One of the best traditions our family has had over the years is the fathers and sons campout. We have traditionally gone up to the mountains with my sons and my sons' friends and their dads every spring for a Friday and Saturday to camp out, cook out and just talk around the campfire. Some of my best teaching moments that have helped me with raising responsible sons have happened in the father and sons campout setting.
Fathers have a vital responsibility to teach their sons how to be strong and responsible men as they grow up. It is clear that in the absence of a father, or at least a positive father figure in a young man's life, he struggles to learn what it means to become a good man - one who shoulders responsibility, one who values hard work and determination, and one who will one day take on the responsibility of becoming a father and supporting a family.
But teaching a young man how to become a responsible man involves more than just being there. It is a conscious process of mentoring, training and connecting that creates a desire and the skills needed for a boy to become the kind of man we all hope he becomes. It starts with understanding the key principles associated with being a great man and a great father and then both teaching them and living them in your own life.
So, having raised three sons, and having talked with lots of dads who raised successful sons, and having talked with some who think they didn't do all that they could have in raising responsible sons, here are some suggestions for things to know and do to raise boys into good and responsible men.
Be the role model. There is no more important aspect to raising responsible young men than modeling the behavior you hope that they embrace when they become men. As they watch you in action, they learn what being a man is all about. You have to demonstrate commitment, sacrifice, self-control and responsibility in order for them to want to be the kind of man you hope they become.
Sometimes this can be the toughest assignment of all, but it is critically important. Your sons will learn more from watching how you react and behave in given circumstances than they will from everything you tell them.
Teach them about planning. Too many men seem to go through life just reacting to what is happening around them. We all know that little boys tend to be reactive to the moment, but part of becoming a man is making choices based on key values, even before the situation arises. For example, help them develop a personal budget and savings plan so they don't just fall into the lifelong trap of impulse buying. Help them think about their careers and emphasize the need for planning and preparation. Take time in your family nights to teach about scheduling and time management. As they begin to see the impact of thinking ahead and planning, they will develop an essential skill of manhood.
Teach and model respect. Men in our popular society seem to be most valued when they rebel against authority and do what they want, regardless of the impact on others.
But living together in a day to day society and culture requires that we behave differently than that. Help your young men learn respect for authority, to show respect for women and girls, and to be gentlemen. Help them learn to work well with others and show respect for differing points of view.
Teach them to be trustworthy. Successful men live up to their commitments and live ethically. If they are just watching examples in the popular media, they may see role models who are dishonest, unfaithful to commitments and who put their conveniences and comforts ahead of anything else of value. But real men keep their promises, are honest even when they aren't being watched, and are worthy of trust. Be that kind of dad to them, and correct them when you see an evidence of a lack of trust.
Help them learn accountability and self-discipline. One of the core differences that distinguishes a real man from all the others is his ability to control himself and make choices that may be contrary to the feelings of the moment. The epidemic of obesity or the lax moral values of our day can be traced to a lack of self-control and self-discipline. Help you sons learn that they can make choices and sacrifice for something of greater worth. Getting them involved in a sport or music or some other activity that requires some sacrifice and self-discipline is an important step in that process. When they learn that mastering the piano takes many, many hours of practice, often sacrificing other less important activities, will teach them the value of self-discipline. And holding them accountable for responsibilities like chores or music practice will help them learn to hold themselves accountable later on.
Set up some rules and impose consequences. Sometimes as adult men we rebel a bit at all of the rules and consequences in our lives and long for younger days when we had more freedom. Living in a world of rules and consequences is a reality we have to help our sons embrace. If you are consistently late for work or leave early, you will eventually face discipline at work, or will at a minimum lose trust with your employer. So help your son commit to live by rules at home and impose consequences when he makes choices to not live by the rules. If you don't teach this principle now, your sons will learn the hard way later and leave a wake of problems behind them.
Teach your sons compassion. The perception that a man has to be emotionless and conceal his feelings is very real, but is harmful to quality relationships. Teach your son about the importance of little kindnesses, of showing compassion for the disadvantaged, of demonstrating love to his family members and friends, and of protecting the environment. These feelings, in their proper place and in balance with the rest of his life, will serve him well as a responsible and strong man.
Teaching by precept and example are critical roles of fathers. Neither the example nor the teaching can be ignored if you hope to raise sons who will be real men, who will be responsible and productive, and who will raise the next generation of young men to do the same.