The Secret Thoughts of Teenage Boys

August 16th, 2012 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

 There’s never been a more dangerous time to be a teenager in our society. The statistics on teenage drug use, depression, pregnancy, alcoholism and suicide are quite staggering and just plain sobering. Thanks to technology and the media, our kids are being bombarded with a 24/7 onslaught of fabrications, distortions and downright lies about what life is really all about….and they are buying it. The daily pressures on our teenagers today are more intense and destructive than ever before.

Our community is in shock over the suicide death of a Brother Rice student last week. People who knew this young man personally have told me that he had everything most high school kids could only dream of – intelligence, athleticism, friends, good looks and a loving family. I’m sure most people thought he “had it all” – but there was obviously something deeper that he kept hidden from the outside world.

The unexpected death of a young man with so much hope and promise should naturally rock the foundation of every parent and force us to ask the necessary question “what about my teenager”? The scary truth it’s very hard to truly know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of our teenagers, especially our boys.

The teenage years can be a crazy, confusing and overwhelming time as kids start the transition to adulthood. Nowadays, the pressure to perform academically, socially and with extracurriculars is way over the top. Everything seems magnified when you’re a teenager and the smallest of setbacks can start a downward spiral.

Back in high school I never shared my feelings…with anybody. My dad would openly lament how he wished he knew what was going on inside my head. My nickname back then was “The Fog” because I was pretty much checked out emotionally. Looking back I know why I felt mostly numb. Plain and simple, I was not living the life I wanted for myself and I didn’t know how to express it to those around me.

The teenage years tend to be a time of testing boundaries and finding new freedoms, but I remember just feeling lost.  I’m sure people around me would have said that I had it all.

In high school I committed much of my life to being a basketball star and earning a college scholarship. I spent a lot of time playing basketball even though it wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed. You see, I followed in the footsteps of my older brother and I simply wanted the same fatherly attention and affection that he seemed to get for his athletic achievements. I now know that I spent a lot of my time doing something I didn’t particularly like, to win something that I could never really attain. No wonder I felt depressed.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college basketball at Kent State that I first experienced freedom from the pressure and scrutiny I was feeling.  After three major knee surgeries in two years, the doctor told me that my career was over.  While I wasn’t purposefully trying to get injured, my knee problems provided me with a respectable way out of my situation. At the age of 19, when I couldn’t play anymore, I finally felt the freedom to start choosing the life I wanted for myself.  As a result, a whole new world opened up for me almost immediately and I started engaging in life in a brand new way.

Now the crazy thing is that freedom was in my grasp the entire time. But in my teenage mind, I didn’t feel like there were any other options out there for me. I felt like basketball success was my only path so I created a single mindset that propelled me forward to a place I didn’t really want to go. Like so many teenage boys, I kept my thoughts and feelings tightly under wraps.  

It appears from all accounts that sports and a pressure to succeed were not the mitigating causes in the death of the Brother Rice student. To the contrary, this young man spent countless weekends heading up north to fish or snowboard, and enjoying a lot of time with his family. Like so many other teens though, this young man was dealing with something on the inside that was weighing him down. So many times, it appears there is no logic or rationale in how teenagers view themselves and their life. In the psyche of most teenagers, life is lived in the here and now without much thought given to the future or the bigger picture.

So what’s a parent to do? How can we peer into the emotional lives of our teenagers and best support them through these challenging years? Well, the most important thing to do is to stay in the game with them – even when they try to push you aside and act like they want to check out on you. Be available and never just assume that they are ok.  Don’t stop checking in with them.

Here are a couple of simple, open-ended questions that parents can ask to “check-in” with their kids. It takes some parental courage to ask the questions because they may shut you down or give you the raw and real truth.  Regularly ask your teenager the following questions: 1) What would you add or subtract from your current activity list? 2) If you could wave a magic wand, what one thing would you change in your life? 3) Who are your true friends and who would you talk to if you have a problem? Now here’s the hard part. Once you’ve asked these questions, sit back and listen to their answers without problem-solving or value judgments (easier said than done). 

I think most would agree that our primary goal as parents is to raise healthy, well-rounded kids who can function effectively in the world. At the end of the day, they need to be valued for their own uniqueness and actively taught what an abundant life looks and feels like. And as they enter into the world, we can only pray that they will be able to stand in the storms of life that will surely rage around them….and reach out for help when they need a lending hand.

 

Equipping the Teenage Driver

August 10th, 2012 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

 My almost 15-year old son started driver’s training this week so I took him out for a little test drive to get him ready to hit the road.  I was amazed at how little he knew about the intricacies of driving – blinkers, wipers, high beams, etc.  Then I flashed back to my first driving experience….

 At around the same age, my mom unexpectedly parked the car on an abandoned stretch of dirt road and announced that I was going to drive for the first time.  Her only real instruction was to put the car in drive and go slowly.   I was doing about 25 MPH when I came upon my first turn.  As I approached my left hand turn, I didn’t brake at all and just jerked the wheel and made a ridiculously sharp turn in our 1979 Green Duster.  We fish-tailed back and forth a couple of times until I managed to get the car straightened out.  To this day I have no idea how the car stayed on the road.

 My visibly shaken mother demanded that I pull over right away.  With tears and fear in her eyes she asked me why I didn’t brake while rounding the curb.  “Nobody ever told me you have to brake when making a turn”, I answered.  “Haven’t you been watching us drive all these years?” she wondered.  Somehow I must not have made the brake/turn correlation during my 15 years of back seat spectating.  I guess we only learn so much from passive participation.  And the same thing is true for fathering.

 As a father I spend way too much time “osmosis fathering” – remaining silent and expecting my boys to just watch me and “get it”.  I forget that these little formative minds are empty chalk boards needing to be filled with all the necessary information for life.  And it’s my primary job as a father to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of ways to learn and role modeling is huge.  But the most important thing we can do as fathers is to engage our boys in active dialogue and proactively teach them the ways of manhood.  

 I grew up with a strong and stable father presence in my life but I have to admit until recently I’ve never felt like much of a man.  For most of my adult life I’ve pretty much functioned with the mindset of a teenage boy.   While I learned how to mask my insecurities with a cool and competent facade, I always wondered whether I had what it takes.  Sure I got married, had kids, bought a house, and developed a career.  I did all of the big boy things you’re supposed to do, but I always had a nagging suspicion that some vital masculine piece was missing at the very core of me. 

 You see, I never had a clear and compelling definition of manhood to propel me forward.   I didn’t have something real and transcending to pull me back when things were rough and I got off track.  One thing I know is that there’s a generation of boys out there who hunger to be taught the ways of manhood from a dad or male mentor.  And the lessons will not hit home if they are subtle or ambiguous…they must be specific, unvarnished, powerful and life-giving to hit home. 

 Because 99.9% of adult men don’t have a manhood paradigm of their own (I didn’t a couple of years ago), I wrote the Man Quest  book as a resource.  If you’re looking for a good place to start, check out the Man Quest Guideposts at www.manquestmovement.com.  Remember, you don’t need to have all the answers to start a manhood discussion with your son, nephew, grandson, mentee, or student.  He will appreciate your willingness to start him on the journey.  He will be grateful that somebody went over the “rules of the road” before handing him the keys to his manhood.

New Hollywood Trend & “the End of Men”

July 31st, 2012 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

 A couple of years ago, author Hannah Rosin sparked a firestorm when she wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly called “The End of Men” where she proclaimed that the “age of men” has all but run its course  and women are taking over.  In her article, she noted that the educational tables have already flipped and in the next decade two out of three college graduates will be women.   As a result, women are landing many of the primo jobs and gaining power in our society (at the expense of men).

When I first read the article I scoffed and dismissed it as another shameless poke at masculinity. However, a new movie trend is causing me to stand up, take notice and concede that maybe Hannah was on to something.

In the past couple of years, an entirely new genre of movies has been introduced as a commentary on a growing trend in our society.  Have you noticed all of the recent movies about slacker sons who refuse to grow up and just want to live at home -sponging off their parents?  In the past few years Hollywood has pumped out such movies as “Failure to Launch”, “Step Brothers”, “Jeff, who lives at Home”, “Mamas Boy”, and “Cyrus” (just to name a few).  The amazing part of this new movie genre is that they are all comedies!  Isn’t if funny when grown men are trapped in their adolescence and paralyzed by the fear of their ability to function in the real world?

Madison Avenue has recently jumped into the “slacker son” market with both feet.   Have you seen the new commercial where the State Farm agent is conspiring with the parents to boot their grown son out of the house so they can better utilize his room and reduce their insurance rates?  Better yet, how about the KFC commercial where the parents come to the basement for a “better-grow-up-soon” chat with their video game playing “man-child” and he dismisses them without ever looking up from his game controller or his chicken nuggets?

When did it become culturally acceptable for post-college age men to choose to stay in the family nest instead of blazing their own trail?  I know the economy is pretty brutal out there but when did the “Go West, Young Man” spirit get replaced by the “Life’s Pretty Chill at My Folks” attitude?   There is no doubt that many of our boys are getting de-railed on the track toward manhood.  And the problem is much bigger then we realize.  Did you know an estimated one-third of all American men ages 22-34 still live at home with at least one of their parents?  If this trend continues to build then I would say the “End of Men” is well underway.

The most painful summer of my life happened when I returned to my parents’ home between my first job and graduate school.  After getting chewed up and spit out by corporate America, I retreated back home for a comfortable place to rest and re-group. My parents sent me a pretty clear message that “summering” in my childhood domicile was a very temporary situation and I needed to move on to something else.   I’m happy my parents knew that failure, hardship and pain tend to create the most fertile ground for growth – and they sent me packing.

Why are more and more American boys dropping out of life and seeking respite in their parents’ basement?  Some would point to a failed education system, a changing economy, violent video games, desensitizing electronic media, attention-deficit drugs, etc.  These factors may be contributors to the crisis but are not the underlying cause.  Quite simply, boys (and men) no longer understand what it truly means to be a man.

Historically, men have enjoyed an imperfect, yet defined formula for masculinity – our roles and responsibilities were pretty clear.  In today’s world, things are completely different, and the lines are quite blurry.  Men aren’t great at dealing in ambiguity and wading through the murky waters.  Sadly, in our confusion, today’s father has lost touch with the true essence of manhood.  And even more sadly, we’ve forgotten to teach our boys what true masculinity should look like.

Very few boys (and men) in our society have a clear and compelling definition of what it means to be a man.  In the absence of any real information, the culture is right there waiting to fill the void with a 24/7 onslaught of fabrications, distortions and downright lies.  Without anything real or transcending to build their lives upon, boys are becoming disillusioned and emotionally checking out of their own lives at staggering rates.

Just about every culture teaches their young boys what it means to be a man, except Western society.  It’s time for fathers and male mentors to start engaging our boys in the active discussion on what it means (and what it doesn’t mean) to be a man.  The only way to get our boys back on track is for older men to commit to taking the next generation of boys on Man Quest journeys to find the real and true pathway to manhood.

 

#1 Hottest Fathers’ Day Gift Idea for 2012!

May 30th, 2012 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’m sure many people tuned into this post to find out about the hot new gadget to get dad for Father’s Day.   Sorry, but there’s no update on the newest in computerized grill accessories or digitized golf toys.  Instead, I wanted to share an idea for the ultimate gift – the one that more than pays for itself.  Unfortunately, there’s a major string attached to this gift – Dad doesn’t actually receive it until many years down the road.  In fact, with this gift, Dad needs to do most of the heavy lifting!  I know this isn’t sounding much like the traditional gift, but trust me – it’s the best gift ever given and ever received.

Probably the strongest desire for most kids is for their father to take them somewhere.  It really doesn’t matter whether it’s a ball game, an amusement park, the zoo – anywhere.  What this communicates to a child is profound – it says I’m worthy of my dad’s time and attention.  I remember those times when I was a boy that my dad took me somewhere and I had his full attention.  I’m not just talking about his physical presence because I had that quite a bit.  I’m talking about his full attention – when it was all about him and me.  Those were the special moments and memories I hold the closest.  As a grown man, nothing has really changed.  If my dad asks me to do anything – just the two of us – then I’m there – he simply needs to name the time and place.

As a father I am becoming more and more aware of my ability to be present with no presence.  I’m starting to realize how often I’ve emotionally checked out on my own family due to work, deadlines, or random worries.  Too often I’m there in body but my attention is far away.  I’m good at fooling myself into believing that just showing up is all that’s required and all that should be expected of me.  I’m becoming more aware that simply standing on the sidelines at sporting events or coaching isn’t good enough.  My family needs me to be available and present to the everyday things that matter to them.   When I’m focused on my future Fathers’ Day gift, the one I will hopefully receive in 15-20 years, I all of a sudden don’t feel too busy, tired or distracted.

What if, on this Father’s Day, dads around the world decided we were going to take our kids somewhere special and intentionally give them the gift of our presence?  When a man imparts his masculine energy to a son or daughter I don’t think there’s anything more powerful and life-giving in this world.  It’s particularly essential for boys.

In fact, what would happen to our city streets if more and more fathers took their teenage boys on Man Quest adventures – proactively teaching them the ways of manhood.  There’s no doubt that society and culture would be changed forever as a result.  When fathers move – good things happen.  Do you have 25 hours to take the Man Quest journey and bestow the mantle of manhood to your son?   A teenage boy who goes on a Man Quest journey with his father stands up a little taller and speaks a little stronger than one who has to figure the manhood thing out on his own.

So on this Father’s Day, instead of waiting on a new tie, a box of golf balls or some “Best Dad in the World” boxer shorts, I say we reverse things up a bit and start giving the present of our presence to our families.  Let’s raise our games and be resolved that showing up is only the starting point to becoming a great father.  Let’s make a pledge to be emotionally ready to take our kids to places that are true, noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.  These opportunities are all around us – every single day!

And one day, if we stick with it, many years from now, when we least expect it, maybe we will get our Father’s Day gift from 2012.  It will happen when we look into the eyes of our sons and daughters and we’ll know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we took them somewhere special – and that will be the greatest gift we ever receive.

 

 

Mothers’ Day – Part II – “Blazing a New Trail with your Teenage Son”

May 10th, 2012 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It has to be one of the most heart-wrenching things a woman faces during motherhood.  You spend years and countless hours of your life pouring into your boy – meeting his emotional, physical, social and intellectual needs.  Then one day, when that magic switch of puberty turns on, his focus turns inward, and you become “Mrs. Cellophane” – almost invisible to him.  Hundreds of millions of women, spanning the globe, since the dawn of time have felt this very feeling.

At this crucial point in a young man’s life, a lot of moms make the understandable mistake of moving closer to their sons – putting a full court press on and trying to restore the relationship back to a steady state.  Of course it’s natural for moms to want to coax their teenage boys back to that comfortable place where she is the “end all/be all”.  I”m sure for most moms it feels like you were just  kicked to the curb.

Everything is changing – their bodies, voices, preparing for high school, and new attractions to the opposite sex.  It’s all evolving and so must their relationships with their moms.  Do you know how uncomfortable it is when the hormones start raging in a teenage boy, with all these new found sexual feelings, and your primary female relationship in your life is your mother?! Can you say awkward?  Of course he is going to be asking for some distance!

But ladies, when your son starts to spread his wings you must recognize that your role as a mom is changing.  I know this message seems rather harsh and somewhat cruel.  But if you can accept the new place in his life, you can save yourself a lot of heartache and actually forge something beautiful and new.  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 the adequate space during a boy’s manhood transition feelings of anger and disappointment can develop and hang round the edges of a mother-son relationship well into adulthood.

Sorry, ladies. The next leg of your son’s journey requires active direction from somebody who’s been down the road he’s getting ready to travel. There are countless coming-of-age stories in literature and movies, tales where the boy sets out on a journey toward manhood. Luke Skywalker, Tom Sawyer, Frodo – of all the boys-to-men stories ever been told, I can’t recall one time where the boy asks his mom to show him the way.

In his book, Father Fiction, Donald Miller talks about growing up without a father and the deep masculine void he experienced through adolesence and beyond.  Miller recalled how his mom did the best she could to fill the gap, but just wasn’t equipped to give him what he needed to become a man.  Miller talks about growing up without a masculine model in his life and how it created confusion, skepticism, rebelliousness and self-doubt in the depths of his psyche.  It wasn’t until a male mentor stepped into his life in his 20s to show him the ways of manhood that Miller finally received the nourishment he needed for his masculine soul.

Around puberty, the best thing for a mom to do is to accept a different role in her son’s life.  You are still hugely important – but in a brand new way.  If your son doesn’t have a reliable and trustworthy male in his life then do whatever you can to invite somebody (relative, friend, sports coach, youth group leader, etc.) to take on an expanded mentoring role in your son’s life.  During adolescence, it’s imperative that a young man have a  relationship with an older man who thinks he is worth his time and effort.  Mom, openly acknowledge to your son that he’s becoming a man and that it’s ok for your relationship to grow in new ways.

Ultimately, young men need to hear the same thing that every man needs to hear – that you feel they are strong and capable and respected.  They need to be encouraged by their moms (and dads too) to get out there 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, a young man needs to know his mom is not going to come and rescue him or fix his problem.   If he comes to you with his failures and troubles, you need to give him two very strong mom messages:  1) you’ll always be there to listen; 2) you believe he has what it takes to take on whatever challenge comes his way.

Mothers’ Day – Part I – “How do they know?”

May 9th, 2012 by | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I once heard a well-known national speaker say that the father is the most important contributor to the emotional well-being of both sons and daughters.  I must say this threw me for a bit of a loop as I’ve always considered moms to be the bedrock of any family.

After a few days of pondering I came to begrudgingly agree with this somewhat controversial statement.  I didn’t come to agree because I believe men to be the superior parent or gender – rather it’s quite the opposite.  I think, in general, moms so readily and naturally give their kids love and support that the child’s psyche can just simply rest in it.  The maternal instinct is mostly a free gift that a mother passes on to her child.  A father’s love seems to be much more conditionally-based and harder to obtain. So when it’s given (or not given) Dad’s love tends to have a more powerful of an impact.

So what’s a mom to do?  Should she simply withhold some love in order to compete with dad and gain some hard earned appreciation around the house?  I think there is something in moms that make that simply impossible.  I’m not sure if it’s the 9-month in-utero bonding time or hormones or just a special something that God gave women, but moms plain and simple are just more tuned into the emotional needs of their children.  It will be interesting to see if this changes as the traditional roles in our society continue to evolve.  So the big question is “do dads have what it takes to meet the emotional needs of a child like a mom or are we forever handicapped by our gender?”

I don’t think men have some inherent emotional, biological or evolutionary blocker that keeps them from matching mom in child-rearing activities.  Actually, I believe there’s a more fundamental and underlying cause to the discrepancy.  The vast majority of men, I believe, are emotionally handicapped by an invisible father wound that keeps them mostly stuck in their own adolescence and unable to give much emotional support to anybody.

Men of all ages have a father hunger that subliminally drives most of what they do.  The fact is we are pretty oblivious to how deeply our father hunger dictates our moment-to-moment decisions and life choices. Sure, having an emotionally or physically absent father hurts women in lots of ways but it doesn’t seem to leave the same scars as it does on a man.  Most men I know, no matter how available their dad was to them, are still subconciously trying to prove their worth and value to win his affection and attention.  It doesn’t really even matter if he’s living, deceased or out of the picture altogether.  This underlying drive consumes a vast amount of emotional time from men that could be better spent in meaningful relationships.

If you don’t believe it then why is it that men have such a hard time resting in their masculinity?  Men spend a crazy amount of time trying to “prove” we are men. While women tend to just know they are women.  Men engage in all sorts of macho activities on this seemingly constant search to validate something that’s already there.  Women just tend to “know” and they don’t spend a lot of time trying to prove out their femininity.  Instead of wasting valuable emotional time on proving something they already possess, women have a greater capacity for engaging in deep and meaningful relationships.  Conversely, men have a hard enough time scratching below the surface with their wives, kids, and friends.

What would this world be like if more men satisfied their father hunger?  What if we were released from the never ending cycle of validating our own “worth” through power brokering, sports success, sexual prowess, or wealth accumulation?

There is nothing more powerful than a dad who breaks the cycle of fatherlessness by making sense of his own life story and then passing his masculine energy onto his kids.  But thank goodness we have moms who so selflessly give and give and give until us men can get up to speed.

Most Interesting Man in the World

February 28th, 2012 by | Posted in General | No Comments »

Conventional wisdom says that whenever you want to learn more about the true essence of manhood you should always consult a beer commercial.  Over the years we’ve been inundated with dim-witted guys and scantily-clad females telling us how “real men” should live.  The only constant in all these commercials seems to be that you need a nice cold brew next to you at all times.

A couple of years ago, Dos Equis came up with the “most interesting man in the world” campaign which has proven amazingly successful.  Taking a page right out of a James Bond spy movie, “the most interesting man in the world” is a suave, obviously rich, captain of industry who is an adventurous, gambler who soaks everything out of life, spins pearls of wisdom and demands nothing but the best.  And of course he always has multiple beautiful women 30 years his junior hanging on his every word like little puppets – and oh yeah, he drinks Dos Equis.  As the popular saying goes “every woman wants to be with him and every man wants to be him.”  Give credit to the Dos Equis advertising team for spinning a tired old concept in a new and interesting way that is obviously selling some cerveza.

I’m sorry, but from my vantage point this is about the last guy I would want to ever hang out with.  I’m sure he can spin lots of nauseating tales about his adventures and conquests.   From where I sit, (I know he’s only a caricature but please bear with me), I see a scared little boy in a 60-year old body.   I doubt the women who surround a guy like this (or any Hugh Heffner body double) ever feel any true strength.  This guy seems to prey off weakness – using others for his pleasure and gain – without ever providing anything real in return.  That’s not what a man does.   That’s not the essence of a man.  I would surmise at the end of the day “the most interesting man in the world”  has nothing of any real value to give to anybody in his life.

How about celebrating a guy who speaks plainly, is passionate, cares deeply for those he loves, has firm beliefs and convictions but is not locked into one mindset, open to learning new things, steps into conflict, brings order to uncertain situations, eager to hear from God and follow his call, is always looking for the deeper meaning.  This guy might not sell a lot of suds, but that’s a guy I want to hang out with – that’s a guy I aspire to be.