Over the years, I have had the opportunity to help men achieve their goals as husbands and fathers. Most of the men I have worked with have had sincere desires to be a great father, but they may lack the motivation or tools they need to get to the next level. Mentoring men in their journey to successful fatherhood is a special opportunity, but one that requires an approach that will work for them and their families.
I love the term “mentoring,” especially in the context of fathers. Mentoring involves a person who is more experienced and knowledgeable helping, advising and guiding one who is less experienced and knowledgeable. The term mentoring comes from the name of the advisor to a young man named Telemachus in Homer’s classic work .
Build high levels of trust. Our protege or our mentee will only welcome our mentorship and advice if they feel that they can trust us. In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey suggests that trust is built on a foundation of both competence and character. We have to know our stuff, and we have to have lived our stuff if we want to build a relationship of trust. In the case of mentorship, we develop trust by what we do and how we do it. We develop an emotional bank account with the person we hope to help and then, as our credibility grows, we have a greater opportunity to influence them for good.
Listen actively before offering advice. A person who is receiving advice is empowered when the person giving the advice understands the situation fully. When we actively listen to someone, we not only better understand where he or she is coming from, but we also validate the experiences and acknowledge the challenges they are facing.
In an active listening approach, we listen for meaning - and not just by listening to words but also to voice, body language and feelings. Then we attempt to reflect back to the one speaking what we believe they are telling us.
Share our stories. Only after we have actively listened to someone needing our help, we can offer advice by sharing our own stories and how we either did well or learned from our mistakes. Recently, I was talking with a father who was having a hard time with a stubborn and willful child who simply would not be obedient to family rules. I related to him the time that my child ran out into the backyard when it was time to go to school and climbed a tall willow tree and vowed to stay there all day. We laughed about the experience, and then he opened up and shared some of his recent stories, and that helped us see some common threads about how he was interacting with his child.
Take a coaching posture. If you had a really good growing up, you may recall how he focused on you and helped you move from where you were to where you needed to be.
Maybe you needed skills; maybe you needed to work harder; maybe your attitude needed adjusting. Whatever the need, a good coach moves us closer to our ideal self. Mentors can be coaches for young fathers by helping them assess where they are, giving them perspective, being an independent third-party observer, and offering specific advice for specific needs.
Don’t project, but teach principles. Often in mentoring relationships, I have found myself coming from the perspective that “If I were you, I would….” The truth is that our situation is not exactly the situation in which our mentee may find himself. Our kids are different, our spouses are different and our personalities are different. But the principles of effective parenting are pretty consistent, even in the face of different situations. By relating problems to principles that are not being followed, we can help a young father learn how to look at things in the right context. For example, by teaching the principle of , we can coach a young dad through the process of encouraging appropriate behavior in his children by developing behavior contract or setting reasonable consequences for misbehavior.
As the number of families without fathers in the home have increased over the last 30 years, more and more young dads are entering into fatherhood without a good role model. As more experienced fathers, we can make a real difference in the lives of children and families as we take the initiative and become mentors for younger fathers. It is a contribution that is so sorely needed in many families.