You’re answer is probably the last 007 movie you watched!
I got the title of this blog from a news article. You can read it here. It talks of a teacher in America who, on Wednesdays, holds the ‘Gentleman’s Club’. On that Wednesday, he dresses the boys in shirts, ties and jackets. He teaches them things like how to shake hands, how to make eye contact, open doors and address adults. The take away quote from the article for me is this:
“I know a lot of them struggle because a lot of them don’t have men at home, so I just want them to grow up and think of the things that I teach them…A lot of my students perform well when they know someone cares about them”
A lot of them struggle because a lot of them don’t have men at home.
A lot of them struggle, because a lot of them don’t have men at home.
You can read the correlation between the outcomes for children who don’t have their biological father living at home. Do some reading for yourself, and investigate the family patterns of people who are incarcerated, have higher rates of illicit drug use or dependency, teenage pregnancy and mental illness. One of the strongest indicators for these is a child not having their biological dad living at home with their biological mother.
Sociologists and politicians, I’m sure, will have a lot to say about this, most of it claptrap. The solutions inevitably will focus around building a bureaucracy, programs, incentives, studies and commissions to support the drug dependent, the criminal, the mentally ill, the pregnant teenager.
Here’s what it comes down to for me however.
Self control. Specifically, a man displaying self control. This is probably one of the rare times feminists and I will agree, but for different reasons and different outcomes.
It begins with a man displaying self control around women. Around his girlfriend, the girl at the party, the girl down the road, the girl he sees every now and again. Self control that he doesn’t put himself in a situation where he could get her pregnant. Self control to stop way before that inevitable temptation starts, because honestly, once he gets that girl pregnant, his choices are limited, and his responsibilities increase. We know from the boys in the abovementioned story how much they suffer not having an active, committed, hands on dad at home.
It begins with the man who finds himself getting frustrated with his partner, and pushes her once. Then again. Then it’s a shove. Then it’s drinking, and another shove. Before he knows it, he’s lost control. He’s out of control, and the people who should be trusting in him for their safety and security fear him. His partner doesn’t know how long this good, or bad turn will last, and life is lived on eggshells. His daughter learns that this is how men are, his sons will have this destructive path imprinted on them. Because he lacked self control, his missus leaves, he’s involved with the courts, the police, the law. Who will teach his sons self control?
It starts with a promotion, and a payrise. It comes with a bit more prestige. A bit more entitlement. Maybe a business card, maybe a car. He finds he gets more fulfilment from work than his family, more adoration from the juniors than his wife, more respect from his peers than his kids. He finds himself surging in a tide of success, and his control at home diminishes. It becomes an annoyance. His influence at home becomes transactional, not relational. Who is there when his son needs loving guidance and firm direction? Who is there when his son loses his cool?
The path of a dedicated husband and father is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things to do. There is a delicate balance between just providing and influencing. There is an ongoing tension between taking the easy road, to loving guidance, to punitive discipline. There’s the unrelenting and oppressive lure of sexual temptation, available literally at the tap of your fingers. A man has access to instant credit. Gambling on his phone in real time. Endless entertainment on the computer or TV.
I started this article talking about the Wednesday Gentleman’s Club, and how one teacher influenced these precious boys just by meeting some BASIC needs – providing good clothing, teaching them to shake hands, teaching them to open a door. These are BASIC needs – needs these precious boys hadn’t received at home, because of an absent father. Because a man lacked self control, because he used a woman to gratify his own selfish desires, and now isn’t taking up the mantle of his responsibility.
The purpose of this article isn’t a critisism, it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge to all the dads and fathers out there. It’s a challenge to the single guys. It’s a challenge to me. What is the Wednesday Gentleman’s Club in your life? Are you the one teaching your boys to dress like a man, talk like a man, shake hands, open doors address others with respect? Are you the one teaching your boys the enduring gift of self control? Are you practicing self control now, so you can teach it later to your sons?
I know you can’t be everything to your boys. I can’t be my son’s footy coach, on account that I can’t kick a footy to save my life. Here’s what I can do though. I can teach him to respect his coach. I can teach him to be a team player, to share the ball around, to win with grace and to lose with dignity.
Who will be teaching your sons about self control? Will it be you, or someone else. Will it be the boys in blue? A gang? A magistrate? Their teacher?
I firmly believe that as a society, we will be stronger when more men exercise self control.
Many moons ago, I was a boy in the Boys’ Brigade. For the un-initiated, the Boys’ Brigade is an organisation for boys, where they learn a bunch of skills, have a stack of fun and get molded into men. Think Scouts, except with a big Christian element. As with many kindred organisations, children and teenagers complete tasks, learn skills, go camping, do community service and undertake leadership training. As these skills are learned, the boys earn different badges, gain promotions and are elevated in status in their local company.
One such award was the ‘Diploma of Gallant Conduct’. It was awarded in very rare situations, when a boy had some something amazingly gallant. When they had put their life at risk to save another. It was awarded for an episodic act of gallantry.
Gallantry is a seldom used word these days. Many correctly associate it with battlefield valor, when a soldier puts his life even more in harms way to save his comrades. If you have not read why Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith was awarded his Victoria Cross and Medal of Gallantry, do yourself a favor and read about this extraordinary individual.
When we think of gallantry and brave acts, it’s hard not to think of the stories of Rosa Parks and Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.
Rosa Parks was made famous in 1955 for refusing to sit in the back of the bus, in defiance of local segregation laws. Many know Parks for this single act of defiance. What many people don’t know is that Parks had been active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the best part of 20 years, organising a range of protests, resistance and stands against the racist policies of Alabama at that time.
Similarly, Dr Martin Luther King is most famous for his ‘I have a dream‘ speech and the March on Washington. Dr King’s speech was not a one-off, nor was it a flash of brilliance. Dr King started his early adulthood as a church Pastor, faithfully ministering to his church in Montgomery, Alabama. He did this in the face of huge oppression, racism and violence. His Ï have a dream speech was not a one off. It was a crescendo of many years of preaching to the flock.
Why do I relay these two stories? It’s easy to fantasize about greatness. About the one to stand up in times of adversity, to save the life, to stem the tide. Those things are great to think about, but an act of greatness doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Roberts-Smith, Parks and Dr King’s moments of greatness happened because of many years of humility, training, learning, practicing, studying, pain and unthankful moments. Roberts-Smith had done a number of tours of duty before being awarded his military honours. He faced multiple instances of being under enemy fire, of being outgunned, surrounded, ambushed. He faced multiple instances of showing bravery and gallantry.
Rosa Parks spent over twenty years organising for NAACP, showing a tremendous amount of tenacity before her 1955 act of defiance. It was, for her, an exclamation mark in pages of pages of dialogue of resistance.
Dr Martin Luther King preached for many years to a small congregation of oppressed African-Americans in one of the most segregated cities in America. He lead many small instances of nonviolent resistance, speaking up against racism and segregation and tending his flock before he lead the March to Washington and delivering I have a dream.
We dream of being the hero of the moment, the one that saves. I’ve found the people that rise during those situations are already practicing gallantry. They are the people who, in their own quiet way, are speaking out against oppression. They are the ones who are already speaking for those who don’t have a voice. They are those who are already tending the wounded, being the bridge between the haves, and the have-nots. They aren’t the internet activists or the cause likers. They aren’t those who seem and not do. They are the people who are already teaching the refugee English. They are the ones who open up their home to the woman who’s partner has beat them. They are the one who ladles the soup to the homeless. The gallant, I believe, are those who practice way before they preach.
There’s a flip side to this, too. A flip side that points the finger at me and challenges me, perhaps more than anything. If gallantry flows from a lifetime of sacrifice, what is the opposite? I’m talking to myself here, when I wonder what the sum total of my life choices will be? Those times when I should have stood up for the defenseless, spoken up for those without a voice, fed those who need a meal, listened to those who just needed an ear to chew. What am I doing now to practice gallantry? What is my mission in life, and what am I doing to practice gallantry in it, ready for that moment when it will all be tested.
What are you doing to practice gallantry? What are the small things you are doing today? Are there scriptures you could be reading now to prepare yourself for when your faith is tested? Do you need to be braver with your family and step up to the mark as a husband or father? Do you need to be the one at work who stands against unsafe or unethical practices?
Gallantry isn’t a one off act. It’s the natural instinct of those who have practiced in life what they don’t need to preach.
Image from https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=imgres&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi-_4m74rzLAhUjKKYKHS6uAWAQjB0IBg&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.biography.com%2Fpeople%2Fmartin-luther-king-jr-9365086&psig=AFQjCNGLfXk-RgIIRrXDtMNeSbdxQHAmnA&ust=1457927808227721
Did you know that there’s a law in China that adult children must provide for the financial and spiritual needs of their aging parents, if they are not involved with their ongoing care? Adult children can actually be sued by their aging parents for neglecting them!
I spent an afternoon playing Lego with my son yesterday. For about three hours, we sat on the carpet and built rocket-powered cars, office buildings complete with motorbike jumps and imagined a world where the usual laws of gravity, fear and responsibility did not exist. Whilst we were doing this, I dared not look at my quickly-growing lawn, or thinking about the garden that needed weeding, or that DIY job in the garage that should have been finished
months years ago.
In the last two months, a colleague of mine, a dad, passed away due to a horrible cancer. He left behind a wife and three kids. He would often say ‘no one gets to their deathbed and wishes they spent more time in the office’. I’m sure his wife and children would go to the ends of the earth to waste just a few more minutes with him, paddling on their stand-up paddle board or hanging out at a café.
In the last week, a family member has been diagnosed with a critical illness and is an induced coma. He has a wife and three young children. We are all very hopeful he will pull through, but in these moments, you wish you could spend just a few more minutes wasting time with those you love.
Those who know me know my dad passed away when I was 6. What I wouldn’t give for five more minutes that I could waste with him.
I marvelled at my son, playing with his Lego. I taught him a thing or two about the practicalities of building Lego, and he reminded me a stack of times about how to imagine. He told me ‘I’ll never stop playing with Lego, dad’. I responded, telling him I hope he never forgets how to play Lego, either.
You see, those moments of wasted time with your family are not actually a waste at all. That 30 minutes playing catch. That bike-ride. That afternoon of Lego. The sneaky after-dinner ice-cream dash. Those ‘wasted time’ moments aren’t ‘icing on the cake’ for your family. It’s one of the main ingredients. It’s the chocolate chips in the family brownie. It’s not an optional extra, it’s the sprinkles on the fairy bread.
At this point you’re probably thinking ‘but you don’t know how busy I am’. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. I’m not saying I’ve got it all together. I don’t. Far from it. I find myself working sometimes 6 days a week, and doing extra things here and there for some extra bucks from time to time. I’m finding though the more I do ‘stuff’, the more time I need to waste with the people I love. It’s a quick game of Uno before dinner. Taking 5 minutes in the morning to help my son with some Lego. Brushing my teeth with the kids before I go to work.
You see, wasting time with your family is never a waste. I know there are times in your life when you do need to spend some time doing that overtime, or that extra bit of study, or spending a bit of time looking after yourself. I know that, and I know that all too well.
I started this blog talking about the Chinese rule of adult kids having to look after their parents. When I’m old, and grey(er!), I don’t want my children to feel obliged to support me, financially or otherwise. I hope that as my children grow and develop, I waste enough time with them now, so that when I’m old, they’ll want to waste time with me. I hope the choices that my kids make won’t be what retirement home to ship me off too. I hope the choices they make will be about how they can waste time with me.
I had to pop out at lunch today to get my birthday present. You see, I work in town, and the only place that sold this particular present was in town, and my wife was in the suburbs and it’s an effort to get into town with two kids to get one present. She called up the store, asked them to wrap it for me and I just went and picked it up.
It’s particularly hot in town today. Very hot, actually, and I’m wearing heavy cotton pants. I wear them because they are good for riding my bike, Sweet Ramona.
So I walked in the heat to this particular shop, noticing a significant build up of sweat in my crotchal region.
I’m thankful for my sweaty crotch. Here’s why:
I’m thankful that today, I had to pop out at lunch to get my present. I’m thankful, because this means I have a job that allows me to pop out at lunch. Do you know that it’s harder to get a job now, almost more than ever? I’m thankful that I have a job.
I’m thankful that today, it was hot enough for my crotch to actually get sweaty. I’m thankful because we’ve had lots of rain lately, and this rain has reached some of the agricultural land in the west. I’m thankful for the rain and the sun, because it helps the farmers, and God knows they need all the help they can get.
I’m thankful today for my sweaty crotch, because it means the weather is delightfully warm, and after work, I can relax in a pair of cool shorts and drink a refreshingly cold drink, and it will seem all the more refreshing and cool after being in the sun.
I’m thankful for my sweaty crotch and my heavy cotton pants, because it means I am blessed to have a wardrobe of clean, fitting clothes (despite my roundish figure!). It means I have been blessed to be able to clothe myself and my family. I’m blessed that in this country, we have a choice on what we can buy or not buy.
I’m thankful for my sweaty crotch which I got from walking into town. I know that it means I’ve been able to walk down the street in the city I live without fear of some crazy nutjob blowing themselves up, drop a bomb on the city or do something terrible to my fellow countrymen. I’m so thankful that, for the most part, I am protected by a wonderful group of dedicated police who are committed to keeping us all safe.
I’m thankful that my crotch is sweaty in these heavy cotton pants, because it means that I have a reliable and cheap form of transport on my bike, Sweet Ramona. I’m thankful that Sweet Ramona takes me to a job I’m thankful for, and home to a family that loves me.
I’m thankful today that my crotch is sweaty in these heavy cotton pants, because I know that if I was not wearing them, I would probably be wearing jeans, and that means I would be catching the bus, and that takes three times as long to get to work and three times as long to get home to the people I love.
I’m thankful that my crotch is sweaty today, because I had to get a present for myself. I’m thankful because it means my wife has taken much time and effort to think of a present for me for my birthday, and I love surprises.
I’m thankful because this also means I’m a year older, and, arguably wiser. I’m thankful that I’ve had another year to love my wife and children. I’m thankful that it’s another year that they have put up with my hijinx and tomfoolery.
I’m thankful because I’ve survived being 32. I’m thankful that, on the current trajectory, I’ll survive 33. Those ‘in the know’ will know that 33 holds special significance for me and I’ve been worried about turning 33 since I was about 6.
I’m thankful not for my sweaty crotch, but thankful for what it represents.
Life is full of small annoyances. Some call them first world problems. Call them what you want, but ultimately, they are blessings in disguise.
Your kids wake up early and wake you up? Annoying, yes, but you can also be thankful that you’ve got kids.
Your work is boring or not rewarding? Tedious, yes, but you can be thankful that you’ve got a job.
The government is making bad decisions or are nincompoops? Frustrating, yes, but be thankful that in our democracy, we can vote them out for a new group of turkeys.
Rounding out 2014, what annoyances are you thankful for? What do these mean in your life?
Have you ever Googled ‘Family Trees’ and checked out all the different types of family trees? Do it. Tell me what you see.
One thing you’ll notice with most family trees is they start with the trunk, and branch up and outwards.
Most family trees place the genealogy above the soil line. Everyone is just an offshoot of another offshoot. A branch, seemingly blowing randomly in the wind of existence.
I suspect, however, we’ve got the concept of family trees wrong.
In Australia, (not including Indigenous Australians, who have a rich history and identity in this great land), we really don’t have a real concept of ‘generations’. Unlike a host of Indigenous communities worldwide, plus Europe, Asia and even America, we really don’t have a strong generational connection. Many families can’t map out more than two or three generations in Australia. As a result I think, Australia has an absence of a generational family culture. Certainly, we see pockets of it with some cultural groups. We see it sometimes with special events, like Christmas or Easter when the family gets together. As a whole, however, I don’t think we have a close-knit family and generational influence culture. The reasons for this are many, and maybe we’ll explore those in another post.
The concept of ‘strong foundations’ is used in many contexts. We see it in building, for any structure that does not have strong foundations is set to shift, move and not be stable. We see it in education, where to build a love of learning needs a strong foundation of literacy. We see it in the spiritual, where adherents of a faith need to be strongly grounded in their beliefs for them to stay strong in their faith. We also see it in both individuals and families.
I mentioned above that I think we have the concept of the family tree wrong. I think we need to look at family trees in reverse. What roots have nourished the tree?
Most would agree that you are the biological product of your parents genes. You might thank your dad for your big ears or your mum for your fast metabolism. Your growth may have been stunted in utero if your mother suffered from an illness or malnutrition. Your genes may be subject to some type of abnormality if your fathers sperm was affected by chemicals. Inversely, you may have benefitted from healthy parents who gave your growing body the best chance in life.
If you go to your parents, their parents too had the primary biological influence in their lives, and so it goes, back through the generations. Your olive skin might be a gene from Mediterranean blood, passed down from many generations ago. Your crystal blue eyes could be a throwback from some Nordic gene inherited from your grandparents grandparents.
Whilst we often think about the biological traits inherited from generations past, do we ever give thought to the spiritual traits inherited from generations past? I’ve mentioned in past posts of my Christian faith. I know that my faith is the product of the prayers of generations past, proclaiming the love and faithfulness of God on offspring they will never meet. These faithful voices of yore, proclaiming love and life through the generations.
We know that a parents (and grandparents) influence does not simply stop once a baby is conceived. Family influences have a HUGE impact on the direction a child goes in life. Anyone who’s been married will attest to the influences their spouses’ family has had on their spouse in relation to money, careers, life perspective, faith, parenting, sex – actually, almost anything!
Here’s where the concepts of an ‘upside down’ family tree and a generational family culture meet the real world. Here’s where they meet your world.
You can’t control or change what came before you. You can’t change your genes, not one iota. You can’t change your grandads violent alcoholism, your mothers cold personality, your fathers austere upbringing or your grandmothers faith. You can’t simply put roundup on the weeds in your family tree. You can however be thankful for the good, understand the bad and seek to learn from their mistakes of the past.
A tree needs ongoing nourishment to survive, just like a person. One of the best ways to nourish a child is in a family environment. A place where not only mum and dad, but grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts and cousins share their love, their knowledge, their experience and their wisdom. A place where the generations feed off each other.
Now you might say ‘but you don’t know my family – that would NEVER work!’. You know what? It might not have worked in the past, but guess what – you have the opportunity to make it work for your children.
Here’s the challenge for you, especially if you are yet to have children. What are you doing now to make sure the tree you will eventually support will have the best shot in life? What decisions are you making now to develop healthy habits – with money, physical health, spiritual development and relationally – that will positively impact on your future generations.
What will the root you spawn say about you? Will they say that your root was unhealthy? A drunk? Unwise with money or angry? Will they say that your root was healthy? That you paved the way for a healthy tree? That you faithfully sewed nutrition and life into the generations to come?
You may have gotten to a point in your life where biologically or relationally, you’ve messed it up for your children, or even your grandchildren. Maybe you were an angry father, or a distant mother. Maybe you worked too much or were financially irresponsible and have no inheritance (in any sense of the word) to pass onto your children. It’s not too late to start trying to develop a generational culture. Of trying to break those bad habits of the past. Those generational curses. Those harsh words, those seeds of unhappiness. It’s time to start developing a positive generational family culture. It will need to start with you, and it will need to start now.
Don’t be the root that stunts the growth of your family tree. Take ownership of your family tree. Start nourishing it with love, faithfulness and kindness. Believe it or not, it’s your responsibility. There’s plenty out there that will seek to grind your family tree down to a stump.
Many people ask me how to respond to sorrow and grief. Why? Who knows. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been quite honest and upfront about my own journey. Perhaps people think I’ve got something to say. What ever it is, I’m constantly honoured when people ask me my advice.
As I’ve talked about in earlier posts, I’m naturally a terrible introvert. I’m most comfortable living in my own world of uncommon sense, enjoying a tidal wave of thoughts every second, lapping up the totality of humanity and enjoying my small contribution to those around me. For me, the question ‘what are you thinking’ can be an incredibly difficult question to ask! I often have to get over the thoughts of ‘these are my thoughts, not your thoughts! You can’t think my thoughts, they are mine, get your own thoughts to think about!’. Then I realise they (usually my wife!) just want to know what I’m thinking, because, well that’s what gals like to do. They arn’t wanting to steal my thoughts (which are my thoughts to think), they just want to know.Odd creatures.
Not too long ago, I talked about the serendipity of silence, in relation to being quiet within yourself. Friendship can be much the same way, as can responding to grief.
There is an art to being with someone. To being able to be there – just being – physically, emotionally or mentally. To communicate an essay of emotion without even mentioning a syllable. I actually think guys can be better then girls at this. Why? Who knows. I think guys just get that sometimes, you’ll talk when you’re ready, and only when the required pre-conditions are met for communication.
Sometimes you can say it all, without saying a word. The sum of shared experiences that bind a pair of people can sometimes mean so much more then, well, words.
For me, I quite enjoy listening to others. I love the concept of someones story. I love hearing the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. I love a good laugh.
Sometimes, the best way to journey (not help, journey) with someone through grief is just by being there. There’s probably nothing you can say that will take the pain away. You can’t apologise for someones loss. You probably can’t fathom what they are feeling. What you can do is be there.
It’s often through silence that you get the best conversations. The biggest insights. The most powerful breakthroughs. Some things you cant rush with words. The crassness of communication turns a journey of grief into a destination that needs to be ‘talked through’.
I think one of the greatest respects you can pay a friend is the respect of silence. Of understanding that you both don’t have to talk. The respect of being. Some might consider this an incredibly shallow friendship – however, I think contrary to this. It certainly does not replace the pillars of friendship that include intimacy, openness and a shared history. What the respect of silence says to your companion is that silence isn’t a gap between you. It’s not a void that needs to be filled with words. It’s actually an invisible bond between you.
I observed two old friends at a funeral recently. Usually very chatty, no words were minced or wasted between the pair during the season of mourning. I watched as they stood together, strolled together through the green expanse of the cemetery and enjoyed the closeness of a silent bond together. Neither had to say a word to each other – each knew silence was all they needed to convey their deepest sympathies to each other.
It’s the totality of your walk together. The sum of your shared experiences. It’s a respect, often hard earned through lifes hard knocks.
So next time you are at a loss to support someone, especially someone in grief, support them with silence. Support them with an acknowledgement of being. That they don’t need to say or justify anything they are thinking or feeling. That you love, respect and want to support them just the way they are.
Silence. It brings with it more heartfelt communication then the most beautifully constructed sentence that you can ever construct.
Image lifted from https://www.flickr.com/photos/faris-khalifeh/2068051840/?rb=1
That’s right. Hurt your kids feelings.
Tell them that they probably won’t get the music award. Tell them they probably won’t take out the reading award. Chances are they won’t make state in the team. The dux? Forget about it.
There seems to be a push to stop hurting kids feelings. Not having winners or losers in sports. Not having school dux. Not having exceptional achievement awards. These days, every kid seems to win a prize.
I’ve won two sports awards in my 32 years on God’s green earth. That was in 1988. I got two third places in the running and marathon.I got third because there was only two other boys in my age group racing. I’ve still got the ribbons. It was at that point, in kindergarten, that I realised, I sucked at sport.
Anyone who’s lived in the real world realises that life has winners, life has losers, life has those that give it their best shot and grab every opportunity and others who squander whatever they have.
What’s better? Is it better to gloss over universal truths of winning or losing, or is it better to instill in our children positive self-esteem, an attitude of ‘giving it a go’, of fostering their talents, gifts and a willingness to tackle their weaknesses?
We seem hellbent on not offending people these days. The term ‘keep it politically correct’ comes to mind. What would you rather? A child (who eventually turns into an adult) who’s never been taught to nurture their talents and confront their weaknesses, or a child who relishes in new opportunities, who knows how to play fair, who gives it their best shot and who can win and lose like a champion?
So go on. Hurt your kids feelings. Not everyone can be first, but everyone can try their hardest. Not everyone will win, but everyone can be a team player. Find your children’s talents. Nurture them. Encourage them to appreciate differences in others. It’s not going to diminish your children’s effort and talent – it will teach them how to shine!