[M]y dad was in the FBI for just shy of 30 years. As a kid, I thought everyone's dad took a gun off his belt and another off his ankle at the end of each work day. Now I know that everyone didn't have the chance to shoot an uzi with their dad at a gun range, or see him drive home in a telephone van as his temporary work vehicle. For me, it was just part of growing up.
It wasn't until my teenage years that I realized my dad's job was different than most. Yes, there were some good stories we talked about over dinner - like when my dad had to deal with a Cuban prison riot at a Federal prison, or when he listened for weeks on a phone tap of a known drug dealer in the area - but most days just looked routinely normal. Although the memories I have of my childhood are different than other men's, our needs were identical.
A while ago I read Ian Cron's new book, Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. (Hence, the cheesy knock-off title of this blog post.) It was a really good, quick read. It's a memoir of his experience growing up with a dad in the CIA. Among the many differences in his life than mine, his dad was an alcoholic and very uninvolved as a father. Part of the central theme of his book is what boys need from their dads - or other men in general. Listen to this excerpt:
I would have given anything for my father's love to not be a secret. Anything. A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than what we think we can endure.
A young boy needs a father who tells him that life is a loaner, who helps him discover why God sent him to this troubled earth so he doesn't die without having tried to make it better. Most of all, a boy needs to be able to look into his father's eyes and see admiration and delight. Frederick Buechner once wrote, "The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you." (:46)
My oldest son started school last fall. At that time I'd been thinking a lot about him, and wondering if he is ready. Then, his social world would begin to change, and he would begin to make many more friends outside of our family. I've let him know numerous times that I am proud of him because of who he is - my son. Yet I know that the deceiver will continue to pick at him, making him question if he'll ever have what it takes to be a man.
When I talk to parents of teenagers, I tell them one of the best things they can do for their teenager is to invite someone else in their child's life to influence them. Someone you know whose character you'd like them to model. There is something powerful about instruction being reinforced from someone outside the home. For me, it was Mike, my Young Life leader when I was in high school. Ian Cron had the same experience with his Young Life leader as well.
Men need validation. They need to know they have what it takes. And they need to hear it from solid men in their life. Again, an excerpt from the book:
Boys without fathers, or boys with fathers who for whatever reason keep their love undisclosed, begin life without a center of gravity. They float like astronauts in space, hoping to find ballast and a patch of earth where they can plant their feet and make a life. Many of us who live without these gifts that only a father can bestow go through life banging from guardrail to guardrail, trying to determine why our fathers kept their love nameless, as if ashamed." (:47)
As my son started school, I prayed for those men in the future that will have such a profound influence on him as well. God knows he'll need it.
Who has had a big impact of your life? Was there someone outside your home that influenced you as well?
If you liked this post, check out Kevin's personal blog, Following to Lead, where he regularly writes on following, leading, fostering and family.
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About Kevin East
Kevin East is the Executive Director of Family Matters. He and his wife Stephanie have five unbelievable kids, two of which they most recently adopted. If Kevin isn't busy with work or family, you'll probably find him in the woods near his house with a power tool. He writes at his blog, "Following to Lead". Connect with him on Twitter at @kevinteast.
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