Once I had a conversation with one of my students. To be specific, this was an American young man of about 17. He inquired as to what I wanted out of this teaching gig. I told him that I had several goals. “One of the goals is to help make you a good father”. “What?”, he asked. “You know I’m only 17. I’m not planning on being a dad for a long time, if at all”.
I proceeded to say that his timing may work out. However, things change, people change, and it’s better to be prepared no matter what. My student, we will call him Dean, asked me why this was important to me. After all, babies eat sleep and poop. I smiled and said, “that’s it huh”? Before I dive into the conversation that followed, let me clarify a few things. Being a dad was not the subject that I taught. I taught 2 theology classes that were mandatory for graduation from this Christian school. However, I felt that our college “prep” was lacking in school. I specifically believed that we needed to do more for these kids to prepare for life. There were several examples of paternity in scripture, so I used that to segway into questions and discussions that would challenge these young people to interact on the subject.
When it came to this particular lesson, I called it Daddy 101. I asked Dean about his dad. “Was he a good example in your mind”? “That asshole?”, he asked. “No way. He was never around. He was too interested in the adolescent activities that he shared with his loser friends”. I was shocked at his response but tried not to show it. “So you would do things differently?”, I asked. “Yeah…I mean, dads are supposed to love their kids and want to be with them.” “What have you learned from your father about being a good dad?”, I asked. “Nothing”, Dean exclaimed. “I disagree”, I said.
Dean already had ideas in his mind about what a dad was/is supposed to be. These ideas were forged by his observation of his own father’s performance and attitude. He was also able to draw from observations the way that his father made him feel. I don’t know if Dean’s idea about his dad were exaggerated with emotion or if he was spot on about his father’s behavior. The point was to draw from that experience in a way that would serve Dean’s potential children in the future. Dean knew how he felt because of his father’s behavior. He never wanted anyone to feel that way.
I told Dean that he was not alone in his experience. Many biological fathers don’t know how to be a dad. I encourage him to take his negative feelings and turn them into a lesson that would serve others. Fortunately, Dean was a reader and well spoken with adults. I encouraged Dean that he needed to be proactive and educate himself about relationships and children. He needed to network with people that he could learn from. Role models are everywhere, good and bad. As long as you can identify them, copy the ideas that are good and ignore the bad ones.
In addition to this, I encouraged Dean NOT to close the door on his father. Many people have epiphany moments and come to a knowledge of their wrongdoing. A way that he could help his father was to pray for him and look for opportunities to be a blessing to him. I told Dean, “You need to understand that relationships are hard work. It can be very disappointing. Your father may or may not come around to a healthy acknowledgment of his actions. His response to your gestures of forgiveness and openness to reconciliation are not your responsibility. It’s on him. However, if there is potential for healing, I think it is worth a shot.”
Being a dad starts with prep work. It begins now. I understand that most teenagers have their minds elsewhere. Most of them live in the “now” and are not thinking about future responsibilities. However, whenever I ran across a student that wanted to talk about the subject I jumped at the chance to do so.
You and I have an impact on other people…positive or negative. We are examples…good or bad. Young people can and do learn from both. The problem is that many of them are not asking questions. They don’t know what questions to ask. This is why we need to take opportunities to be examples and to get to know the dads of tomorrow. It is training. Just like an athlete, the better the training, the better chances for victory. They need coaches. We need coaches.
If you are a young man, whether in school or beginning a family, let me encourage you to get a mentor. If your dad is a good example that is great. However, no matter your situation, I always encourage people to learn from more than one source. Be observant. Ask questions. Take every opportunity to prepare yourself for the greatest job you will ever have.
By the way, Dean is now married and has two beautiful little girls. He is addicted to them. Every once in a while I get a text from him. I love seeing pictures of those little ones with the biggest smiles I have ever seen. Good job Dean…keep learning.