Top 10 Movies with Adolescent Boy Heroes

July 24th, 2020 by | Posted in General | No Comments »

Why are “coming of age” movies with adolescent boy heroes such a popular genre?

Let’s face it, most adult men have some degree of teenage boy still pulsing through their veins.  Looking back, middle school was one of the most intense times of our lives. We were drinking from the fire hose of life and we experienced a wide range of emotions and experiences that were difficult to process at the time. They were confusing and embarrassing in so many ways.

I would argue that middle school is the most formative time in a man’s entire life.

It’s during this time period that our concept of manhood and masculinity are forged deeply. But most of us simply “endured” this season of life, moved on as fast as we possibly could, and buried all of those awkward, confusing emotions.  

Watching these movies is cathartic and also provides great conversation starters with your own boys.  Enjoy!

  1. The Measure of a Man (2018) 

Set in the summer of 1976, an insecure, overweight 14-year-old boy finds a summer job on millionaire’s estate. A surprising mentor (a Wall Street exec) befriends him and teaches him valuable lessons. The shy boy finds courage and learns to step into challenging situations. A funny, poignant and wise movie starring Donald Sutherland and Luke Wilson. Rated PG-13.

  1. Karate Kid (2010) 

In this re-boot from the 80s original, a 12-year-old boy moves to China, encounters bullies and finds an unlikely Kung Fu master (a janitor) who teaches him self-defense and honor. The story is familiar, but Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan add a new twist to finding courage and stepping boldly into difficult circumstances.  Rated PG.

  1. Shazam! (2019)

Do we all have a superhero inside us? Action movie with a “BIG” twist as a 14-year-old boy discovers magical superpowers in a grown man’s body.  The protagonist tests the boundaries of his newfound abilities with the maturity level of a teenage boy but realizes that “to whom much is given, much is required.” Clear themes of friendship, courage, responsibility, redemption and unselfishness abound.  Rated PG-13.

  1. Mud (2013) 

This adventure kicks off when two 14-year-old boys, living in the Mississippi River Delta, befriend a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out on an island and looking to escape his past. Akin to a modern-day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the boys are thrust into an adult world and learn lessons of friendship, love, commitment, and courage. Rated PG-13.

  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

A 13-year old juvenile delinquent and his grumpy foster father (Sam Neill) find themselves the target of a manhunt in the New Zealand bushland. While out on the lamb, the unlikely duo bond together to survive the elements and outwit the authorities with humorous results.  This heartwarming movie (based on a true story) reminds us that many life lessons are learned in nature … and with a willing mentor. Rated PG-13.

  1. A Monster Calls (2016) 

A 12- year-old boy calls on an imaginary friend to help him cope with his mother’s terminal illness, loneliness, fear, and school bullies. The seemingly implausible storyline comes to life with intense imagery and cinematic magic, as the boy learns lessons about finding power, strength and courage. All-star cast with Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, and Sigourney Weaver.   Rated PG-13.

  1. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) 

A pair of hopelessly romantic 12-year-olds run away together on a remote New England island in 1965. The misfit lovebirds are tracked across the island by the authorities, parents and a troop of scouts during a devastating hurricane. Viewers can’t help but cheer for the couple as they overcome obstacles, tackle unforeseen responsibilities, and teach the adults a thing or two along the way. Great cast includes Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton. Rated PG-13.

  1. Alpha (2018) 

Classic “boy-to-man” initiation movie set in prehistoric times. Keda goes on his first hunt with the Cro-Magnon tribesmen and is left for dead. He survives his wounds and begins a long journey home with the help of a wolf he befriends. Stunning cinematography underscores a triumphant message of courage, survival, hope and the human spirit. Rated PG-13.

  1. Boyhood (2014)

Shot over a twelve-year time period with the same cast! Viewers get a peek into the actual maturation process of the same boy from age 6 to 18. As he grows, the boy deals with a myriad of challenges and situations like divorce, bullies, drugs, alcohol, relocation, and love. Without a a traditional plotline, the film can be slow moving at times, but it’s a “one-of-a-kind” experience with a huge emotional payoff in the end. Perfect conversation starter that takes the viewer back in time and preps adolescent boys for the journey ahead. Rated R.

  1. JoJo Rabbit   (2019) 

A lonely 10-year-old Nazi youth discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic during WWII. JoJo comes face to face with his blind prejudices and nationalistic beliefs by interacting with his imaginary friend Adolph Hitler. This funny, warm-hearted movie delivers a poignant message. Exceptional performances by Scarlett Johansen and Sam Rockwell. Rated PG-13.

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Men, I encourage you to check out my “Top Ten” list of recommended movies and watch them with an adolescent boy. Movies are a great way to spark discussions that never would happen otherwise. Teenage boys have a million and one questions about the journey to manhood that lie just below the surface, but they will rarely ask. Movies are a great catalyst for helping them process their experiences in real time.

Share your own memories and stories with them, then ask some open-ended questions.  Watching these movies together is a gift that will keep on giving — for both of you!

Okay, get some popcorn and let’s get started. With theaters closed for the pandemic, having a movie party at home will bring you closer to each other … and to authentic manhood.

3 Unexpected Gifts of Fatherhood

June 13th, 2020 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Three Unexpected Gifts of Fatherhood

Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you is understating it.” ―Mike Myers

The past few months have produced a lot of time for personal reflection.

First, COVID-19 kept us isolated us in our homes. Then, the horrific death of George Floyd brought racial inequality to the forefront of our collective consciousness.

In the midst of this incredible social upheaval, my oldest son graduated from college. As he prepares for an exciting new life and career in the Big Apple, I’ve been especially reflective about the end of this important chapter in his life (and mine).

Seems like only yesterday I was standing in the delivery room of a Baltimore hospital. I can still hear the doctor ask me if I wanted to reach down and bring my son into the world. The rush of adrenaline I experienced from holding that little guy in my hands as he emerged from the birth canal was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. In that moment, my reason for living took on an entirely new significance.

OMG, I was a father!

Before I had kids, my friends would sit around and talk about the challenges and sacrifices of being a dad: “I’m sleep deprived … Kids are so expensive … My wife and I never go out anymore … We’re too exhausted for sex.”

After discussing the pains of fathering, they’d always throw me a major curveball with their final statement: “But it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me!”

“Wait”, I would say. “You just went on and on about how tough it is. And you never gave one example of the good parts. How come?”

At the time, it was maddening. But now I get it. The intangible benefits of fathering are nearly impossible to describe in words. So bear with me as I give it a try …

Those early years of child rearing were a beautiful blend of chaos and magic. Delight and exhaustion. All at the same time. They stretched my heart in new ways, and made me realize that my capacity for love was far greater than I ever thought possible.

The joy of watching each of our three children enter the world and transform right before my eyes on a daily basis has been miraculous. Each milestone renewed my sense of wonder. There was something new and incredible going on literally every day.

Being a dad awakened new feelings, rekindled old wounds, and created fresh battles — all of which took me way out of my comfort zone and brought much needed healing to my heart. I didn’t see it coming. This was the first unexpected gift — fatherhood has expanded my emotional capacity to a whole new stratosphere.

Those early years were rough, with a steep learning curve. But they seemed simple compared to what came later! As dads, we really earn our stripes when our kids become teenagers. I wrote the first edition of ManQuest when my boys were just 12 and 9 and I was only dreaming about raising teenage boys.

I mean, what could go wrong? I’d simply teach our sons my paradigm for becoming a great man. They, of course, would automatically and voluntarily follow it to a “T” … and move swimmingly into adulthood. Predictably, that’s not what happened. Instead, they pushed the boundaries and challenged my ManQuest guideposts every step of the way. Looking back, my youthful exuberance was rather naïve, with more than a touch of arrogance.

It was difficult at the time, but their resistance really helped me understand teenage boys at an entirely new level. It was rewarding. And humbling. Which is the next big unexpected gift you get from fatherhood: Learning humility.

As my boys grew, many of my preconceived notions went out the window. Teenagers are masters at exposing our hypocrisies and weaknesses. (The main reason I recently released a revised edition of ManQuest was to share the hard-earned wisdom I’ve learned along the way.)

Another gift of fatherhood is dealing with ambiguity. Men don’t deal with uncertainty very well. We generally prefer things that are rational, ordered and predictable. We like it when things go as planned and expected.

As a result, when the going gets tough during those teenage years, a lot of dads tend to take their hands off the wheel instead of leaning in. They take the easy, non-confrontational approach. This has produced a phenomenon I call the “buddy dad” — the adult who seeks to be a peer instead of a guide.

I hear dads proudly boast that their son is their “best friend.” I get that. Friendship is a great long-term goal as our sons mature into adulthood. But it shouldn’t be our driving force during adolescent years. Teenage boys don’t need 100% smooth sailing — they need obstacles to bump into so they can figure out how to maneuver around them.

Part of my role as a dad is to be their coach in life. All the great coaches inspire their players to elevate their games for the betterment of the team. They don’t worry too much about whether their players “like them” or not. The truly great coaches build strong relationships with their players and know when to push them forward and pull back when necessary.

Same goes for teenage boys.

There are times they need tough love, firm accountability, and a stern wakeup call that a friend or peer cannot deliver. This action usually creates tension, and if a dad worries too much about the “friendship” aspect, he may hold back on what needs to be said.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s really hard finding the balance between encouraging my boys to give more, while letting them know I love them unconditionally and believe in them. On one hand, we cannot be a “hard-ass dad” all the time and still have a positive relationship with our sons. But on the other hand, a “buddy dad” just isn’t respected at crunch time. Trust me on this.

The answer lies somewhere in between, and I’m constantly trying to walk that tightrope and strike the balance. I’m convinced that struggling with this ambiguity is where fathers do their best work.

So, there you have it. The unexpected gifts of fathering are 1) expanded emotional capacity, 2) learning humility, and 3) dealing with ambiguity. These are important tools our kids have provided for our toolbelts. Fatherhood has stretched me in so many ways that I can’t imagine who I would be without the lessons they’ve taught me.

The greatest surprise about fatherhood (so far) is something nobody ever told me. I’ve been amazed to find that our kids help us grow as much as we help them. There’s far more reciprocity in our relationship than I ever imagined.

What’s the best part about fathering? It’s that our work is never done. Our kids continue to evolve and change and grow in new directions — and we get to figure out how to “stay in it” with them through the cycles of life. And in doing so, they continue to teach us important new lessons on how to become our best selves.

Happy Father’s Day!

Unmasking the Alpha

June 6th, 2020 by | Posted in General | No Comments »
Unmasking the Alpha

“Michael Jordan was the alpha, alpha. Period.”
— Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavs

As a basketball fanatic, I was captivated by the recent ESPN docuseries The Last Dance which chronicles the final season of the ultimate G.O.A.T. — Michael Jordan. The one word that kept coming up over and over again to describe Jordan was “alpha.”

Recently, USA Today asked the question, “Michael Jordan was once the alpha of the NBA. Who is the top dog on the PGA Golf tour?” Throwing the “alpha” title around is pretty trendy these days but what exactly does it mean? Is being an alpha a good thing? Is it the masculine target we all should be aiming to achieve?

One of my favorite movies in the last couple of years is actually titled Alpha. It’s a classic “boy-to-man” initiation movie set in prehistoric times. In one scene, the hero’s father teaches his son an important lesson about the wolf culture. He tells him that “the alpha wolf is the leader who takes care of the pack above all else and is always being challenged.” In primates, the alpha male is basically the one who can physically dominate every other male.

Back in 1992, Gatorade told us to “Be Like Mike,” and many of us tried. We bought his Nike sneakers, drank his drink, and sucked up all the brands he endorsed. Jordan had it all — youth, good looks, charisma, wealth, supreme talent and championships. He was at the pinnacle of his game and he oozed confidence and swagger. During the 1992 Olympics Dream Team practices, Jordan snatched the top dog status away from Magic Johnson by physically dominating him on the on the court in a classic “mano y mano” matchup.

Jordan not only earned the alpha title, he relished it and guarded it with ferocity.

“Alpha” males have historically been at the top of the social status hierarchy. They have greater access to power, money and mates, which they gain through physical prowess, intimidation and domination. While it’s easy for the viewer to admire Michael Jordan’s drive for becoming the best and winning, it’s equally fascinating to watch the price he paid for his success.

The Last Dance characterized MJ as a tyrannical, trash-talking team dictator who unleashed maximum accountability on his team members for the sake of winning. Jordan drove his teammates to success at the expense of his relationships. In the end, his most trusted associates weren’t the guys he went to battle with and earned titles alongside. Instead, his bodyguard and his personal assistant were his closest friends — guys on his payroll.

Most alpha males don’t hold their position with grace. And age has not mellowed Michael Jordan one bit. It’s been 22 years since he last won a championship, but Jordan still rules his throne and legacy with an iron fist. In The Last Dance, he recalls petty arguments, perceived slights, and bitter rivalries from 25 years ago like they happened just yesterday. The alpha mindset that propelled him to superstardom isn’t serving him so well in his old age.

After watching the docuseries, I actually felt a great deal of empathy for Michael. He “has it all” but still struggles to relax and enjoy being the best basketball player who’s ever lived. Like most alphas, Michael Jordan has enjoyed all the accoutrements of success – riches, rewards and the ability to make a difference (just yesterday he gave $100M toward racial equality initiatives). But a simple peace of mind is what still seems to elude him.

Much has changed over the past 25 years since Jordan ruled the courts. These days, we hear plenty about what’s wrong with men. The “Me-Too” movement has brought a lot out into the light and terms like toxic masculinity, male privilege, and mansplaining are front and center. In today’s world, the term “alpha” oversimplifies the multi-dimensionality of masculinity and limits what a man is capable of becoming. And it also doesn’t get at the heart of what is really attractive to today’s woman. A recent study showed that kindness, assertiveness and altruism are the new characteristics women are looking for most in a mate.

The allure of the alpha male in American society seems to be devolving rapidly.

In his book The New Alpha Male, former NBA player and TedTalk sensation, Lance Aldred, says “Men are being asked to adapt to our changing world, yet many still want to play by the old rules.” Most women are asking for something different from the opposite sex, but television, social media and advertising continue to stoke the flames of the dying alpha paradigm. For instance, look at all the shows, articles and media posts these days about WAGS (the “wives and girlfriends” of star athletes). The not-so-subliminal message for men is that you can have one of these beauties too, IF you can get rich by making baskets, scoring touchdowns and hitting home runs. These mixed messages are hurting the woman’s movement and confusing men along the way.And it’s hurting our boys, too!

It’s up to the men in our society to help the next generation of young men sift through all of the lies, fabrications and distortions about masculinity that’s being dumped on them 24/7. It’s up to us as dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, coaches, mentors, teachers to lead the way by stepping into their lives with a masculine paradigm that’s trustworthy and reliable.

That’s why I wrote the book ManQuest — so any dad or male mentor can guide their young man on the journey to manhood. With all of the misinformation that’s swirling around in our media-saturated culture, every teenage boy needs an adult man to step up and teach him a masculine “true north.” While they’ll probably never ask you for it, this is something teenage boys secretly crave and absolutely need! (ManQuest is also perfect for old dogs like us who are looking to learn some new tricks.)

The Old School Alpha Dog Dad is passive and lets his son figure the manhood thing out on his own through trial and error. By saying nothing, he allows the culture do all the work and brainwash his boy with an outdated masculine paradigm of money, power, sexual prowess and athletic success.

Today’s New School Alpha Dog Dad is intentional and he uses his words, actions and feelings to convey to his son what a man is supposed to say and do in this world. He doesn’t sit around and hope his son magically learns about authentic masculinity. Rather, he steps into a difficult topic with courage and conviction. If we’re honest, we all know the old alpha paradigm needs to be shelved once and for all. It’s up to us, the elders of the next generation, to equip our teenage boys with a new roadmap for the challenging road ahead.

Thanks Michael Jordan, for peeling back the curtain a bit and reminding us that becoming an alpha is no longer the measure a man.

Mother’s Day – All Summer Long

May 9th, 2020 by | Posted in Mother's Day | No Comments »

“All Summer Long”

“It was 1989, my thoughts were short my hair was long. Caught somewhere between a boy and man …”

– From “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock

The “somewhere between” is one of the most turbulent times a mother will ever face with her teenage son.

Moms and sons share a special bond. Throughout childhood, mothers give of themselves time and time again to meet the emotional, physical, social and intellectual needs of their boys. Then one day, when that magic switch of puberty turns on, a boy’s focus shifts in another direction, and mom can become almost invisible to him. Since the dawn of time, women in every culture have felt this unexpected pushback from their sons. This shift is incredibly annoying and heartbreaking, both at the same time.

While it’s natural and understanding for moms to bend over backwards to regain their emotional connection in a boy’s life, it’s critical to recognize he’s asking for the relationship to change.

Speaking of change, in middle school, everything is changing for a boy — their bodies, their voices, their mysterious attraction to the opposite sex. It’s all evolving, and so must their relationships with mom. Do you know how uncomfortable it is when hormones start raging in a teenage boy? He’s developing into a man (complete with newfound sexual stirrings), yet the primary female relationship in his life is his mother. Can you say awkward?

Of course he’s going to be asking for some distance!

Ladies, when your son starts to spread his wings, you must realize that your role as a mom is shifting. If you can accept your new place in his life, you will save yourself a lot of heartache and can forge something beautiful and rewarding.

Fighting too hard to hang onto the past can cause deep-seated bitterness and long-term resentment in a teenage son. If mom doesn’t give her son adequate space to grow during his manhood transition, feelings of anger and disappointment can develop. This tension can hang around the edges of a mother-son relationship well into adulthood.

It’s important to underscore that moms are crucial in the healthy development and maturation of young men. However, she is the last person a boy wants to learn about “man stuff” from. Moms have extraordinary insights to share, but a ManQuest journey requires active direction from somebody who’s personally been down the same road he’s getting ready to travel.

While moms can offer invaluable perspectives on manhood, they do so only from the vantage point of an outside observer.  

Moms, here’s my best advice for you: As puberty approaches, the wisest thing is to embrace your changing relationship and accept the modified role your son is asking from you. Openly acknowledge to him that you’re glad he’s becoming a man, and that it’s okay for your relationship to grow in new ways. By doing so, you’re honoring his maturity and showing your son you believe in him. Remember, you are still hugely important — but with a different job description.

In How Boys Become Men, Ted Braude says that as long as a boy feels like his mom still “needs him,” he won’t move onto manhood — he will hang out in the shadowy zone between childhood and adulthood. He is torn. He loves mom like crazy but knows he needs something new … and doesn’t know how to express it.

So, in a strange and confusing paradox, he tells you how much he loves you by hurting you.

If your son is making you crazy with his antics, remember that he is afraid of his own developing power, and reacts by bringing fear and destruction to others. In the Boy Code, fear is unacceptable. So he resorts to what he knows works — damage and pain.  He will say and do things, whatever it takes, to get mom to back off.

So what’s a mother to do?

Recognize that your son loves you too much to bluntly tell you he needs something different and so you must be the one who initiates the difficult changes.  Mom needs to demonstrate her strength and position in the relationship. Let him know you are not just there as his servant or domestic help. Anything he can do for himself should be done by him.  Yes, that’s right, ANYTHING. This includes laundry, dishes, packing lunches, etc.

Ultimately, he needs to hear that you feel he is strong and capable and respected. He needs to be encouraged to get out there in the big world and try new things, because you’re his biggest fan. And when your boy gets wounded in this thing called life — as he surely will — he needs to know mom is not going to swoop down and rescue him or fix his problem.

When your teenage son circles back to you with his failures and troubles, you need to give him two very strong “mom” messages:
● You’ll always be there to listen.
● You believe he has what it takes to handle whatever challenge comes his way.

Moms have a sixth sense when it comes to the needs of their children. With ManQuest, most moms intuitively know their teenage son needs to connect with some positive masculine energy and direction. In fact, many women read the book first and then give it to their husband, grandpa, older brother, uncle, coach, teacher, or mentor to engage their teenage son in these crucial discussions.

Moms are an incredible wonder.  You do everything!  You are adaptable, flexible, selfless and you pour your hearts into families – filling in all of the gaps.  But please remember – it’s not your primary responsibility to bestow masculinity onto your son.  When he hits those teenage years, your role will naturally evolve.  Don’t fight it.  Be mindful of what’s happening and allow something fresh, promising and new to blossom in your relationship.

 

Top Father’s Day Gift for 2018

June 8th, 2018 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It was 3am on a hot summer night and I just couldn’t sleep. I tried to relax my mind and slip into dreamland, but I just couldn’t get it together. Vivid memories were colliding with anxiety and I was flooded with emotion. We had a big day coming up and a long drive ahead of us and I just couldn’t find the rest I desperately needed. In the next few hours, after 18 years of “all-in” fathering, I would be releasing my son into the world and taking him off to college.

Looking back, the arrival of that little guy rocked my world in a profound way. There’s nothing like the birth of a child to give crystal clarity to your meaning and purpose in life. The first time I saw him I was bowled over by a tidal wave of protectiveness and responsibility I’d never known before. I remember taking him home from the hospital and feeling like the staff must have violated some sort of child endangerment law by letting us leave with him. I didn’t know what I was doing and there was no owner’s manual to consult. I was completely out of control.

As I tossed and turned on the eve of the big drop-off, those same feelings of protectiveness, responsibility and lack of control overwhelmed me again. But there was one big difference that was making the drop-off even more emotional than his birth – I now had 18 years of love and memories invested in our relationship. All of my fathering instincts to protect and support were shifting toward something brand new – letting go.

There are a few seminal moments in the life of a dad – times when you can’t help but pause, reflect and ask yourself the big question – what kind of dad am I? Most of the time we are too busy and distracted to even ask. But dropping your kid off at college makes you wonder if they are ready and how they will do….and how well you did in preparing them for life.

After staring at the ceiling some more, I finally snuck out of bed and headed downstairs for a change of scenery – to quiet my mind. Unexpectedly, I heard voices out on the front porch. I opened the door and found my two sons hanging out, reminiscing and saying their final goodbyes. I joined them and we spent another hour chatting and laughing (and crying). It was one of the best times the three of us ever shared together. It was what I needed to release the ball of emotion that was sitting in the middle of my chest. He was going to be fine. I was going to be fine.

While I was confident he was ready to take the next step in his journey to manhood, there were plenty of things I regretted. You see, those high school years, weren’t always the best between my son and I. We had to work through the normal push and pull of those “freedom” years. He pushed the boundaries and I reeled him back in. It left some damage and scars in our relationship. And I wondered whether those “battles” were all worth it. Was I too hard on him? Was I too lenient? Did I give him all he needed?

As we said our final goodbyes outside his dorm room, my son surprised me with the gift of a lifetime. He told me he had left a special something in my sock drawer at home – my Father’s Day gift. It was a few months late, but I already knew what it was. You see, every year when the kids ask me what I want for Father’s Day, I always say the same thing – “write me a card or letter”. I don’t need any more ties, golf balls or Starbucks gift cards, so I ask for a gift from their hearts. When they were little kids they’d simply write me an “I love you because” card. During the teenage years, they blew off the request and bought me a token present. I was pretty confident I was going to get a letter from my son!

The trip home from New York City was pretty tortuous. My 7-year old daughter sobbed for 3 hours straight with varying spurts of hysteria. My wife was somber and reflective (she cried the entire way to New York). My 15-year old son was pumped to get back home and take over his brother’s bigger room. After months of anxiety leading up to the drop off, I was finally at peace. I was confident he was in the right place. Also, I was excited to get home and read my letter. I remember having the same feeling as when I get my annual performance appraisal at work – overall I’m pretty confident, but heck, you never know. As a dad, receiving real and raw feedback from the kids is pretty rare. I was getting ready to get some.

When the car pulled into the driveway at around midnight, I raced upstairs to get my letter. When the rest of the family was sound asleep, I found a quiet place and read it. It was the gift of a lifetime. It was heartfelt, sentimental and affirming. He told me things I never knew….things I longed to hear. Overall, he let me know that he wouldn’t change a thing about his childhood and our relationship. Even through the challenging times, he said he never doubted my love and support. He specifically referenced his ManQuest experience and thanked me for my guiding hand in his life. It was great to hear that he was excited about college and felt well-equipped for life.

I turned off the light and sat in the darkness by myself. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction and relief. Satisfaction in the knowledge that I had given him my absolute best. And relief that my best seemed like it was going to be enough. In today’s world, when it comes to raising kids, you never quite know if your best will be good enough. This business of fathering is full of dangers, pitfalls and potential disasters. There are no guarantees out there when it comes to raising kids. And it’s tough because you never really quite know how you’re doing until they are gone….unless you ask.

So, as this Father’s Day approaches, I encourage you to take a risk. No matter how old your child may be – toddler, teen, tween or adult – simply ask them for a handmade card or a letter for Father’s Day. You never know what you’re going to get. It could be amazing or it might be a little rough. Who knows, it may even change your approach to fathering. Regardless, there’s a pretty good bet you will hear something that will touch your heart in a special way, which is the greatest gift any dad can receive.

Craigslist Rent-A-Dad

June 11th, 2017 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Check out the fascinating advertisement that popped up on Craigslist recently from a group of guys searching for a “BBQ Dad” to handle the grill at their outdoor party. My sixteen year old son shared it with me and thought it was hilarious. While it’s written in a sarcastic and even mocking tone, it speaks volumes about the yearnings of young men in our society and their desire to be mentored by older men.

To interested individuals,
We will be throwing a backyard BBQ on June 17th to celebrate beer and each other. We range in age from 21-26, and while most of us know how to operate a grill, none of us are prepared to fill the role of “BBQ Dad”. That being said, we are in need of a generic father figure from 4-8PM (though you may stay the full duration of the party). Duties include:

-Grilling hamburgers and hot dogs (whilst drinking beer)

-Refer to all attendees as “Big Guy”, “Chief”, “Sport”, “Champ” (whilst drinking beer)

-Talk about dad things, like lawnmowers, building your own deck, Jimmy Buffett, etc. Funny anecdotes are highly encouraged. All whilst drinking beer.

We can’t pay you in money, but we can give you all the food and cold beer your heart desires. Grill for a few hours, then sit back and crack open a few cold one with the boys.

This is a real ad. Do not hesitate to call if you are interested. Preference will be given to applicants named Bill, Randy or Dave.

This ad is obviously written to be tongue and cheek with some not so subtle millennial mockery going on as they are poking fun at Baby Boomer Dads whose traditional lifestyle they are most likely trying to avoid at all costs. They sound like a group of pampered new college grads who have limited life skills and are looking for somebody to serve them (for free). But if we delve a little deeper and look beyond the sardonic tone of the ad – there’s something else going on here.

These young men are clearly crying out for an older man to come alongside them, to mentor them and show them the way. It’s easy to read between the lines and see they feel ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities of manhood and are seeking some guidance from a wise sage. In their own words they reveal that “none of us are prepared” to handle the responsibility of grilling. What they’re really saying is that none of us are ready to make the transition into manhood and we need some help. In today’s world, it’s not uncommon for young men to get stuck in life while moving toward adulthood. The number of 20-something year old males living in their parents basement, playing video games all day and unable to move forward in life is a pretty alarming trend in our society.

This ad has nothing to do with needing a grillmeister for their Beerfest. C’mon, they’re just cooking up some hamburgers and hot dogs – what’s the big deal. I can see them possibly needing some grill guidance if they were throwing on some steaks or something a little more ambitious, but burgers and dogs? No, they are begging for an older man to come to their party and show them what a man is supposed to say and do in this world – because they’re feeling lost and rudderless. What they’re saying is “man, living in the real world is pretty dang hard and there’s got to be more to this man thing than drinking a few beers with the boys. We don’t know how to express our needs fully so please look beyond our childish ad and come point us in the right direction”.

It’s interesting that they want the “BBQ Dad” to be there from 4-8 PM. If it was just the grilling they were after it could all be accomplished in 30 minutes. Why do they want the grill man to hang around for an extra 200 minutes after the grilling is completed? Because what they’re really after is the companionship and mentoring of an older man. They want him to hang around “and crack open a couple of cold ones” because they need some true masculine energy and wisdom. We can see right through their smoke screen of requesting a “generic dad” who will spawn cheesy nicknames and talk about mundane topics. They are craving some sage advice from somebody who’s already made the journey they are uncertain they can make. They need somebody to show them the way. And it’s not a coincidence that their party is taking place on Father’s Day Weekend.

The simple but hard truth is that males in our society are underfathered. Today’s father is probably a pretty good role model. He may take his son to a ballgame once in a while and drive him to his sports or activities, but that’s only a fraction of what boys really need from their dads. Rarely do we ever use our words to teach them, instruct them and proactively guide them toward manhood. As dads, we might do a lot of the “right” things but still not equip our boys appropriately for the journey to manhood.

It’s hard to believe but you can be a “superdad” or the most engaged dad in the world, but if your young man doesn’t have a clear-cut construct of manhood by the time he enters high school, he will be ill-equipped for the manhood journey that lies ahead. There’s an incredible window of opportunity to teach our sons about manhood during the middle school years that most dads miss altogether. Surprisingly, a steel curtain drops down when they hit high school and their concept of manhood and masculinity is pretty much locked in until their 30s, 40s, 50s or even for a lifetime. That’s why it’s so crucial to engage middle school boys in conversations, give them the roadmap to manhood and take them on a ManQuest journey before they get distracted by a driver’s license, girls, partying and puberty.

Every middle school boy is asking three fundamental questions about manhood:
How do I become a man?
What are the actions of a man?
Do I have what it takes to become a man?

If these questions don’t get answered during those crucial middle school years, they will linger in the recesses of his psyche for years to come. And if he’s never equipped with the manhood tools he needs, in future years, he will sit around at backyard BBQs, drinking beer with his friends, trying to do “manstuff” with a gnawing suspicion that a key part of his masculinity is somehow missing.

It’s up to us as fathers, grandpas, uncles, coaches, teachers, mentors to raise up the next generation of young men in our community. It’s our responsibility to make sure that the young men in our lives won’t ever need to hire a “stand-in” dad to help him figure out something he should have already been told long ago.

Top Father’s Day Present of 2014

June 13th, 2014 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Top 25 ManQuest Father Tips

 There’s an “Ultimate List of 45 Man Tips” floating around on the internet that I found quite interesting and amusing.  Most of the words of fatherly advice were practical pieces of information to help a son succeed in life, such as “buy a plunger before you need a plunger” and “give a firm handshake” and “compliment her shoes”.  

 While I always appreciate the effort to pass along some manly wisdom to the next generation, the list that was posted barely scratched below the surface of the masculine experience.   The list caused me to pause and wonder if a bunch of quips and trite anecdotes was really the best wisdom we have for our maturing sons.

 There’s one thing’s for certain.  Our young men are craving fatherly wisdom and they are looking for adult men to show them the way and provide something that’s real and meaningful to build their manhood upon.  So I sat down and drew up a list of the Top 25 ManQuest Father Tips that every young man needs to hear.

 This Father’s Day I encourage you to sit down with a young man – son, stepson, mentee, player, grandson, nephew, etc. – and use the Top 25 to engage him in a conversation about what it means to be a man.  Remember, it’s your day to do whatever you want with!  There’s no doubt it will be the greatest Fathers’ Day present you will ever give!  Here’s the 25 I will be sharing with my boys on Sunday:

 Be a “yes” man – put yourself out there and try new things.

  1. Don’t sit around and wait for somebody else to do what you know needs to be done – show up, stand up, speak up for what you believe.
  2. Having the difficult conversation isn’t fun.  It may blow up in your face.  But in the end, it’s better to just say what you need to say.
  3. A man will bleed for those he loves.  Be ready to act when the time comes.
  4. Never feel powerful when another person is powerless.
  5. Be vulnerable.  Share from your heart more than your head.
  6. Give yourself to something bigger than the accumulation of power, prestige, possessions, and experiences.  Don’t let a bigger paycheck be the driving force for your career decisions.
  7. Avoid the slippery slope when it comes to integrity.  One small compromise will surely lead to another and another.
  8. The people who bug you the most are usually those who are most like you…cut them some slack. 
  9. Practice assigning unsurpassable value to those people who are the least like you or need it the most.
  10. Resist the urge to fix other people’s problem…learn to listen and ask questions.
  11. Don’t aspire to be a part of the “in crowd”.  Oftentimes, the most wonderful people are not there.
  12. Do hard things and over time they won’t feel so hard.
  13. Pretend about nothing and you’ll never get lost.
  14. When you feel “stuck” in life…don’t wallow.  Seek counsel, choose a direction and get moving.
  15. You will fail.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Hit the reset button and get back in the game.
  16. Holding off on sex before marriage may seem old fashioned, but it creates a foundation of mutual trust that’s well worth the wait.
  17. Don’t get married until you find somebody you would gladly lay your life down for.
  18. Open your heart to God first thing every morning (prayer, meditation, reflection, scripture).
  19. If your religious experience is not moving you toward a position of love and compassion, then try a different path.
  20. Always have at least one male friend who you can be 100% honest with & always seek out a life mentor who will challenge you in new ways.
  21. Everything you put into your brain filters into your heart.  Protect your heart by saying no to the things that will slowly destroy you like pornography, drugs, explicit music, violent videos, gambling & a life of cheap thrills.
  22. Try your hardest to show up for the big events and occasions for those you love (moving day, funeral, birth, graduation, illness, etc.).
  23. Always deliver bad news to somebody face to face.
  24. Keep in mind that someone else doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win.

 

Happy Father’s Day!

Mike McCormick

 

Saying Goodbye to Bedtime Kisses

June 9th, 2014 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

A familiar scene plays itself out in households across the world every evening around bedtime. As teenage boys are getting ready to sack out for the night they do their best to sneak by mom to avoid giving her a kiss goodnight.  What was once a warm and tender show of affection between mother and son has now become an awkward dance.  An emotional tug-of-war of sorts.  No offense mom but even if your teenage son is still kissing you goodnight, chances are he’s wishing he could just dart off to his room and skip the pre-bed ritual altogether. As a result, there are scores of hurt and angry moms, spanning the globe, wondering the very same thing. What happened to my little boy?

While women tend to have a pretty good sense of the basic needs of adult males, moms tend to misread the tea leaves with regard to their teenage boys. Why do moms so often miss the cues, clues and vibes their sons are giving to them? Because we naturally want to hold tightly to relationships where we’ve developed a profound emotional investment. And there’s no greater emotional bond than between mother and child.

No doubt it’s hard for any mom to admit her little boy is becoming a man and to release him to the manhood journey he was meant to embark upon. While moms intuitively know it’s natural for a young man to pull away from the warmth, comfort and safety of maternal love, it has to feel like pure rejection and absolute abandonment

It’s no coincidence that this relational shift happens around 13 years of age, right? Once a young man starts into puberty a lot of things begin changing thanks to a constant surge of testosterone throughout his body. As a result, he starts seeing women in a whole new way. New and intense feelings are awakened. Body hair starts sprouting in new places. His voice starts changing. Male body parts start expanding and contracting at a moment’s notice. There’s no doubt teenage boys experience some pretty massive physiological and emotional changes.

Now imagine if you’re a young man and your libido starts kicking into overdrive for the first time. You start checking out the girls at school in a whole new way and suggestive TV shows and commercials have a whole new allure.   Teenage boys are notoriously dense, but all of a sudden he starts making the connection that mom is in the same gender category as the young ladies he’s wildly attractive to. Now that’s a major “yuck” and a tough one to process for any young man.

As he becomes increasingly aware of and strangely attracted to female body parts it doesn’t take long for a young man to recognize that his mother not only has those same parts but she may have even used one of them to give birth to him! Worse yet, at some point he may have even suckled some of these body parts for nourishment as an infant! Now that’s the definition of “awkward” in teenage boy land.

I’m not saying that teenage boys have the hots for mom and there’s some Freudian-Oedipal thing going on. Rather, during puberty they are simply sorting out the feelings they have for women in general. And with mom being, well, a woman, there’s some level of confusion taking place.

So what’s a mother to do? It’s a tricky situation for sure. The most common strategy a mom will employ is to work harder to regain the emotional connection that seems to be slipping away. Women are relational masterminds but even the most skilled mother will likely get shot down trying to cozy back up to a bristling teenage boy. Moms, if your teenage son is acting extra rude toward you, he’s probably asking for a change in your relationship and doesn’t exactly know how to say it.  

Here’s the deal. Every teenage boy needs a father, uncle, brother, grandpa, coach or male mentor to step into his life in a significant and profound way to give him what he is craving…positive masculine energy.  No offense to the moms but your teenage son is asking for the road map to manhood. And the best thing a mom can do is to encourage, facilitate and release her teenage son to the mentoring of a trustworthy adult man. Mom will always play a key role in her son’s life. But it’s important for her to recognize and accept that their relationship was meant to change….meant to evolve into something new, different and special.

As a society we need to start helping moms process and work through this transition with grace and dignity. Women need to know that a relational shift with their teenage son is a natural and expected developmental stage and not a maternal failing. I am amazed that there’s so little understanding and discussion about this phenomenon that touches the lives of just about every person on the planet.

Moms across the globe are perplexed and struggling and we need to support them through this transition. In order to shed some necessary light on this issue we should create a clinical diagnosis to describe it better.  How about Testro Pubescent Disassociation Syndrome or something really catchy like “testrogen tension”? Regardless, we need to do a better job of preparing moms so they are not shocked and surprised when their teenage son changes before their eyes.

So what’s a mom to do? First of all, it’s important to remember that your attention and affection is still crucial to the healthy development of your young man. He needs to know you still love and respect him. The worst thing to do is to shut off your emotional overtures altogether or to make a big deal about his maternal dissonance. It’s important for you to show him you respect his wishes so be ready to retreat a little. But here’s the trick…you can’t back off altogether. Look for opportunities to let him know you care about him in less overt and more creative ways. Oh yeah, still try to hug him or snuggle with him or kiss him from time to time but be emotionally prepared for him to pull back. Remember, he still wants and needs your attention and affection but in smaller doses and in different ways.

After years of sacrificial love and devotion there’s nothing more painful than getting the cold shoulder from your teenage son. But keep in mind that how you handle this delicate shift will go a long way in determining the quality of your adult relationship with your son.   It’s tough to see the bigger picture when you are in the middle of it. But remember, while you may be losing your little boy, in the long-run you will someday be gaining a man.

 

Cold Doesn’t Bother Me Anyway

April 10th, 2014 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Since when did it become fashionable for teenage boys to stop wearing a coat in extremely cold weather? I know it’s been the winter of “Frozen” and “the cold doesn’t bother me anyway” but I’ve noticed more young men discarding their coats when they should be piling on more layers. Guys have been doing crazy things to validate their masculinity since the beginning of time, but freezing your butt off and acting like it’s no big deal feels like a whole new level of ridiculousness.

This morning I took my 13-year old son to his lacrosse game and the field was covered with a blanket of white frost. It was around 32 degrees and he was going out to play with only a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. I instructed him to get his coat on and he replied that he doesn’t want to be “soft” or “weak”. This is teenage boy code for “if you make me do this I will become the laughingstock of my team and you will singlehandedly ruin my life forever”. I quickly informed him that there was zero correlation between being warm and his masculinity so we settled on him putting on some under armor.

A couple of weeks ago I witnessed a 12-year old coatless kid leave my basketball practice into 20 degree weather after a couple of hours of heavy sweating. After a few steps into the frigid temps, he turned back to his friends with a big smile on his face and said proudly “look at me…I’m a man.” His friends gave him a few “attaboys” to confirm his proclamation. It seems like the definition of manhood has sunk to an all-time low these days.

This was confirmed when I recently did a writers workshop with a group of middle school students. As an exercise, I asked them to take a minute and write down their definition of a man. The kids did a pretty good job and there were a couple of real gems but for the most part their description of manhood was fairly uniform and pretty stereotypical: tough, successful, protector, provider, etc. I didn’t hear a lot of what I would consider to be the higher human qualities to strive for, such as loving, wise, generous, leader, courageous, godly, faithful and selfless.

There’s no doubt the manhood bar has been set pretty low and there’s a lot of confusion out there about what it means to be a man. Our teenagers desperately need to hear a clear and compelling manhood definition that creates a foundation for their future. Young men need to learn a code of conduct and the actions of a man so they enter high school with a compass to guide them through the maze of adolescence.

A couple of years ago I wrote a book called “Man Quest: Leading Teenage Boys into Manhood” for just this reason. So any dad can sit down with his teenage school son and give him a roadmap to manhood. A young man should never have to wonder if he has what it takes to become a man. And if he chooses not to wear his coat in the frigid temperatures it will be because he already feels warm and insulated.

Movies with Masculine Messages

November 27th, 2013 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Movies with Masculine Messages

Movies are a tremendous vehicle for teaching teenage boys about authentic manhood. 

Because of how we’re wired up, males don’t typically have a strong connection to our inner emotional lives. So movies often create a natural relational bridge for guys.  Men often draw great inspiration from classic movies and we enjoy talking about our favorite movie lines.

When I wrote the book “Man Quest: Leading Teenage Boys into Manhood”, I intentionally designed a movie time for adult men and teenage boys to enjoy together.   During those challenging teenage years it’s sometimes hard to find connection points between father and son.  Movies are a fun and compelling catalyst for deeper discussions.

Contrary to popular belief, the journey to manhood is not a solo trip.  It’s meant to be passed down from a father or male mentor.  Manhood must be actively taught to fully take root and blossom in the heart of a young man.  And movies are an outstanding teaching tool.

While there are hundreds of movies I could have selected to include in the Man Quest book, I purposefully selected movies with a little more grit to them.  As young men are moving into manhood, they need to start seeing some of the harshness of the world.  They need to start preparing their hearts and minds for life’s more pressing challenges. Movies with masculine messages help to get the testosterone pumping and the dialogue flowing.  They often provide an ideal opening for deeper conversations between mentor and mentee.

Man Quest suggests six movies that help drive home the essential lessons regarding the important “actions of a man” (or guideposts as I refer to them in the book).  Here’s my expanded list of the top movies to watch with your teenage son to spark conversations about manhood.  They are sorted by the six Man Quest guideposts.   The most appropriate age for my recommended movies is 13 and up.   Check out my web-site at www.manquestmovement.com to learn more about the Man Quest guideposts.   I’d love to hear about some of your favorite movies with a masculine message. Enjoy!

Accept Responsibilty

The Ultimate Gift*

Cinderella Man

Yes, Man

Pursuit of Happyness

A Few Good Men

 

Lead Courageously

Braveheart*

Master and Commander

Glory

I Am Legend

Hotel Rwanda

 

Pretend About Nothing

Dead Poets Society*

The Truman Show

Big Fish

Legends of the Fall

Pleasantville

 

Journey with God

The Matrix*

Les Miserables

Life of Pi

Bruce/Evan Almighty

End of the Spear

 

Protect Your Heart

Forrest Gump*

Good Will Hunting

Big

Shawshank Redemption

Slumdog Millionaire

 

Engage in Deep and Meaningful Relationships

Shallow Hal*

Roxanne

Rain Man

Henry Poole was Here

The Bucket List

 

*Man Quest Movies