The Intentional Father–and the Ways We’re Weak
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Jon TysonJon Tyson is a pastor and church planter in New York City. Originally from Adelaide Australia, Jon moved to the United States over two decades ago with a passion to seek and cultivate renewal in the Western Church. He is the author of Sacred Roots, A Creative Minority, The Burden is Light, and Beautiful Resistance. Jon lives in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan with his wife and two children. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Church of the City New York. Learn more at www.churchofthe...more
In intentional fatherhood–how do we handle the ways we’re weak? Author Jon Tyson offers tactics and hope to deal with inevitable wounds and weaknesses.
The Intentional Father–and the Ways We’re Weak
Jon: They did research at NYU, asking the question: “When did helicopter parenting begin?” and “What were the consequences of it?” 1990 was the year it began; and within a decade, the rates of depression and anxiety increased by 80 percent in one decade. It’s because kids no longer knew if they had what it took; it’s like mum did everything for them.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So I’m sitting on the couch with CJ.
Ann: How old was he?
Dave: He was nine. You weren’t there—I think we were watching TV—probably, football.
Ann: [Laughter] Probably.
Dave: Probably; we still do.
Anyway, somehow, we get into this discussion about mistakes and dad mistakes. I say to him/I go, “CJ, did you know that the Bible actually says that the mistakes that a dad makes will go down into his sons? And his sons and daughters could possibly make the same mistakes,”—you know, the sins of the fathers; I didn’t use that term—but I just said, “…because of that.”
Ann: Did that scare him?
Dave: I just remember—he just looked at me—again, he might have been eight or nine; he just looks at me. I go, “CJ, what do you think of that?” Oh, I did use the word, “sin,” because I then quoted Exodus 20; because it’s in the Ten Commandments. A lot of people don’t realize it’s in the Ten Commandments. It’s that important that God is saying, “Be careful, as a dad, because it’s going to go into your legacy.”
I remember saying the word, “sin”; and CJ, nine years old—I’ll never forget this moment—just looks at me; and I go, “CJ, what do you think of that?” He goes, “Dad, don’t sin.” [Laughter] Then he gets up and walks out of the room, nonchalantly, like, “Of course, don’t do it; because if you do it, I’m going to do it.”
Ann: But he got it.
Dave: He got it, and now he is 35. It’s crazy to see that my sons have taken things from me—good and bad—some things they never knew I struggled with, but they are struggling with.
Ann: Let me ask you: “As a dad, as a father, and as a man, does that scare you?”
Dave: Oh, the power we have to influence our sons and daughters is scary. I mean, it’s awesome that God gave us this power; and moms have it too.
Ann: I think that we, as moms, feel that. We watch—I remember saying to you, “Do you understand the power you carry?”—because I watched three little boys watching you constantly. They didn’t watch me; they were watching you. I said, “Man, you’ve got so much power over them; it’s amazing.”
It’s also scary for the wife; because I can tend to be critical and be like, “You should do this and that”; but I was almost jealous of the power you carried over our sons.
Dave: The scary thing is you want to have a vision of your son being a better man than you are.
We’ve got Jon Tyson back with us today—who is not only a dad—because, you know, this is from a dad’s heart, from a pastor’s heart, and as an author that wrote about this. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jon: It’s good to be back and enjoying our continuing on this conversation.
Dave: Well, tell us: as you were sitting over there, I saw you smiling a bunch. What were you thinking about this whole conversation about the power of a dad?—the sins of a father?
Jon: I was just thinking about like: “How have I messed my son up?” [Laughter] As you were talking, I’m thinking through his life and what he struggles with; and I’m like: “That’s mine; that’s from me,” “That’s from his mother,” “That’s from the culture.” I’m just like thinking through those things.
Dave: You wrote about this in your book, The Intentional Father: A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character. If you missed yesterday, I’m just telling you: “Listen and get the book. This book is going to change your life as a dad.”
Something you said yesterday, I wanted to follow up on. This concept called “The father wound,” that we have sort of a wound from our dads. Is it universal? Even if you are the best dad in the world, is there a sense that somehow you are not going to be enough for your son?
Jon: I think you are addressing two things, and they are both true. One thing is like: “Will the father always feel inadequate?” In some measure, “Yes,”—if you realize the sacred power, as you mentioned, that we have in parenting—you realize we are shaping lives; we are releasing destinies. We are saying: “Throw away phrases that will either wound,” or “…release a kid 50 years into the future.” I mean, it’s an extraordinary sacred power that we have; it’s a trust we are given.
Downside of that is that it will be inevitable that we hurt our kids; it will be inevitable. Psychologists tell us wounds happen in two categories: it’s either a lack of protection or a lack of nurture, which parents don’t stop things happening to us that harm us or parents fail to give us the emotional nourishment and connection that we need. If you trace brokenness down to the roots of childhood, you’ll often find it’s in those two things. It’s like: “I didn’t feel loved enough,” “…affirmed enough,” “…blessed,” or “My parents didn’t put boundaries up; and therefore, I experienced the harm of the world way too early.”
I think, in some sense, we are doing both of those things in some small measure. To be honest with you, I think for sons, a lot of times, it was like: “My father was not nurturing enough,” “I wasn’t affirmed enough; I wasn’t blessed,” “I wasn’t cared for,” “I wasn’t encouraged,” “He was absent,” “He was emotionally distant,” “He was critical,” “He was distracted.” That seems to be the number-one sort of wounding that I see.
Strangely enough, with daughters often, it’s actually often the opposite; it’s more like: “There was not enough protection. The boundaries weren’t firm enough.” Those are big, generic pastoral observations; but I think those categories bear themselves true. In some sense, we’re always wounding, even with our best intent. Normally, we either do it in two categories: we either don’t nurture like we should, or we don’t protect like we should.
Dave: Yes; and one of the reasons I ask is I, obviously, felt that with an absent father; but then you know, as a young father, and raising sons, I had a plan; I sort of took them through rites of passage. In some sense, as they grew into men, I was thinking, “I did a pretty good job”; you know?
Jon: You probably did do a pretty good job.
Dave: Well, here is the thing—it’s funny—I never thought I did a great job; but I was like, “I did so much better than my dad. They are going to be men, and they are going to thank me some day.” They became men; and they sat down, and they go, “Dad, there are some things that you did that hurt me.” I’m like, “What?!” We’ve had those adult conversations I think every dad and mom is going to have at some point with your adult kids—maybe not—but in some sense, I was like, “Really?!—you felt hurt or let down in some way.” Of course, I should have expected that.
Jon: Well, I think the good thing is that you have had a healthy enough relationship where they feel like they can bring that to you.
Ann: That was what I was going to say. It says a lot about you that they would come and feel safe, and that they could say it.
Dave: I just want them to do it with Ann, not me. [Laughter]
Jon: Yes, it may be happening on the other side. I know my son talks to my wife Christy in ways he doesn’t talk to me.
Jon: The older they get—when the kids get older and they get into it—they will probably realize, “Gosh, Dad, probably did better than we are all aware of.”
Dave: Yes; I mean, overall, my sons have been unbelievably appreciative and affirmative; but let me ask you this,—
Dave: —because I’ve never asked a fellow pastor, who is a dad, this question. Two of my three sons said I was more intimate in my sermons with the congregation than they felt I was with them as my sons. They said they would be sitting there, even as teenagers, sometimes, and I would be sharing something with 1,000 people—that is very vulnerable, and weakness, and a struggle, or something—and they would turn to each other and go: “Did you know that?” “I didn’t know that,” “Look at that; he is baring his soul to people who he doesn’t even know,” and “Won’t do that,,,” or “…hasn’t done that in the family room.”
I never knew this, when they were teenagers; but now, that they are 30-year-old men, they sat me down and said, “Dad, that was hurtful.” I had no idea. I’ll tell you this, Jon: the second it came out of their mouth, as adult men, I was like, “You are 1,000 percent right.” There was no defensiveness; I was like, “Ooh!”
Have you experienced any of that, as a father, and as a pastor?
Jon: You’d have to ask my son about that. I mean, I think I’ve got the benefit; you’re probably a decade older than me.
Dave: You don’t have to rub it in.
Jon: No, I say that with honor.
Dave: I think I’m older than a decade than you. [Laughter]
Jon: I’m 44.
Jon: So how old are you?
Dave: Two decades.
Jon: Okay, got you, sir. I think I—
Dave: I’m glad you thought I was younger though; that’s a compliment.
Jon: I actually inherited, I think, the wisdom of your generation of fatherhood; because I think stuff like that—I picked up on that.
Dave: Yes, yes.
Jon: I think it was honestly at pastor’s conferences and talks to dads about ministry and family dynamics. It was always: “Don’t share stuff with the congregation that you haven’t shared with your family first.” Look, and it’s almost not fair, as a pastor: you’ve got to come up with a compelling 30 to 40 minute talk every week.
Dave: —every week!
Jon: It’s like: “Do your mining for content.” It’s like: “Let me go back. I have shared about the Texas scenario for a while,” [Laughter] “What about Tennessee?” “Okay, what about my early 20’s?” You’re looking for fresh stuff; those people are there every week.
Jon: You’ve got to be kind on yourself in some capacity; but I definitely got those family boundaries: “Ask for permission before you share anything. Make sure you’ve shared it with your family.” Again, I think that may be something I received as a blessing from an older generation.
Dave: One of the things I picked up in your book, though—and you tell me if I am accurate in this—is that I, as I assessed even that hurt from my sons, in my mind, it was courage. It was easier to be intimate with 1,000—because you’re really not; you appear to be, but you are still holding a lot back as a pastor—but it takes courage to look a 15-year-old in the eye and go somewhere, intimately, in a conversation. When I was reading your book, it felt like you have done that with Nate.
Jon: I think I was very in touch with this; I was very in touch with:
- “The world is a confusing place. If you are a young man, your body is filled with chemicals; it is pushing you outward; you’ve got erotic energy,”
- “You’re surrounded by kids binge watching porn on their phones,”
- “It’s a very confusing place; you’re trying to test yourself with other men,”
- “You’re looking for a sense of identity and belonging.”
It’s like they are very confusing years to navigate.
I knew, from my experience, I would have projected confidence: “I don’t need this; I’m fine,” “Dad, don’t—why are you talking to me? This is weird.”
Jon: My heart ached for it. I think I just remembered, “My heart aches for this, and I’m not going to go for my son’s surface behavior. I’m going to go for his heart.” I think there is a universal longing in the male heart to experience this. So I just pushed through and said, “Hey, I don’t know if this is helpful or not, but I want to share this with you; because I remember very clearly when I was your age…”
I try not to prescribe; I try to empathize. I would never say something like, “Well, look, it’s your first girlfriend. You’re 15; don’t worry about it.” I try to experience it to the degree that he was experiencing it. At this point in his life, this is the biggest emotional event of his life. I need to respond and enter in like it is.
I think that, maybe, it was God’s grace; or maybe because I’m a super introspective person, I was trying to get in touch with it. I would spend a lot of time, actually—I don’t know if this is a best practice; I didn’t put it in the book—but it is like one of the reasons I did. I would always ask myself, “When I was 14, what was I experiencing?” I would go back: “Was I dating anybody?” “Who were my teachers?” “What was I feeling?” “What was I tempted by?” “Where was I confused?” “Where was I insecure?” I try and emotionally reenter that.
Jon: When I talked to my son, I think it had a tone of humility and concern rather than like confidence and projection. Maybe, that is one of the things that opened the doors—was really trying to remember that, emotionally, not just intellectually—and then enter in, emotionally, at the state I felt like my son was at.
Ann: Well, Jon, the earlier episode, we talked about the five kinds of fathers: “the Irresponsible father,” “the Ignorant father,” “the Inconsistent father,” “the Involved father—
Dave: —all the I’s.
Jon: —all the I’s.
Ann: —and then—yes, “the Intentional father” is where we ended, like even you sharing that story of like you’ve wanted to connect to your son’s heart—you want him to know you; you guys want a relationship—and that is that Intentional father. You have really gone to lengths. I love that you, not only talk about it, but you give us instructions of how you’ve done this with your son.
It started—how did you decide: “Okay, it’s starting at 13”? Why then?
Jon: If you study anthropology, you basically realize almost every society that has existed—except ours, late Modern society—has had a conscious agreed-upon pathway of formation for young men.
There is a guy named James Hollis, who is a Jungian psychologist. He’s done like/he’s basically a midlife specialist. He talks about the two adulthoods. It’s like it’s been popularized at 1,000 levels at the halftime crisis, falling upwards. He is sort of like the psychological framework behind it. He said, “The first adulthood is prepared at around age 13; because that is when a boy is basically experiencing puberty, and then he’s trying to deal with these conflicting new energies.” He said, “All societies had a six-step process to guide these energies into productive manhood:
- Step 1 was severing from the childhood environment, often by force, which means that kids were pulled out and had to realize: “You are entering into a liminal space. Childhood is over. The naïve kid has to die somehow.” So they were consciously removed; sometimes, by force.
- Secondly, there was like a death of childhood—that in some societies, like we do baptisms/buried with Christ—like they would do a “Death of childhood ceremony,” sometimes putting them in coffins.
- Then they would do, basically, a series of formational frameworks around three areas:
- Number one, the religion of the community: “This is what it means to believe in our god as our people.”
- Number two, the history of the people: “This is what it means to be one of us.”
- Number three: “Here are the roles you have to be good at to contribute to the society that you were born into.” That would go on for some time.
4. Then they would enter into a thing called “the ordeal.” The ordeal is where
they were sent out on their own to figure out whether all of those things
they have learned actually work: “Did they possess them?”
For the Australian Aboriginals, Michael Easter writes about this in his book, The Comfort Crisis: “Aboriginal young men were sent out into the Outback for up to six months. Everything in the Outback is trying to kill you: the sun, the earth, and every creature you see.”
Ann: Is this like at 13?
Jon: Later in teenage years—not at 13—13 is initiation; but towards the end of it, towards adulthood: “Do you have what it takes?” is the question that was being asked of them. If they passed that, they would be welcomed back, blessed by, and recognized by the community of men. Then they would be integrated back into society to serve as a functional member of the tribe.
Dave: Now, if they didn’t pass it, they were dead. [Laughter]
Jon: That is exactly right.
Ann: Six months!
Jon: So this is an important point, which I mention; there was actually a lot of pushback. Originally, there was a thing in there where a mum does what is called a directional dinner. At the end of the course that this book is built off of, it was called a severing dinner; and the amount of pushback I get is universal: “What are you talking about? Mothers are important.” Like, obviously, the fact that they inflicted this wound shows that they are important. It basically says the primary role of formation shifts from the mother to the father for a conscious period of time.
Ann: Well, you even said your wife cried.
Jon: Yes; “Oh, this is awful.” I remember it so clearly, ran into the room, fell on the bed.
Ann: I would; yes!9
Jon: So I asked my son when we were hiking across Spain—I don’t think I started doing this with him to turn this into a thing—I did this with him because I loved my son. I was like, “I’ve got to figure this out.” I got so much feedback over the course of time. People were like, “You should turn this into a thing.” So when I was doing that, I said, Hey, Nate, I want to check with you. Hey, this is going to be a lot about your life.”
My son gets the profits from this book, not me; that’s how I’m paying for his school. It’s like he was open to it.
Dave: Yes, I bet he was open to it. [Laughter]
Jon: So I said, “Hey, there is quite a lot of controversy around the severing dinner.” He stopped; we were walking across Spain. He stops, and he goes, “What are you talking about, Dad?” I was like, “People feel like it was too barbaric.” He said, “That was so helpful for me, psychologically.” He was like, “It was so helpful for me. I needed to know I was being pushed over into the community of men.” He was like, “I needed that line in the sand.” He’s like, “You cannot take that out.” This is my son: “You cannot take that out, Dad. Young men will need this.”
Dave: Well, talk about it. What was the ceremony?
Ann: Yes, and what is this walk across Spain? That’s not something we hear every day.
Dave: Actually, that was later—that came later—but go back to the severing.
Jon: Well, I mean, it’s basically/they did research at NYU, asking the question: “When did helicopter parenting begin?” and “What were the consequences of it?” The helicopter parent is the over-involved parent, who just does everything for the kid. 1990 was the year it began; and within a decade, the rates of depression and anxiety increased by 80 percent in one decade.
Jon: That’s because kids no longer knew if they had what it took. It’s like mum did everything for them.
Now, they talk about bulldozer parents, who just like clear the way; it’s not even hovering—it’s like they literally get rid of all the obstacles for their kids—call the college professor if they are mean to the child sort of a thing. It’s like an 80 percent increase in anxiety and depression. That is like such a psychological shift; and I think it’s because young people need a chance to test themselves, and grow, and express. I think there is something that happens so there is not some sort of Oedipus complex or whatever, where a young boy has to be severed from the influence of his mother and hand it to his father.
Now, my wife and my son have an incredible relationship—and they did the entire time—but she would say to him, “Your father has to help you with this. He can give you things I cannot give you. I have not been where you are going through, so I push you back to your father.” Her goal was to help cement that relationship.
Connected to this—the whole idea was like—“The difference between a boy and a man is like a series of shifts that have to happen to see this change work.” She knew that she had a heart of comfort; so she would always: “It’s okay; you’re going to be okay,” rather than “You’ve got to suck it up, man. Life is hard; you’re going to have to push through this.” She didn’t want that to be a dominating influence; she wanted him to have to lean into the pain in the development.
She took him out for a dinner and said, “I’m handing you over to your father for a period of conscious male formation,”—blessed him; wrote a letter to him; read it over him through tears; gave him some gifts—said, “I trust you, but this is now a journey you’ve got to take with your father. I’ll be here to support you, but like you and him are going to go into this journey of manhood.”
Dave: What do you say to the single mom—or maybe even a blended family, where it’s a different dad—or first, talk about a single mom. My mom was a single mom.
Jon: The best case scenario—I believe there is some sacred role that a biological father has to his children that is like it’s there—it comes. Living in the world and culture that we do, the [majority] of homes now, I think, statistically actually come from biological two-family homes. Well, what does that mean?
Here’s what it means:
- “You need to be intentional and not passive.”
The beauty of being a Christian is you have a church community that is around you. This whole book is written to be done in a cohort. I mean, we’re talking about fatherhood directly; but the goal is: “Rely on the Christian community.” If you’re a mum in a half-decent church, there are going to be dads with a passion for mentoring, who will say, “Let me step in, and let me help you.”
A huge reason I am committed to like try to normalize this—I want to normalize this in every church in America—“This is how we raise our kids,” “This is how we raise young men”; so then, she doesn’t feel all the pressure on her own. The ideal scenario is like a counsel of dads—it’s a tribe of mentors; it’s a community of men—again, with the breakdown of the social fabric, social capital is basically gone in America. We’re hiding behind our screens.
Christians have a distinct advantage, because you have this web of relationships you can rely on and draw into. So to me, the ideal scenario is—and I’ve definitely relied on this—the ideal scenario is:
- parent relationship;
- student ministry involvement and alignment;
- church vision and participation;
- and some kind of campus ministry connected to it.
If you get those things lined up with mentors, that come along that can supplement what you can’t do, that’s the key. I would tell the mum: “Do what you can. Your son will be eternally grateful. Then bring in people for those areas you feel like you need a specialist or whatever; and build a web; build a counsel of dads; build a tribe.” To me, that’s the beauty of a local church and settling into that.
Dave: —which is exactly what my mom did.
Ann: Yes, she did.
Dave: I didn’t even know it. In some ways, she went to every coach I had, behind my back, and said, “Hey, Dave doesn’t have a father; would you be that man in his life?”
Jon: That’s amazing. That makes me want to weep; that’s a loving mom.
Dave: I had no idea. She was intentional that way: intentional mother. Then she also was the mom that said, “Oh, you want a guitar? Yes, go mow some yards and shovel some driveways; and you’ll get one.” There was no hovering; there was no helicopter. It was like, “You’ve got to become a man, and this is what men do.” Honestly, this is powerful.
Ann: I’m thinking of Bill at our church, who is a dad that has/all of his kids are grown—but he works with middle school boys—and then he stays with them—like these six boys—all the way through high school and graduation.
Jon: Oh, I love that.
Ann: He is on these jobs—because he works for a motor company—and yet, he has these side jobs of like redoing homes and renovations. He always has one of those boys with them, teaching them to become men.
Jon: That’s amazing; yes.
Dave: Bill Butler—shout out to Bill—because he parented his own kids, but he’s a dad to so many. I think, in some ways, God is calling us, as men—I know me, as a mentor now—God is calling me to do that further.
Jon: This is a transformational principle for men. Men often struggle with comparison—so they are always, looking up and feeling inferior; looking around and feeling competitive—and I’m like, “Look down and raise up; because to those people below you, you are the person they want to be like.” When you deploy your energy down to raise up, I think it’s such a joy.
Shelby: As fathers, it is not intuitive for us sometimes to bring our kids alongside of us as we are doing life, day in and day out; but as Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking with Jon Tyson about being an Intentional father, it helps us to see that doing life alongside of your kids—or rather, your kids doing life alongside you—it’s probably one of the best ways to invest in them and be intentional with them to make sure that they don’t carry the same kind of wounds that we have from when we were kids.
Jon Tyson has written a book called The Intentional Father. If you head over to FamilyLifeToday.com, and make a donation of any amount, we are going to send you a copy of his book as a “Thank you,” for being a part of adding to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Again, you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—request your copy there—or you can give us a call and make a donation at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, if what Jon Tyson has been talking about today has been encouraging for you and helpful for you or your family, we’d love for you to share today’s podcast with a family member or friend. While you are there, it would be really great if you would scroll down and rate and review us.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to be back again with Jon Tyson; and he is going to be talking about what it means to be wise with your time and your energy with your kids—about how significant it can be when we are taking time for our children—that is coming up tomorrow. We hope you can join us again.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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