Are we preparing our sons for life? When the time comes for them to become men, will they be ready go out and conquer the world? Will they be able to live life with passion, strength and discipline.
Think about what your biggest fear is for your son’s future: Are you worried that he’ll die in a tragic car accident? Or that he’ll develop a terminal illness? That he becomes one of hundreds of young men who go missing every year? Maybe it’s that he joins the French Foreign Legion and you never see him again. Maybe it’s something else.
All of these things are constitute my darkest fears. All are possible.
But worrying about events or outcomes that you have no control over is a fool’s game. I’m learning that more and more each day. Focusing on what you can control and influence is much more productive that lying awake at night worrying about random chance events that may or may not happen.
One thing you have near complete control over is this: preparing your son for life. He may be young, but one day he won’t be. And you might not be around to hold his hand as he transitions to adult hood.
A few months ago, I published a couple of posts on Building Resilient boys. If you’re counting, this is part three.
In Our Culture Weakness is Celebrated
Look at the entire history of the human race. We’ve been on this planet for a while. But it’s only in the last 70 or 80 years that life expectancies have climbed – in the West at least. Before that life was a struggle.
Every day was discomfort – cold, heat, disease, hunger and thirst. 40 years was old and young men grew up quickly, took wives and became warriors or hunters in their early teens. Boys had to grow up quickly – their life and the survival of the tribe depended on it.
In British medieval times when the peasant class was colossal, boys would be put to work in the fields from an early age. They would also be taught martial arts such as archery and how to fight with crude spears and other weapons.
Peasants were farmers but when the time came, they would be raised to fight and defend their nation.
King Edward I even banned all sports but archery on Sundays to allow boys and men to practice on their day off.
The same has been true of other cultures. The historical novel Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield charts one boy’s journey through training to be a Spartan warrior which culminates in the battle of Thermopylae.
The hardship that he faces as a young recruit is alien, even to those who have undergone rigorous modern military training and selection.
One thing these ancient and not-so-ancient civilisations had in common: All of them cultures valued strength over weakness.
Because it was necessary for survival of the tribe, village and nation. Where there was weakness, this was easily exploited by enemies from outside and within.
Fast forward to our own time and strength is no longer valued. Instead it’s victimhood and moral dependence (relying on higher authorities to solve your problems) that define our current time.
The phrase ‘Toxic Masculinity’ has become a buzz-word for self-serving clickbait sites like Huffington Post and Good Men Project. It’s a catch all term for everything that the morally dependent hate about strength and resoluteness
But what it really does is attack the values of strength and assertiveness that have built and sustained the world we live in.
This manifests itself in the deepest and earliest aspects of our children’s upbringing:
Non-competitive sports days or the end of school sports competitions
Children’s literature when the ‘hero’ or main character is whiny and pathetic
The absence of any form of violence from the majority of children’s programming
The end or at least discouragement of any kind of contact sport – or team sports in general
Under these types of pressures and cultural ‘rules’, what chance do our sons have of growing up and breaking the mould? Or even more importantly, ready for life?
What will your son’s early adulthood look like? Will he be committed to living a productive life in whatever job or role he’s in.
Or will he forever be stuck in a time warp of Never-Never land? A place where his free time is spent playing games online, watching porn and eating takeaway pizzas?
Did you ever meet someone who was really hard to be around? Someone who was socially undeveloped, selfish, unhealthy and negative? You did, didn’t you. They were hard work. As soon as you could leave their company, you did.
I don’t want that for myself. And I don’t want it for my son.
Here’s What I Want
I want my son to be ready for when he grows up. I won’t have (nor do I want) control over his life decisions. But I can influence him to make good decisions – ones that will improve his life, his happiness and sense of purpose.
These choices will allow him to live a healthy life and be fulfilled – physically, mentally and spiritually. If I allow his education and upbringing to be dictated by a flawed education system, I’ll get the online gaming, overweight son.
If I take steps now to teach and train him in how to function as a man and a human being, he’ll be in a position to make the right choices when the time comes.
Building Strength Through Combat
When I was at school, my teachers told me: ‘Violence never solves anything.’
They were wrong. Here’s why:
I was bullied at different times throughout my schooling. On various occasions I was beaten and felt like my life was a misery. One on occasion some boys crossed the street to smash a bag full of school text books in my face, breaking my nose.
I was carrying something in each hand and had no way to defend myself. I walked home with blood streaming down my face.
Soon after that some others decided it would be fun to trip me up every time they saw me at school. It eventually reached a breaking point where I turned round and punched the main protagonist in the face. All his friends jumped on me and beat me.
But after that something happened. The tripping stopped. Those who had made my life a misery left me well alone.
Mike Tyson once said:
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
The threat of possible retaliation made me a less attractive target and I was never bullied again.
When you’re alone in a school corridor no one is going to step in and save you from the bullies. If one punch could end it all, would you do it?
Great story right? But what is the lesson for building resilient boys? Firstly, anyone who says that violence doesn’t solve anything is a liar and an idiot. It might not be the best way to solve problems – but sometimes it’s the only way.
Self defence is exactly that: defence of the self. The self is our ultimate gift and our primary responsibility.
It is thoroughly responsible for you to teach him when to fight back and when to protect others. And when to walk away.
We live in an inherently evil and violent world. Anyone who teaches anything else is lying to you. Right now we live in a period of relative peace and stability. But will that continue forever? Probably not. Will our children see the fall of our civilisation? Possibly.
The second most is that all forms of violence, for whatever reason, are unequivocally evil.
So how do you teach your son to defend himself? My personal belief is that everyone, but boys in particular, should know some basic martial arts.
I’ve personally trained in Thai boxing which is great for balance and close quarters. Some of the other arts such as Jiu jitsu, Judo and Aikdo focus more on wrestling type moves and throws. A combination of a striking and grappling art is optimal.
Teach your son martial arts from an early age. Most classes start from 5 (around the time he’ll start school coincidentally). He doesn’t need to be black belt, but knowing and understanding control and balance will set him up for other skills in life including future sports.
Building Basic Survival Skills
I was recently talking to a friend of mine who works for the Mountain Rescue service. He was telling me some of his horror stories about people he’d rescued from some of the Scottish mountains.
One account was of 2 people who had nearly died on a mountain due to their inexperience and stupidity. The errors they made were completely avoidable and even the most basic research and a little money on proper equipment would have been enough to prevent a near-death experience for one of the climbers.
Preparation prevents poor performance as the Royal Marines would say.
When I talk about basic survival, it’s really very simple. Basic survival depends on three things:
Access to drinking water
Some form of shelter
That’s it – if you have those things you can survive for a long long time. If you don’t have the skills to pass them on to your son, there are groups or Dad n Lad bushcraft courses you can sign up for and learn together.
My good friend and survival expert Tom Gold has a useful blog and YouTube channel on bushcraft on a budget. You should definitely check it out after reading this post.
If your son knows how to do or find all three of these things in a survival situation, he’ll be miles ahead of his peers. Most kids barely play outdoors. I recently witnessed kids who didn’t even know how to walk through a wood. They walked as if going along a pavement – instead they tripped on every root and branch.
The ability and knowledge to survive in an emergency brings a confidence that others don’t understand. If you’re prepared for the worst, you’re a lot less likely to be worried about it. The same goes for your son as you guide him into being an assertive, confident, strong young man.
Chores Around the House and Home
As a teenager, I volunteered with a local ranger service for a week. There were 12 of us living in a bunkhouse for a week while we did different jobs to help the local wildlife.
There was one of the boys – 16 or 17 – who was barely able to function in the communal living arrangement of cooking together, cleaning and personal ‘admin’. It wasn’t that he was lazy (although that could have been a factor), he was just incapable.
We were cutting vegetables for an evening meal and I had to show him how – he’d never cut a vegetable before. This was the theme throughout the week – even the most basic domestic tasks were a major challenge for him.
Unfortunately for him he was mocked by the other volunteers and got a reputation for being a shirker. But was it really his fault? He’d clearly come from a home where he didn’t really need to do anything or help around the house in any meaningful way.
Maybe you know other people who’s kids are like this: utterly incapable of looking after or doing anything for themselves (maybe that’s your kids!).
How do your kids fare on this crib sheet? My boy turns 4 soon so it's going to get ramped up. Build resilience. pic.twitter.com/AT1rRmrFGg
A few years ago, I found this tick sheet of age appropriate chores for kids. It’s graded so that 2-3 year olds do simple tasks while older kids can do increasingly challenging chores up to the Holy Grail at the bottom of the list:
Watch younger siblings.
Imagine how mucg easier your life will be if your 12 year old son can do all of these jobs around the house. Now multiply that by the number of kids you have.
You’ll have more time to do the things you want to – if you work long hours, chores could be done by the time you get home so you can have quality time with the kids.
Some parents mistake bringing up their kids for being their personal servant, taxi driver, social co-ordinator etc etc. If your son is able to take ownership and be motivated intrinsically to do these jobs, then your life is going to be easier according to author Steven Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
But the main benefit is this: He will be more confident and more prepared for life – whatever he does. Some of you on Twitter had some great suggestions about making chores fun like doing them to music or making them into a game. Those are great ideas.
The important lesson is that the motivation is intrinsic – this means that the benefits of the activity come from the activity itself. In other words, you carry out the activity for the sake of it.
The flip side would be something like ‘You can’t play on the Xbox until you’ve mowed the lawn.’ With this approach you’ll build resistance to your authority in the long term – but hey at least your lawn will look fantastic. It might take more work to motivate intrinsically but nothing worth is ever easy.
Closing Thoughts: Is He Ready for Life?
I don’t really write much on what people call ‘parenting’. Why? Because I’ve not been doing it long enough plus everyone’s different – there is no ‘1 size fits all’ approach.
But I was a boy once – someone’s son. I know what I learned that prepared me for life.
Remember this – you’re the old, wise one but still treat it as a shared journey of learning with your son. This post has been a journey from darkness to light. The dark is the negative influence of those who would turn you and your son into a victim and a pizza munching weakling. They should be shunned and ignored.
The light we’ve journeyed into together is realising that moment when you tick the last box on the check list and see your son graduate from boy to man. Legally adult hood starts at 18, but life begins an awful lot earlier.
Got any thoughts of your own? Maybe you have older sons or even daughters and have taken a similar approach. I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or send me an email.
P.S. There were a lot of words in this post. Thankfully my emails are shorter (and only come out once every 2 weeks). If you’re not interested, you should click off and not sign up here.