by Tim Wright
These are interesting days to be a dad. On the one hand, research overwhelmingly tells us that dads play an essential role in the lives of their sons and daughters. On the other hand, certain voices in culture not only question the necessity of dad, but insist that dads are obsolete. Just a few years ago on Father’s Day, CNN featured a debate on this question: Are some kids better off without a dad? (Can you imagine a similar debate about motherhood on Mother’s Day?)
Deadbeat dads. Absent dads. Father wounds. Dumbed-down TV sitcom dads. The labels are not handsome. But increasingly, they seem to ring true. Too many dads have dropped the fatherhood ball.
Recognizing the lack of fatherhood skills in many dads today, several organizations (including the National Center for Fathering) have dedicated themselves to “building” great dads. These organizations recognize that high-impact fathers must be “built” over time—both encouraged about the importance of their role and then equipped with the necessary tools to meaningfully raise their kids.
But if we really want to build great dads, perhaps we need to start the process earlier—in fact, much earlier, when potential dads are still boys.
Much of what a father does or does not do is “built” into him as he grows into manhood. The values he embraces, the parenting he receives, the decisions he makes, are the materials of future fatherhood. Author Denny Coates reminds us that the thinking, reasoning, critical part of the brain develops in kids during their teen years. How they use their brain and what they put into their brain during those years will set the course for the rest of their lives, including parenting.
Sadly, based on some current trends, the building process for boys is often counter-productive to equipping them for great manhood, let alone fatherhood. Consider these findings:
- 70% of all D’s and F’s are given to boys.
- 85% of stimulant-addressing drugs prescribed throughout the world are prescribed to US boys.
- Boys have fallen behind girls in virtually every area of education.
- One in three teenage boys is now considered a “heavy” porn user, with the average boy watching nearly two hours of porn every week.
- Boys spend 13 hours a week playing video games. As a result, boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way to demand change, novelty, excitement, and constant stimulation. That means they are becoming totally out of synch in traditional school classes, which are analog, static, and interactively passive.
- Young men now in their twenties have never experienced a culture in which men were respected or expected to be gentlemen.
- Some 40% of boys will spend at least a part of their growing up years without a dad.
The good news: we can reverse that storyline. In addition to giving men the tools they need to be great dads, we can start building great dads now by training our boys in the art of fatherhood.
Here are a few ways to get started:
Give boys a heroic vision for manhood—a vision built on honor, courage, commitment, sacrifice, love, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom, and grace. This happens through mentoring, teaching, correction, and rites of passage programs.
Give boys purpose. As we see a boy’s emerging gifts and talents, affirm them in him. What he’s good at is a powerful clue to his purpose for life.
Give boys masculine energy. Dads are built by dads. So the key to building great dads is to surround our boys with great dads—their own dads and/or other men—who can model responsibility, love, compassion, and fatherhood to these dads in the making.
Give boys the chance to interact with children. When age appropriate, give boys the chance to mentor younger children, either by helping out in a church Sunday School class or nursery, or through connecting with local organizations that offer kids’ clubs.
Imagine a world where deadbeat dads are replaced by life-enhancing dads; where absent dads are replaced by fully engaged dads, and where fathers are no longer the source of deep wounds, but the source of strength, affirmation, love, and hope.
The secret to that kind of a dad: Start building him early, when he’s still a boy.
Just Invest in Your Sons. Just Be DAD.
Tim Wright is a Lutheran Pastor in Peoria (Phoenix), Arizona. For the last 8 years he has also been working with Michael Gurian on the challenges boys face in the 21st Century, creating resources for parents and congregations to help lead boys into manhood. He and his wife Jan have been married since 1979. They have two grown children and 5 grandchildren. Find out more about Tim, his books and his blog.