesson is first in our own home, and then to the generation around us.
If you have heard and understood the phrase, “it takes a village”, then our conversation continues next on the role of communal fathering and initiation.