I wish my old man had taught me more stuff before I became an adult. To say I was under-prepared for the realities of life is an understatement. Sure I figured it out eventually, if by a somewhat circuitous route and after more than a few screw-ups. But I resolved to give my son a far easier passage, and decided that by the time he became an adult, he’d have received a proper education in man-stuff.
Be honest, how many of the following lessons have you taught, or would teach your son?
To Be calm under pressure.
Let’s face it shit happens. In fact through the course of our lives shit happens quite a lot. Yet I’m constantly surprised by how ill-equipped some guys are at dealing with it. The first whiff of a problem and it’s temper tantrums, knee-jerk reactions, and all round drama. This diva behaviour does not manifest solutions, nor lead to a solid coping mechanism that transcends any crisis.
Within a family you do not exist within a bubble. When misfortune strikes, kids may not know the details, but the ripples can be felt throughout the household. Getting stressed out and folding under pressure sends out a very wrong message, and creates an atmosphere of insecurity simply because the ‘man’ of the house can’t cope.
If instead, he remains calm yet focussed upon the problem at hand, then the message the child receives is ultimately a positive one. That there is nothing that can’t be overcome, and therefore there’s no point fearing the unknown.
Show your son how to be calm under pressure, and he’ll never buckle under the strain when faced with life’s many challenges. He’ll possess the composure to avoid over-reacting, and will never lash out at a loved one, or anyone else for that matter.
That Kindness is a strength.
Some people get off on power. They want to build themselves up either physically or socially in order to gain advantage over others. When power is the primary motivating factor, then where does their true strength lie, and where is their capacity for kindness?
You can be both successful and influential, without losing compassion, and therein lies real strength. Showing kindness towards others, especially when there’s no expectation for anything in return keeps you in touch with what’s really important in life. It allows you to connect in a meaningful way without ulterior motive, which ensures you retain an element of humility and a large dose of humanity.
To respect women.
Personally I feel it’s important to respect everyone, or at least aspire to do so until an individual’s behaviour dictates otherwise. But when they’re younger, boys have a tendency to hang around with others boys, and girls can become something of a mystery. Coupled with a misogynistic strand that runs throughout society, it can be quite easy to fail to grasp the idea of equality.
As a parent it’s hugely important to teach our sons the true meaning of equality, and respect towards women. This may be something you take for granted. But equally you can’t guarantee that your son isn’t get an entirely different message from his peers. Therefore it’s paramount that he only sees the best possible example from the person who’s influence matters the most….you.
How to throw a punch.
I have some friends who’ve never been in a physical confrontation in their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing if their lives have truly been that peaceful. Although I suspect for a few it was a case of never having stood up for themselves.
I don’t like fighting, and given a choice I’d never have thrown a punch. But the point is, that at certain times in your life, you may not have a choice. If you think of it as a skill, as a resource to be used as a last resort, then why not teach your son how to do it properly, in a way that won’t have him breaking his hand if he ever has to defend himself or his family.
Teaching your son to throw a punch, is one of those bonding moments you’ll never forget. Or if you’ve never been trained yourself, go to a class and learn together. We still laugh about the first time my son put me on my backside with a killer right cross!
How to be a good listener.
We’re all slammed for time these days, and as a parent it can be a struggle to give your kids your undivided attention amidst the plethora of tasks you have to wade through everyday. Don’t lose sight however of the need for quality time to communicate, and to check in with how they’re feeling. Preoccupation with your own stuff will only serve to keep you distracted, and thereby miss opportunities to connect with your loved ones.
The stresses of work, parenthood, and life in general can weigh heavy indeed. We rightly shoulder this burden, and don’t communicate our struggles and strains to our children. It’s not for them to worry about. But as we keep our own stiff upper lip, it’s a very small step to become self-absorbed and fail to reach out to check on how they’re feeling.
I believe it’s important for us adults to have a support network, or at least an outlet for our stress. For your kids, you are their outlet; and the only way you’ll get to know what’s going on in their world, is to ask and then take the time to listen. Be an active listener too. Get them to expand upon the points they feel passionate or otherwise emotional about, and be prepared to be patient if they struggle to express something they find difficult to articulate.
Being a good listener teaches by example, and you’ll be giving your Grandchildren a gift in the process.
80’s music was the best.
Wasn’t it? OK so I suppose it all depends upon which era you grew up in, and what was playing in the background throughout those formative years. Music evokes an emotional connection with poignant memories. Share your music with your kids, and tell them what was going on in your life when these tunes were current.
It’ll give them an insight into who you were and help explain the man you became. It’ll give them a picture of you beyond the role of parent, and enable them to see that you too were once an awkward kid, and maybe not so clueless as to what they’re currently experiencing.
To Drive safely.
I hate reckless drivers. I don’t care if they hurt themselves, but accidents nearly always involve an innocent third party who’s life may suddenly change, or end, just because some moron thought it was cool to drive fast. We put our kids in the hands of an instructor, and then in a very short period of time, they’re out on their own, wrapped up in a one ton turbo-charged missile.
Please don’t forget that you’ve been setting the tone for their future driving style for years. So I’ll ask the question, ‘how good a driver are you’? Do you maintain your composure and stay safe, or do you transform into one of those idiots who become aggressive once they’re behind the wheel? Just remember that you’re kids are sitting in the back seat when all this is going on. You may not realise it, but your every move is being watched and noted.
Don’t teach your kids to be aggressive when they drive, don’t show off, do not give them any bad habits to copy. Because I’ll tell you this. Reckless driving is the easiest way for your kids to destroy lives and end up in jail. Girls make for calmer new drivers, statistically it’s just the way it is. Boys are more likely to try to impress, and take risks. If your style of driving is such that it may put them at risk via a bad example, then grow the hell up and sort yourself out.
Actions have consequences.
We are currently living in a blame culture. Whenever anything goes wrong, all the majority of people want to do is shirk responsibility and look for someone else to take the fall. Strength of character comes from first taking an honest look at oneself and acknowledging the part you may have played. We can’t possibly get through life without being completely blameless. We’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s all part of the journey.
But part of being an adult is how you go about rectifying those mistakes, and it’s impossible to do so unless you can be honest with yourself. Kids who are never shown discipline fail to learn proper boundaries, and don’t fully grasp that there are always consequences to be faced, simply because they were never held to account.
Learning as children that there are always consequences for their actions, prevents them doing something reckless as adults that can’t easily be fixed, if at all. Teach your son that mistakes must be owned, acknowledged, and rectified, and equip them with a sense of responsibility that will see them to develop into one of life’s serious problem solvers. A man of integrity.
It’s OK to cry.
It not healthy to bottle everything up, and a without a release of tension every once in a while, we can feel like exploding. With this macho culture we currently have in society, it’s not always considered appropriate for men to shed a tear, and emotions can be suppressed. This can be confusing for a young man who’s hormones may also be raging, and it’s not uncommon for them to lash out in frustration. Even if you aren’t the type of guy who easily sheds a tear, communicate to your son that it’s perfectly natural to do so, and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
This lesson also teaches them to be aware of their wider emotions, and not to ignore them. It’ll help them become more in tune with their feelings for sure, which also helps develop empathy for other people.
No means no.
One of the tenets of this modern society that I struggle with, is the growth of a culture that lionises ‘Alpha’ behaviour, and the belief that persistence always pays off. That by persevering, and pursuing what you want relentlessly, then you’ll eventually be rewarded.
No folks, this is an horrendous lesson for any child to learn. If they constantly get indulged every time they cry out for a bag of sweets or whatever toy they absolutely can’t live without, then they never understand that other people have a right to say ‘no’.
Whatever your personal views are around the subject of sexual responsibility, it’s vital that in this context ‘no’ must always mean ‘NO’. If you have enabled your son to get through life thus far by getting everything he wants, then how receptive is he going to be when drunk, and a girl tells him that she doesn’t want to have sex.
As parents we have an absolute responsibility to instil this discipline in our sons, and if having a context specific conversation is a belt and braces approach, then so be it.
Also, make sure to teach him to be extremely wary of anyone, male or female, who can’t take no for an answer. It’s a tell tale sign of someone with an abusive and/or predatory personality.
Trust your gut.
Why is it that women give themselves such permission to follow their intuition, while men on the other hand characteristically do not? Whenever your son makes a decision about anything, and regardless of whether it goes the way he wanted or not, ask him to think about his decision making process.
Did he do what he first believed was the right course of action, or did he have second thoughts and rationalise a different approach? By understanding his own thought process, he can start to get a clear picture as to how often his intuition would have steered him in the right direction.
By examining intuition, and then analysing the evidence that existed around us to support our gut feeling, it’s amazing to realise how much information we take in without initially realising it. It’s a logical way to justify listening to our inner voice, and us guys need a bit of logic too, right?
Never bow to peer pressure.
If it were me, I’d put this at the top of the list, and damn if it hasn’t caused conflict throughout my life. But do you know what, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Because doing what I felt was right, rather than bowing to peer pressure, has made me stronger than I could ever have imagined.
Of course if what your peers propose is harmless, and you choose to take part, then knock yourself out. It’s a choice after all, and so is acquiescing when you’re pressured into going along with something that goes against personal ethics.
Even if it feels easier to go with the flow, and ensures that popularity is maintained, it’s still frickin’ weak. There comes a point in everyone’s life when we have to stand up for what we believe in, and not back down. Teaching your son to make decisions based upon his own code of ethics is the best way to ensure that when the time is right, he’ll have no qualms about doing what’s right and keeping his integrity intact.
Be under no illusion that this strength will have him seen as an influencer, and someone of character that like-minded people of quality will gravitate towards.
Or to put it all another way. Boys do stupid shit on a dare. The strength to resist peer pressure can keep them out of bother, and the hospital.
The value of money.
Not only are spoilt kids obnoxious, they grow into adults who get themselves into ridiculous levels of debt. Let them know that toiling for forty plus hours a week is not your favourite way to spend your life, but it pays the bills and is a reality of adult life.
As parents we all want the best for our kids, and when you have to spend so much time away from them it’s common to feel a little guilty. This is where it becomes tempting to overcompensate by lavishing gifts to show your love.
All I’m saying is try to maintain a balance, and help them to understand the correlation between effort and reward. As they grow, consider giving them an allowance to manage. Make them responsible for buying some of their own stuff, and if they mismanage their funds, they have to wait longer to get what they want.
By helping your kids to learn this lesson, you equip them with a sense of reality about personal finance, and what it means to be a provider for a family. It’ll mean they take the responsibility seriously when their time comes.
How to mix cement.
It’s a man thing. Trust me on this one, just teach ’em.
How to be a good loser, and how to win with grace.
Fact of life. You aren’t the best at everything. There’s always someone better, somewhere. Every world champion eventually gets beaten, or has their record broken. It’s an inevitability.
Hyper competitive fathers suck the fun out of everything and place far too much emphasis on winning. Come on guys, it ain’t that important. Ooh so you beat your kid again at monopoly, you are ‘the man’.
Yet a certain amount of competition is healthy, and I don’t believe it benefits kids if you let them win all the time. After all, they’re going to enter a competitive fast moving job market one day, so may well benefit from a dose of reality here and there.
When things don’t go their way, and they won’t always, it’s going to be an advantage if they can learn from their mistakes. To see where they went wrong, and grow from the experience. This is the lesson they can learn whenever you beat them at something. Help them reflect in a non-judgemental way, to identify what they did well and to recognise areas for improvement. For goodness sake keep it light-hearted though.
But to properly grasp this lesson they also have to experience winning, and thereby understand the process of progression. Whenever they win, whether you let them or not, be a good loser. Show them how to maintain a sense of humour and perspective by not taking everything too seriously.
What it all boils down to is the fact that people always respect someone who loses with dignity, and no-one loves a winner who’s a total dick.
Never break a promise.
Trust is paramount within a family. The quickest and easiest way to cement it, is by never ever breaking a promise. It’s simple really, just don’t promise anything you’re not sure you can deliver, and you’re sorted. If you’re not absolutely certain that you can do something, then just say that you’ll try your best, but that you can’t promise.
Promises are far too easy to make without thinking. Like throw away comments made with little if any intention of following through. Yet to a child, a promise is a cast iron guarantee from the person they look up to and worship. That’s why it’s so important to stay true to your word, because trust is at stake.
Keep letting them down by breaking your promises and you weaken the trust they have in you. The message they receive is that words mean very little, and how is a young man going to learn the value of honour unless shown?
By being a reliable parent they can always count on, they’ll place more value in your words in general, on any subject, simply because you are a man of your word.
To Be flexible.
We all love to be right. But we can’t be so all of the time. Yet so many people once they take a stance on something, simply refuse to budge because they can’t bear to be proved wrong. Let’s be honest here. Men are the worst for this as pride gets intertwined with questions of capability, and heels are firmly dug in.
By teaching your son to consider the views of others and not hold on so tightly to his own beliefs, especially in the face of evidence to the contrary, you’ll encourage a flexibility of thought and an open mind that doesn’t get tripped up by pride.
Flexible thinking enables greater comprehension of other people, which leads to effective rapport building. This is a great skill to have as it opens up many avenues of communication.
Let’s not forget that life’s best problem solvers are extremely adaptable, and maintain a fluid thought process that bends and reacts to changing circumstances. They are not rigid thinkers, and this capacity for flexibility ensures that they’re always able to rise to a challenge.
Hugs are great. Man hugs never go out of style. Practice them freely and frequently.
To be himself.
Whatever life lessons you help him learn, always encourage your son to put his own stamp on them. Role models can be a valuable source of learning and inspiration, but we’re all individuals at the end of the day. Your son will assimilate any new skill far better if he applies his own personality during the learning process.
We all have unique traits, and his will come to the fore in the most advantageous way if granted the freedom to let them run free.
Let him know that he is his own person, and that in itself is good enough. Tell him you’re proud of the man he becoming, and watch him bloom.
How to be a good dad.
Just do your best everyday. You won’t be perfect, and it really won’t matter. Children are perceptive little creatures, and it’s not lost on them how much effort you put in because they always know when you’ve given it everything.
All they really need, regardless of circumstances, is a good example to follow, and consistency. You may not believe it now but they’ll remember far more than you realise. My son often recounts lessons he learnt by following my example. He cites events that I can’t even recall, yet from which he drew inspiration. It goes to show you, sometimes it’s the little things that really count.