Another day is over and I watch my sons while they sleep. I’ve closed their bedroom windows, pulled the covers over their shoulders and now ” before I leave their rooms ” I say a quick prayer for them and wonder how I’m doing as a father. Do they get enough time with me Do I use that time well enough What kind of men will they be What kind of teenagers And I feel afresh the weight of responsibility to raise them “right” to do what I can to bring them into adulthood well-adjusted, merciful, strong, principled, creative, compassionate, educated, andready. I look at that list of adjectives and I think to myself: it’s a tall order!
As a visual learner I often need an image or a metaphor that enables me to see what I’m aiming at, to get inside the “job” and gain fresh perspective on it, to sharpen my approach to my goal. When I recently reached for an analogy to give me fresh insight into the complex role of fatherhood, the image that came to mind was that of a platoon sergeant.
The Sergeant is that unique individual who both commands and collaborates with his men. He leads from the trenches, not the HQ. He both issues orders and fights alongside the men he has been entrusted with, for they share similar battles. It is essential that he sends the men into battle while doing his best to ensure their safety under fire and competence during their mission. He even nurtures the unique skills of his subordinates, so that in some areas they surpass him.
Here is a great picture of the command and collaboration aspects of fathering. The great father does his parenting with two critical dynamics in mind: expectation and empowerment. And these require balance. When we raise our expectations of our sons, we need to do the same with our empowering them for success. When we praise or adulate boys without stretching them into the next level of maturity that the world requires of them, then we spoil and weaken them.
Consider the chart below. Here are specific roles that enable us to act out the two dynamics.
Umpire or Captain-Coach?
Simply put, the Umpire will take you out of the game. He’ll penalise you. He’ll enforce rules and boundaries. He doesn’t have to be angry about it, just firm. He either allows or creates consequences so as to maintain order.
The Captain-coach puts you in the game, and keeps you focused on the right plays. He debriefs you on how the “game” is going for you. He’ll encourage and feed your strengths.
Manager or Mentor?
A Manager usually directs a team-member toward a goal. As distinct from the Umpire, the Manager creates some of the rules and adjusts them when outmoded. The Manager sets Key Performance Indicators (If seven year old Johnny’s room is tidy and he’s dressed on time for school, he’s living up to standards) while raising the bar on these KPIs after the team member has greater experience (Now Johnny’s nine he should also be nailing his homework and making his own breakfast). It’s essential for boys to have clear and challenging standards and goals.
While the Manager sets the goal, the Mentor trains, resources and sponsors the individual to accomplish it. He also models, allowing his actions to speak louder than words. He learns to recognise and endorse those qualities that are unique in his prot?g’s, rather than attempting to recreate them in his own image.
Lecturer or Listening Ear
The word Lecturer normally has a negative ring to it. But if you were a medical student, you’d need and crave the expertise of a lecturer who can equip you to find the pancreas without cutting through the kneecap! In the same way, your son needs your knowledge about the world and a male’s place in it.
Let me diverge for a moment into some how-to’s that I’ve observed work well. Our current crop of children and teenagers will respond best if information is shared with consideration to the following three parameters:
- Stories ” Consider the power of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.
- Truth ” Keep it authentic and factual. Kids are sharp. Gen Y’s and Z’s (people born between 1982 and today) can be trusted to make solid decisions when they have solid information to base them on.
- Relevance ” Our children swim in incredibly fast and focused information and media streams. You’re competing with that. Learn to edit what you’re saying to that which is most relevant.
Remember also that what we share can easily be undermined by how we share it. So,
- Make it timely ” not the puberty talk at sixteen or at six, but at eleven or twelve.
- Use Teasers ” Make an intriguing statement such as “That’s not what women are for” or “My first year at High School was awful, but I found a way to get through it”. Leave the comment hanging in the air, enticing them to ask more questions (then answer the question and only the question). This way you have invited them into a learning mode.
- Play the ball not the man ” Neither make statements that are accusatory (eg. “I know what you’re really up to!) nor what Michael Grose has called “prophetic (eg. “If you keep this up, you’ll end up a lonely old man)
The balance to lecturing is the skill of listening ” a communication skill much neglected by the male of the species. It involves laying aside your own agenda and inner-monologue so that you enter into the other person’s perspective. Men have begun to make an effort to listen at work and to our spouses. Kids also need to be heard.
Listening demonstrates that you value the boy. Ask your son questions. When he talks, be aware that there are times when you should turn to face him. Nod occasionally and wear a facial expression that encourages him to keep talking. Try not to hurry him or finish his sentences.
Taking the Next Hill
Okay, Sarge, time to plan for the next phase of your mission! The following exercises are designed to help you do that.
- Which of the roles above do you default to
- Which do you avoid or overlook
- Strategic Planning::
- What could be some valuable outcomes from embracing the roles you avoid or overlook
- Listen to your gut: which “neglected” role is the one that most needs development
- Brainstorm six ways you could better embrace those roles. (What practical ideas can you gain from the image of the sergeant)
- From these thoughts, jot down the twosteps or habits with the strongest potential to keep you behaving like the father you want your son to have.
- Complete this sentence: “For my son’s sake, I commit to”
Finally, remember you don’t have to battle to bring your boy safely through to manhood on your own. Other men are fighting exactly the same fight. So who could you mention your thoughts to who could remind you occasionally of your commitment and support you in it
A final encouragement. Sometime this week, when your son is engaged with his homework, his X-box or his football – notice him. Remember again what a wonderful human being you have helped bring into the world. Remind yourself of your hopes for the man he will be – as well as the uniqueness of the boy he is. Refresh your commitment to both directing and partnering him on his journey through life.
When it comes to raising him well, you have what it takes. You just have to use it
The father who would taste the essence of his fatherhood must turn back from the plane of his experience, take with him the fruits of his journey and begin again beside his child, marching step by step over the same old road.
Peter Aldin is founder of Great Circle Coaching & Development and a licensed facilitator of the Pitstop parenting program for men. For over a decade, he has provided consulting and training that assists people to sharpen their personal and professional re