On the weekend I gave a short talk entitled Father & Son – Side by Side at an event ran by Kids Giving Back.
In short, the day involved 30+ fathers with their teenage sons cooking meals and delivering them to people who needed them; women’s shelters, youth refuges, services for homeless people etc.
To start the day, I gave my talk.
It’s one thing to speak as I do to a room full of teachers or school leaders, as I’ve been involved in education, pretty much all my life.
But to talk with fathers and their sons is a real honour, challenge and poignant occasion all wrapped up in one.
I’m certainly no expert on parenting but I have a five-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter, and I’ve worked with other people’s kids all my professional life, so I just tried to offer some differing perspectives.
We touched on issues ranging from respect for women to alcohol-fuelled violence, and from why even though you may argue a fair bit, chances are you’ll end up fairly similar.
I spoke about the need for fathers to just show up and try not to be an expert but an example. Sons learn more about how to treat women, drinking, attitudes to violence and life in general from watching their fathers than they ever do from speaking to them.
Rather than having the talk with their son – because that’s too easy to keep putting that off – I encouraged them to just start talking, and while we know blokes aren’t too keen to talk about their feelings, they do make great storytellers. By sharing their experience through stories rather than lectures they invite their son into the conversation.
My other points broadly covered these themes:
Tell them you’re proud of them.
They don’t need to earn your love and respect.
But pull them up when they need it. They’ll respect you for that.
And just when you think you should probably speak… listen some more.
And I think these ideas can work both ways in the father/son relationship.
To finish I read a poem, that I love, that is often attributed to Ann Landers, but I’ve also seen others suggest otherwise:
When I was: Four years old: My daddy could do anything.
When I was: Five years old: My daddy knows a whole lot.
When I was: Six years old: My dad is smarter than your dad.
When I was: Eight years old: My dad doesn’t know exactly everything.
When I was: 10 years old: In the olden days, when my dad grew up, things were sure different.
When I was: 12 years old: Oh, well, naturally, Dad doesn’t know anything about that. He is too old to remember his childhood.
When I was: 14 years old: Don’t pay any attention to my dad. He is so old-fashioned.
When I was: 21 years old: Him? My Lord, he’s hopelessly out of date.
When I was: 25 years old: Dad knows about it, but then he should, because he has been around so long.
When I was: 30 years old: Maybe we should ask Dad what he thinks. After all, he’s had a lot of experience.
When I was: 35 years old: I’m not doing a single thing until I talk to Dad.
When I was: 40 years old: I wonder how Dad would have handled it. He was so wise.
When I was: 50 years old: I’d give anything if Dad were here now so I could talk this over with him. Too bad I didn’t appreciate how smart he was. I could have learned a lot from him.
Author: Dan Haesler is a teacher, consultant and speaker at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminars. His website is: http://danhaesler.com/ and he tweets at @danhaesler