The answer in easy to understand and hard to do.
Faith in real life
It is so difficult to address the topic of “bullying,” as the government guidelines of what constitutes bullying are so nebulous. By our government’s (stopbullying.gov) definition, it actually appears that every child in America is, at one time or another, a bully!
The latest brain research shows children’s learning, relationship skills, and emotional maturity grow best in unorganized, unsupervised play. In other words, opposite of the organized adult-led, adult-organized, adult-supervised life most of us have created for them.
Learning to get out of the way…
How do we learn how to be generous in giving to God? If you have little kids, they learn the same way as everything else, by watching you. What does your offering teach your kids about your God?
Your son is now at an age when he is mobile and he is curious. This is also the age when you can get him away to explore on your own. “Mom trust” kicks in a bit more, she gives you a “boys” pass, and it is time to let the fun begin! You have prepared for this day since before he was born and now…
Hold on! Time for a little self-inventory:
- Are you going to try to give your son the focus you did not receive from your own dad?
- Are you going to try to create a mini-me whose interests directly mimic your own?
- Do you have dreams of this little bundle of joy being in the NBA, on the PGA, or going to Stanford for a PhD?
- Do you keep upgrading your video and photo capabilities with new hardware and software, renewing like yesterday’s magazine subscriptions?
1. Are you going to try to give your son the focus you did not receive from your own dad?
Memory research is showing us that our memories are selective at best. In fact, the latest studies are showing us that we remember more clearly the things we think about the least. The more we play those “tapes” from our past, the more reality and perception clash. You are not your father and your son is not you, neither now, nor when you were a little boy. So relax, take a deep breath and repeat after me:
“My son is a unique child of God. There has never been anyone quite like him, and there will never be anyone quite like him, ever.”
and, repeat after me:
“I am a unique father for my son. There has never been a father quite like me for him and there will never be a father quite like me for him, ever.”
Now, doesn’t that make you feel better? Isn’t that good to know? You can imitate the best of what you can remember from your own father/son relationship, imitate solid fathers you have known or know now, and learn from fatherhood resources (like this blog!), which will help along the way.
The relationship between a dad and his son is the original, “old school” male bonding experience. This is a very simple truth that is often overlooked. Having an active father in a baby’s life provides a strong environment for healthy growth in all arenas. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, however you look at it, when dads are there, it is like fertilizer for a healthy life. There is no in vitro substitute for the influence a father brings.
This is not just about a dad and his son; it is about mom, too! It may “take a village to raise a child,” but the village begins with having your husband by your side, and covering your back. When I hear someone say, “Children don’t need a father in their lives,” I know this statement is not coming from a dad or from a mom who has raised kids with a dad.
If this simply means “It is possible to raise children without a father,” then, obviously this is true. The same goes for a mom. From a possibility perspective, “Children don’t need a mother in their lives,” is equally true. We just never hear this.
Practically, sharing in the tasks of raising an infant brings husbands and wives closer together. It isn’t healthy to project all our needs for encouragement, joy and affirmation onto one person. Human relationships flourish as we join together with others for a common purpose. We can share work, share interests and hobbies, raise pets, and such, yet raising a child becomes the most primal, instinctual place for growth. Our capacity as men and women expands as we raise children together.
Now, dads, this doesn’t mean you have to get all weird on me. I don’t want to see any breast feeding apparatus like Robert De Niro, as Jack Byrnes, in Meet the Fockers(2004)! Yet, sharing in those basic infant care tasks has a ton of psychological and emotional influence, for you and your son. Here are some examples:
Holding your son closely and watching him drink from his bottle is about as close as you will ever get to seeing pure peace.
Sharing in soothing your son during nighttime fussing is not just for the sake of relieving your wife’s sleep deprivation; your son is learning that you are there to bring security into his life, as well.
Changing diapers may have been a bit too much for some of our fathers to handle, but we step up. Because it is the politically correct thing to do? No, because we learn so much in this simple action. We learn that if we can take crap from our sons at an early age, we can take crap from them later! One of those lessons in “unconditional love,” let’s just say. O, and remember to have another diaper handy to throw over him just in case…
Taking a nap with your son lying on your chest is a great excuse to get some rest, and your son can get used to the rhythm of your heart, as he has his mom’s for so much time in the womb. An added bonus is, while you are snoring because you are sleeping on your back, she won’t poke you. Instead, she’s thinking, “Isn’t that precious…” Saw away, boys!
Now is the time to sing, pray, and give blessing to your son each night. Faith is not a “woman’s thing.” A habit formed from the beginning like this will have huge dividends as he grows older. Both for him and for you (I will spend a whole chapter on the topic of spiritually nurturing your son).
Yes, spending lots of time with your infant son is as much about you bonding with him as it is he bonding with you. I can’t help but think of those old film clips I saw when studying Psychology, of ethologist (study of animal behavior), Konrad Lorenz, walking with geese following him. He is showing an example of “Imprinting” (“in which a young animal acquires several of its behavioral characteristics from its parent.”)
Your son is not a goose, he isn’t your clone, but as a dad, you have to realize how the time investment you make from day one will significantly increase the effectiveness of your influence in the coming years. Your journey has just begun. Honk! Honk!
If you consider the food patterns of American culture, pizza is a “hot” commodity. According to a recent Gallup poll, pizza is preferred over all other food for lunch and dinner, in children ages 3-11. I know that was the case for our family growing up.
Pizza was not something we would eat frequently. Maybe that’s why I can still taste the pizza from Dino’s or Derango’s as I am writing these words. A distinct fennel flavor is slowing creeping into my memory bank. Yet, where there is pleasure, there is always the chance for pain to show up. With pizza this was certainly the case. Allow me to explain.
We were in the funeral business. In the funeral business you work days and nights. You have funerals, the logistics of getting ready for funerals (embalming, funeral preparations, pick-ups, dropping off obituaries at the local news room, etc.) and making arrangements with families during the day. At night you might meet with families and make arrangements, as well, if they can’t come in during the day. Also at night, you would have visitations (wakes/ showings).
Dad would frequently work both day and night. If he was working nights, this meant if he got to chance to come home at all, it would be for a quick bite to eat that you could call a “family meal.” A more accurate description would be, “family feeding.” Like throwing fish food into a tank of gold fish, when the food hit the table the frenzy would begin.
The Hanson’s were fast eaters. “Speed-eaters.” “Hash and dash.” Usually there were four boys and dad sitting around the table, and mom in the kitchen. She brings out whatever casserole or meat and potatoes combo we would share that evening, a quick prayer, and then, “Boom!” Eat away.
It is during these quick meals we were most likely to get pizza. As a treat, and as a break for our mom (I’m naturally assuming that is why my dad did it), dad would bring pizza home, hot and ready to be eaten. The four guppies would already be gathered around the table, plates ready, dad would set the pizza’s down and then, just like other meals, it was start eating as fast as you can.
Only this time, with pizza, there is a strategy. There are only a limited amount of pieces to go around. We never had leftovers. So, when dad would bring home pizza, we really had to be on our game. And yes, with the pleasure, comes pain.
You know what it is like to eat piping hot pizza? Where it seems like the whole roof of your mouth is burned and shredded? Well, there is only a limited food supply, so you eat through the pain! No matter, how much you blow on the cheese and sausage, there is going to be a reckoning.
Every last piece eaten, and dad is out the door. Can’t stop. Can’t talk. Gotta get back work. A burnt mouth becomes a throbbing metaphor of this part my family life. Just know, you are not going to see much of dad.
As my dad worked for his dad, it isn’t a shock that he was gone a lot. Long hours and keeping a tough schedule is just what sons do when they work for their fathers, right? Gotta earn those stripes working the family business. Yet, long hours in general just seemed to be the way things were for our generation of kids. As many of us who were raised in the “Baby Boomer” generation can attest, we didn’t spend lots of time with our dads.
Historically, you can see why sons spending time with their fathers declined. In almost all cultures, from the beginning of humanity until the beginning of the 20th century, most sons would follow their fathers in their livelihood. Interesting that surnames even indicated what your future is going to hold.
“Bill Carpenter.” “John Smith.” “Tom Undertaker?” Well, there are always exceptions!
So, this was the way of the world. Whether it was agriculture or a trade, most sons would apprentice with their fathers. This wasn’t only about life; it was about being a man. Imitation is as important a learning tool as information. Not just learning how to do work, but also learning how to do life.
This practice of sons spending years “apprenticing” with their fathers still continues in many cultures, yet in the world of the “Industrial Age” and following, the time spent by sons with their dads declines.
Interesting that we don’t hear much about this shift in the way life was lived when it comes to fathers and sons. Fathers are the primary model for life ( for good or bad) since the beginning of humanity, and then suddenly (at least in historical time), poof!
Where’s dad? He’s at work!
Did you spend much time with your dad growing up? If you did, what do you remember? If you didn’t what do you remember?
(Please note: I just learned of a remedy for a burnt roof of the mouth. Use sugar. Just pour a bit on the painful area and dissolve it in. It works!)
Let me tell you a story…
Within the last month I experienced two special retreats. One weekend, I was the Spiritual Director on a Prison 3-Day retreat for 18-20 year old incarcerated young men. Two weekends later, I was a teacher and chaperone for young men on a ninth grade retreat for those youth from our church ready to make a deeper faith commitment as they enter high school.
Only a couple of years separated the young men age-wise, but life experience- wise? Different planets. The one glaring contrast between the two groups was the involvement in their lives by healthy fathers and/or other male mentor(s), Light years apart.
O, a few of the guys I’ve spent time with in prison over the years did have dads who mentored them. Stories of how-to jack someone up and rob him, how to steal and not get caught, how to shoot up heroin, are much too common. In those cases, whatever lesson these young men did learn- the few who did have fathers around, or other older male role models- whatever the lesson, obviously the results behind bars are less than stellar.
Now, the young men on the church retreat live no sheltered life in affluent luxury with doting fathers. but what they do have is a dad or other male mentor or two connecting with them in a helpful way.
The kids themselves are similar in many ways, but their upbringing, especially when it comes to fathers, obviously makes a huge difference. While research makes the same point, spending time in prison ministry brings these statistics to life.
Fathers and sons don’t deserve this.
They deserve the joy and challenge of living life as “master teacher and apprentice.” I want dads, and other adult males who have an opportunity to be a mentor, to make a difference in young men’s lives.
The best model for this? Ironically, someone who was not a father. The teaching and model of Jesus as to how to live your life in community. investing in others and expanding their lives in remarkable ways, that’s the key. Jesus is the superior teacher and model for fathers and sons (mothers, daughters, and everyone else, too). How to be a father to a son the way that Jesus would if he were in your situation, is a crying need for dads. For the sake of their sons…for the sake of society…
For God’s sake.
I have always been interested in mentoring youth. In my teens, I began to teach Sunday School and coach youth basketball. My undergrad degrees are in Psychology and Secondary Education. I went to graduate schooI, received my MDiv and began working as a youth pastor in 1982. By 1991, no longer a “youth pastor,” I continued to work with kids and their parents in our Church communities: Congregation, preschool, elementary school, and middle school (where my wife, Nancy, also taught), as well as in the local community as basketball coach and mentor in public schools.
Since 1992, I have done much consulting with a national youth ministry organization,Faithinkubators, in particular working on parenting and connecting parents and kids. I have also developed a relational evangelism DVD series entitled, ”How To Be A Christian Without Being A Jerk!” which has a wide usage by Christian organizations teaching outreach with the next generations. As you saw above, I serve as Spiritual Director at a local prison (California Youth Authority for 18-25 year old young men) where we lead three-day spiritual retreats as part of Epiphany Prison Ministry.
Yet, obviously, my greatest experience and interest in fathers parenting sons is raising our own sons. Nancy and I have a daughter, Kristina, 22, and twin boys, Gregory and David, 19. We have been the key adult mentors in their lives, living in the tension of being pastor, teacher, coach, and both of us volunteers in the public schools they attended, as well as mom and dad. All this without being totally enmeshed. It can be done.
As I stated in my prior launch post, I will be writing a book on fathers and daughters in this “No Jerk” series. So, Kristina, I’m not ignoring our life together, just focusing on the boys right now!
If you read what I am writing in the next several months you will make significant progress in lfie with your son(s). You will learn from the best:
- From the best teacher who ever lived- Jesus.
- From the best of what I have experienced as a son of a father (leaving the less than helpful stuff behind).
- From the best of what I have invested in our sons (sharing my “bonehead” moments, as well),
- From the best of my being a mentor of scores of young men over the years,
- From the best of amazing fathers with whom I have had the privilege of sharing life together.
For God’s sake…and your son’s…join me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the latest post.
As many of you know, I am a pastor in LA who has been blogging for over 7 years now. My main areas of interest have to do with evangelism and discipleship, in particular reaching out to the next generations and training others to do this. My blog, “How To Be A Christian Without Being A Jerk!” has been a mixture of apologetics, relational evangelism, and discipleship training, with personal lifestyle/ current event type posts interspersed. The overall vibe has been challenging us to look again at what we all “know to be true” from a different angle.
I have been using personal anecdotes and humor (yes, much self-deprecation, of course), following the filter of “sharing the compassion of Jesus with everyone; sharing the gospel with those who are receptive.” All of this in, as much as possible, a “no-being-a-jerk” zone.
I have taken a few months off from blogging now, and am ready to begin again. This time however, I am trying an experiment. Here is what it looks like.
My intention has always been working on a “No Jerk” series for Christians, and not stopping at “How To Be A Christian Without Being A Jerk!” Recently, I am receiving encouragement from writer colleagues to work on another book in the series, specifically on fathers raising sons. They are challenging me to get out the wisdom I have been sharing with them and others over the last several years, and applying it to a book which deals with dads training up their sons.
The result is the book (working title), “Hey Dad! 10 Ways to Make Sure Your Son Won’t Grow Up To Be A Jerk!” Through learning from mentors, and my own modeling, sharing life, and teaching my boys about being a “man” (I am not grunting as I typed that), and then working with other fathers and sons over the last three decades of ministry, I come from a strong base of parenting sons. If you have shared life with us, you know this to be true.
In the last several months, I have begun writing the book, but I need help. I need some structure and expectations to keep me moving, and so combining blogging with the writing makes sense. This will help me make progress in being more organized about the whole project, while sharing content and soliciting feedback along the way.
All of this will be written from a filter of the Christian worldview, along the same lines as my “How To Be…Jerk!” work. This certainly makes sense, because the biblical concept of discipleship is the best model out there for dads raising sons. Certainly, as with my other writing, I am paying close attention to make sure that non-Christians will discover this book to be helpful, again, if receptive.
My wife, Nancy and I have three adult children, Kristina, 22, and Gregory and David, twins of 19. I plan on writing a father/ daughter book in this same “Jerk” series, but I am starting with sons because that’s where I can be of most service right now.
In the blog, together we will explore these 10 topics (or “Ways”) of “jerk prevention”:
- Invest lots of time in him
- Treat him as unique; not special
- Be affectionate
- Help him face his fears
- Be an honorable husband
- Be his spiritual mentor
- Have solid friendships
- Model loyalty with integrity
- Help him retire your flaws
- Model how to protect and serve
I intend to publish entries three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You will be able to access them through my Twitter and Facebook feeds, along with my website www.danahanson.org.