Fatherhood

Teach your kids at all times. When necessary, use words.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that our kids see and hear everything we do and say as parents.

While their faces might be glued to their iPads, it doesn’t mean they don’t notice everything.

One of the most important things we can do as parents is to model for them positive behaviors.

They are watching, and they will imitate.

My kids see me lifting weights daily, they see me reading and writing, they see me working from home, and they know where my meditation cushion is.

Just the other day, my five-year-old ran over to me to tell me that he wants to have muscles like me and wants to start working out with me.

He sees me every day toiling in the basement with weights and knows that’s a positive thing he wants to imitate. That made me happy when he said it.

He also often asks me to read to him, usually when he sees me reading. I’m happy to oblige him and we’ve been reading Jocko Willink’s Way of the Warrior Kid. The book is too advanced for him to read on his own, but I make him point out his sight words on every page to reinforce what he is learning in school.

I want my kids to value physical fitness and discover the joy of learning and questioning, so I make it a point to ensure they see me when I do those things.

I encourage them to not accept everything at face value and to not be afraid to question me or authority figures. If they disagree with something I’ve asked them to do, I give them the opportunity to make a logical argument to me. This is to ensure they don’t grow up to be automatons who are afraid to question future teachers, professors, bosses, or perceived elders. As Socrates said, “To find yourself, think for yourself.”   They are still finding themselves and must be allowed to think for themselves.

Zac Small, in his instructive book, Fatherhood for Modern Times, wrote: “Your children are going to follow your example, not your advice.” This book was helpful for me in internalizing the fact that our kids are always watching and imitating, and I’ve been consciously trying to parent with this constantly in mind. This extremely valuable book is currently on sale for only $9.25 using the code 4THEDADS. I encourage all fathers to read and apply it.

Be that example by showing them and modeling behavior for them. Don’t just lecture them and expect it to get through.

It won’t.

Just as our kids see and imitate the positives we do, they also see clearly the negatives.

Imagine my surprise when my son called his sister an “asshole.” When I asked him what he said he repeated the word (I’m kind of proud he stood his ground). He said he heard me saying it about someone. 

Though he doesn’t always appear to be listening, the fact is he does listen.

It made my wife and me more careful with our language around the kids.

Likewise, if your kids feel constant tension between Mom and Dad at home, they will internalize that this is what a marriage is like.

If your kids see you come home from work and immediately retreat into your “Man Cave” to drink beer all night alone, they will think this is what fathers do.

If your kids see you let the negative news on TV affect your behavior, they will more likely let external events they have no control over affect their emotions and actions.

They see our positive and negative behaviors and they strive to emulate us. This is a remarkable gift since we as parents have the power to model the types of behaviors that will make our kids more successful, happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as adults, and they are a captive audience.  

We must all take this responsibility seriously. It’s easy to see their heads buried in their electronic devices or in schoolwork and assume they aren’t paying attention or listening.

This is false.

I’ve also begun self-censoring what I listen to in the car when they are in the back seat. When my daughter pointed out a “Fuck” in a song I was listening to, I knew I couldn’t continue to listen to everything I might want to.      

The behaviors we model will be different for each parent depending on your own values and interests.

That’s perfectly ok. What works for me and my family doesn’t work for everyone.

But, understand that they are watching, and we have the opportunity to help them every day as they grow into adulthood. A famous quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

This is how I view parenting. To change it slightly into a parenting and non-religious context: “Teach your kids at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Our daily actions repeated and visible to them count more than our words. Let’s make those actions positive and helpful to them as they develop into adults and future leaders of families and communities.

Why You Should Not Always Listen To Your Elders

Growing up I was often given the admonition to “listen to your elders.”

The underlying assumption was that by virtue of one’s age alone, a person had accrued sufficient wisdom to guide those of younger generations.

While the passage of years does presumably give a person certain life experiences, a blanket “listen to your elders” statement does not take into account the kind and type of experiences that “elder” has accrued.

As my teens turned into my twenties, then into my thirties, and now into my forties, I have learned the valuable lesson that someone’s age on its own is not sufficient for me to allow that person to speak into my life.

Age is simply not a barometer of the quantity or quality of wisdom a person has.

I was duped.  

I would argue that when a young person is told to “listen to your elders,” the one saying it is trying to mold the younger person into one who is pliable and compliant to those in positions of authority.

This command is, thus, used as a bludgeon to keep younger people in line and unquestioningly obedient to authority. Respect must be earned – and being alive for a large number of earth rotations around the sun is not nearly enough to earn it.

Our Children Learn From Us

This is the lesson I try to impart to my children. Those who wish to speak into their life must earn that right, and they should never blindly trust or submit to anyone. When kids are taught to unreservedly “listen to your elders” it leads to unthinking, passive, complacent, and submissive adults.   

As my friend, The Polite Savage, said:

“As a parent if we instill obedience, submission to authority, and reinforce complacency as opposed to encouragement, curiosity, and self worth, we are subconsciously setting the stage for bullying.”

I have found that some of the wisest people I know are younger than I am. Conversely, some of the most unwise people I’ve come across are older than me and thus, technically, my elder. If I allowed such people to speak into my life, I would be doing myself and my family a disservice.  

Instead of “listen to your elders,” young people should be taught to respect those of all ages, but only follow those who have demonstrated through their actions and experiences that they are worthy to speak into their life.

I can give numerous examples of people in their twenties who are crushing it and who I listen to when they speak on matters of entrepreneurship.

I know men in their thirties who, while they have been a father for shorter than I have, bring so much wisdom to the topic that I would be stupid to not listen to them merely because I am older than they are.

I also know men who are older than I am and who have given me profound guidance on marital issues that have helped improve my life.

All of them walk the walk and have demonstrated to me their knowledge and wisdom. They have earned the right to speak into my life.   

Ultimately, it’s about swallowing your pride and understanding that the answers can, and do, come from people of all ages and backgrounds. There is no monopoly on wisdom and truth, and it can come from unexpected places.

If we are lazy and simply pay attention to those older because they are an “elder,” we don’t serve ourselves well, and we will miss out on many other sources of wisdom. This way of thinking closes off our minds to new knowledge.

At this point in my life, I have developed the quality of discernment and can spot from a mile away who is full of shit and bloviates about topics they know nothing about. While I show such people respect, I would never follow their counsel.  

Discernment and humility are the keys to the puzzle. Take the time to recognize who is worth listening to and be humble enough to consider their advice no matter their age or perceived experience level.

The right experience and true wisdom are much more important than age or outward expressions of confidence.

Fathers should encourage their children’s innate curiosity and help guide them towards the ability to discern who is worth allowing to speak into their lives and who isn’t.

If we do this, we will create children with critical thinking skills, humility, a healthy skepticism for unworthy authority, and greater self-respect.  

Hunter Drew is one of the examples I cited above of a person younger than I am who has proven himself to be wise and who speaks into my life. In his wonderful resource, Fatherhood For Modern Times, he goes into detail on many of these issues that are so important for raising children into critically thinking adults. I encourage all fathers and all who aspire to be one to pick up a copy.

Sons Rely On Their Fathers To Teach Them How To Be Men

Young boys are often taught that their innate qualities and nature are, in some way, defective, and that they must bury those parts of themselves to fit in to the dominant culture.  

While I can’t directly control what my son is explicitly and implicitly taught in school or in the media, I can control the lessons we teach him in our home.

The most important lesson I teach him is that masculinity and men throughout history are heroic. I will ensure that he internalizes this positive message and always remembers it.   

He will know that male kings, presidents, emperors, philosophers, poets, artists, scholars, novelists, artisans, builders, farmers, soldiers, fathers, and so many other anonymous hard-working men through millennia, built and shaped our world, and continue to do so.

They created democracy, wrote most of the great works of literature we still study today, refined philosophical thought, created much of the art in our museums, designed and built the great skyscrapers and bridges that are ubiquitous throughout our world, discovered life-saving medications and vaccines that saved untold numbers of lives and alleviated suffering, defeated our enemies and died in horrific numbers keeping our world safe, and lived quiet unassuming lives raising and protecting their families and passing on important lessons to the next generations.  

Men throughout history have been and continue to be heroic.  This is the message we must teach our boys in our homes because we know that revisionist history wants to focus exclusively on the negatives perpetrated by some men throughout history.

My son and I will continue looking at pictures and videos of American soldiers, many of them so young that under new laws they would not even be allowed to legally purchase cigarettes today, storming the beach at Normandy, and dying by the thousands in the desperate quest to free Europe from the Nazis.

We will watch Civil War movies featuring thousands of young men marching towards each other in formation with full knowledge they would probably be cut down by a musket ball.

We will discuss the role of monks during the Dark Ages who painstakingly hand copied great works of ancient literature, thereby preserving those works for all posterity.

Push Back Against the Cultural Narrative

Modern society today tries to tell boys, like my son, that he is responsible for the ills perpetrated by others in the past. He is given the message that there’s something wrong with him, and that he should sit still, shut up, and comply.

There’s not a chance I will let that happen.   

Fathers of sons must counteract these messages that our sons are bombarded with in school, on television, and everywhere else they turn to remind them that masculinity is heroic.

This is why it is so important for fathers to be familiar with history – real history – not the politically correct stories that masquerade as history today. We must be prepared to inspire our sons with tales of heroic men throughout the centuries who, through their actions, built and sustained the world.

At that same time, we as fathers must always demonstrate to our sons our own heroism by forging ahead against the culture by taking care of our bodies and health, improving our minds and spirits, financially providing for our families, and protecting our families in every way possible.

It is up to us to push back against the dominant cultural narrative before our sons internalize its false premise.

If we don’t do it, no one else will.

Never Cede Your Responsibilities to Anyone Else

Our sons must also know that they do not have to do great public acts to be heroic. Countless men throughout the ages and today lived quiet anonymous lives leading and protecting their families and shaping the next generations. They are no less heroic than great leaders of nations.

We go to work, and we know statistically men are far more likely to work in the most dangerous and deadly of occupations, and we provide through the sweat of our brow. We serve as moral teachers, as our guidance helps direct our sons’ innate quest to want to push boundaries and explore. We teach them how to be good at being a man and to be good men (for a greater discussion of the difference between the two, see Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men).

My son and I talk about when violence may be the answer. The fact is that sometimes it may be necessary, but those instances are rare, and must be reserved for proper purposes.  

We discuss justice, and what it means; honor, and how to maintain it; true friendship, and how to find it; and marriage and family, and how to find a wife who will be a true complementary partner.

As he grows up, we will continue to discuss what it means to be a man and the responsibility we have to protect our family from all kinds of harm. He will understand that if he acts in certain anti-social ways that there may be consequences. In short, he will learn the lessons that I learned and that generations of boys learned until recent times.

Fathers, our sons are counting on us to encourage their innate curiosity and desire for action. They need us more than ever to teach them how to be men, heroic men, who will lead in the future and help shape the course of world history.

Let us teach them well, and never cede this responsibility to anyone else.

Hunter Drew recently released a wonderful new resource called Fatherhood for Modern Times, which is an actionable guide for fathers today. I have been working through it and finding different strategies to implement in each chapter. It is a multimedia guide and includes a video and audio file for each chapter of the book. Check it out!

Letter to a Young Soon To Be Father

On July 4, 1996, my oldest daughter was born. I was less than a month away from my nineteenth birthday, and my then girlfriend – and now wife – was seventeen.

We’ve come a long way and have truly beaten the odds, considering the circumstances, and I wouldn’t change a thing about our life.

When my wife tells people that we have a 23-year-old daughter, a 9-year-old daughter, and a 5-year-old son, she typically gets asked, in a whisper and with a conspiratorial tone, “From the same father?”

And, she answers “yes, of course.”

Frankly, it’s an insulting question, but I understand why it’s asked.

We are an outlier in many ways.

Teenage pregnancies happen. It’s a reality of life. When it does, typically there are few resources available for the boy, no one to talk to, nowhere to turn. They are often blamed for what happened, as if he was some kind of predator that created the problem on his own.

The girl has resources she can access, and it is made clear to her that whatever happens next is her choice.

Whether the boy stays with the baby’s mother or not, he will be affected for the rest of his life.

I’ve written the below letter to encourage and provide practical advice to soon-to-be teenage fathers:

Dear Soon To Be Dad:

I know you are experiencing a whole host of emotions right now. After all, you are still a teenager, and you have hopes and dreams for the future.

Perhaps, like me when I was in your position, you have no experience taking care of an infant. You might still think of yourself as a kid. You might just know you aren’t ready for this.

You want to pursue your dreams, and you are trying to figure out how you will accomplish them when you will have to financially support and co-parent a child. You realize that your freedom of movement and to do what you want will be affected.  

Perhaps you just aren’t ready to settle down. You don’t want to stop going out. You don’t want to tell your friends “no” when they ask you to do things.

Perhaps you are worrying where you will get the money you need to help raise a child when you don’t have any skills or the right education yet.

Perhaps you and the mother simply don’t get along. It may have been a hookup with a girl you have no intention of ever marrying. Shit happened and here you are. 

Perhaps you are depressed, sad, anxious, angry, fearful, or a combination of all these emotions.

This was not part of your plans. I’m sure, like most, you’ve dreamt of having a family; but certainly not like this when you weren’t ready emotionally, financially, or professionally.

And, I understand that you have nowhere to turn for guidance or assistance or to just talk about the feelings you are experiencing.

Society tells you that every major decision about that child is the choice of the mother, and that you are superfluous, except for the financial support you will be legally required to contribute.

I’m here to tell you that your life, while it may change, is not over.

I’m here to tell you that you can have a future.

I’m here to urge you, regardless of how you and the mother get along, to be a major part of that child’s life.

Children desperately need their fathers in their lives. 

When fathers are involved and invested our society is better off and the child has a better shot at having a good future. 

No matter what happens between you and the mother, be a Dad.

Take that job incredibly seriously.

I won’t lie to you. Life will be difficult. You may miss things that other guys your age are doing. You may have to work a second job to help provide support. You will have no clue what you are doing. Good luck changing that first diaper, getting peed on, and having projectile spit-up sent your way.

And, I have a secret, though society tries to suppress this truth from you. Men and women are different. Their maternal instincts kick in very quickly, really while the baby is growing inside them, and they just seem to know what to do. For us, it can take a little more work. Don’t blame yourself for that. Blame evolution. Despite that strive to be as good of a father as possible. 

Here are four suggestions to any soon to be father who is still a teenager and is scared and confused.

Always remain in your child’s life.

You and the mother might want nothing to do with each other.

Fine.

No one is telling you to run out to marry someone you are not compatible with. In fact, please don’t do that. Don’t get married just because your family expects you to, her family demands it, or you feel it is the honorable thing to do. Stay with the girl if you have a deep bond with her, and you believe based on your experience together you are compatible and can make your relationship work. 

This is so important. So many people in your position rush into a marriage situation that neither party was ready for, if you do this you will likely create a negative situation for all three of you.

Whether there is a future relationship or not, keep the child separate from that. That child did not choose to be born. 

Your son or daughter needs his or her father.

Period.

Only you can provide the masculine leader in that child’s life that all the research shows is so crucial for the child’s future development. Don’t cede that role to the child’s mother who is ill-equipped to provide such leadership.

Do what you need to do to be in that child’s life, and don’t let yourself be bullied into sacrificing any of your rights. In fact, you know you will be on the hook for money but know that is the bare minimum of your responsibilities. Be fully and unreservedly in your child’s life. Be a Dad.  

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I know there are few resources out there for you. It sucks, but it is the way it is. Talk with men who have children who you respect. Seek them out. Even if your own father is not in your life, or isn’t worthy of emulation, find a father-mentor who will listen to you and help you through your struggles.

Depending on your particular situation, you may need legal guidance to protect your rights to be in that child’s life. Do whatever must be done to ensure you have the ability to be an involved Dad.

Make time for yourself and create your own identity.

Just like marriage, fatherhood is one aspect of your identity.

It is one aspect, but it isn’t your entire identity.

This is so important. You have to discover and develop a sense of who you are, what your values are, and define and implement your mission in life. This can only be done by you on your own.

Enjoy your hobbies. Read and engage in self-improvement activities. Do activities alone or with male friends. Pour yourself into making money and building a career or business.  

This will make you a better father and man.

Ultimately, you must make necessary sacrifices for your new family, but you must not self-sacrifice your entire independent existence away.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Continue to pursue whatever career path you have in mind. Get the training you need. Make it happen. If you don’t do these things, you might carry a sense of resentment around with you, and always wonder “what if?”.

Keep your good friends close, and let any toxic ones go.

You will likely lose friends.

Let them go.

If any of your friends can’t handle the fact that you have a new set of responsibilities and try to convince you to shirk them, get rid of them.

With that said, it is so important that you have male friends. Figure out which of them are worth keeping around because they will be supportive of you and your mission and allow you to lean on them for support.

You may need to vent. Maintain friendships where you can do that with trusted males who have your best interest at heart. 

Conclusion

The fact is many men have been in your situation and have thrived. It is possible.

View your current situation as a gift that you have been entrusted with. That child will change your life for the better if you embrace – truly embrace – your role as Dad.

While you now have a great deal of responsibility at a young age, never, ever forget that you are not alone.

Sincerely,

Someone who knows how you feel and cares

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