Part 2 of an interview with Joel Fitzpatrick,
Author of Between Us Guys
Dads are given an incredible opportunity to be one of the primary influences in their children’s lives for the gospel. By inviting conversations in every arena of life, fathers pass down the message of Christ to the next generation. As a youth and family pastor and father to a young boy who’s entered into many of these conversations, Joel Fitzpatrick knows it’s important not to shy away from difficult subjects.
Between Us Guys (New Growth Press) is an easy-to-use, life-changing book for fathers and sons gives readers the tools to have important conversations with boys about life, faith, and being a man. With a conversational and captivating tone, fathers and other caregivers are guided into having gospel-focused conversations with boys ages six to ten about a wide range of topics from social justice and friendships to money, anger, and more.
In a world where television, the internet, social media, and gaming culture have taken away from quality time spent between fathers and sons, Between Us Guys urges readers to lean in to important conversations with the grace and knowledge of Christ.
Q: How would you encourage fathers to carve out time with their sons in light of the many distractions and forms of entertainment around them (social media, gaming culture, etc.)?
Fathers should be involved in their sons lives. They should learn what their son likes to do, then start to do that with them. This takes sacrifice and intentionality—it may take learning to play a video game or teaching your son how to fish or wood work. The key is to know your son, then start to invite him out to talk.
One word of caution though: Don’t only go out with your son to have a serious talk. Take and interest and participate in what he likes to do. Also, figure out how to do things that will stretch your son to serve other people by getting his eyes off of entertainment and helping him see how fulfilling it is to serve others. Then connect him with the gospel by showing him how Jesus served us.
To this end, I have included activities, service projects or even just frozen yogurt runs with each chapter helps prompt dads to spend time with their kids.
Q: Why is the book designed for the conversations to take place around various activities?
Most boys are busy, they want to do things, they want to learn new things or try new activities. Most deep lasting relationships are built with fun somewhere in the mix. And most men feel more comfortable talking to their sons when they are able to use an activity to help spur the conversation.
This is one of the reasons why activities are so important. I can remember being on a fishing boat with my son, riding out to fish in the kelp beds near where I live. We were with one of the elders from the church who also fishes. The three of us had six hours to talk about life, God’s creation, the fun of fishing, serious problems my son was facing and how Jesus through the work of the gospel heals our lives. The activity of fishing provided the context for relaxed, free flowing conversation that was so valuable in my son’s life.
I get this question all the time, most of those times its concerning sex and sexuality. I am a firm believer in the work of the Holy Spirit giving us wisdom for not only the how but also the when to have conversations. As our friendship with our sons grow and we are spending time with them, we will become aware of when to have difficult conversations.
I think the key is to understand that our sons are humans and not formulas. They need fathers who are involved in their lives and know them well. So, we don’t just have one conversation, we have a lifetime of conversations covering a wide range of topics from God to man and from sex to work. We are constantly telling them how the good news of the gospel changes every area of our lives.
Q: What would you say is the biggest hurdle or blind spot for fathers interested in beginning gospel-centered conversations?
There are three that come to mind immediately: fear, lack of knowledge and complacency. Most dads want to be good dads and help their sons learn how to be men who love and are loved by Jesus. However, in my experience of talking to dads about having conversations with their sons, they are afraid of messing their sons up. Here is the beauty of the gospel though, it is not up to us as dads to conform our sons into the image of Jesus—Philippians 1:6 tells us that is God’s work. We will mess up these conversations, we will say the wrong thing, we will be unfaithful, but the beauty is God is always faithful.
Second, a lot of dads don’t know how to start the conversations because their dads never had these kinds of talks with them. They don’t know what to say, how to say it or when they should talk to their sons. To the dads who struggle with this, we can have hope that over a lifetime of conversations, God will use your weak words to help your son grow in his knowledge and understanding of the life altering truths of the gospel.
To the last group, there are some men who struggle with complacency. They think their sons will learn how to live just by living life. Dads, if you are not going to talk with your sons, others will. Whether it is TV, the internet, their friends or other men in their life, people will be talking to them about what it means to be a man. God gives you the opportunity and the calling to help your son understand what it means to have their lives saved, shaped and changed by the good news of the gospel.
Q: What can a mother’s role be in encouraging her son toward understanding biblical masculinity?
A mother’s encouragement, support and care are vital in a boy’s growth into maturity. Mom’s love for their sons provide them a safe place for them to grow into the man God has made them to be. Also, mothers can help their son learn how to relate to and serve the women in their lives.
Single mothers have the opportunity to love and support their sons in a very special way. They are the primary source of teaching, training, support, love and encouragement for their sons and this book can be used as a helpful guide for these conversations.
Q: If there isn’t a dad involved in the life of a young boy, could Between Us Guys be used by a grandfather, uncle, or another mentor?
Absolutely. This book was written so that anyone a grandfather, uncle, mentor, elder or deacon could work through it with a young boy who does not have a father. In that way, these older men act as a stand in father and point this young boy to the best Father they could ever have, God the Father.
I also think that with a bit of thoughtfulness a mom or grandmother could take their son or grandson through this book. These are topics boys need to hear from women on as well. So many strong women have helped me process how to think about these topics, and I am eternally indebted to them.
Q: You talk about the dangers of the moralistic “try hard, do better” message. How can fathers avoid this when starting conversations with their sons?
It is easy to just focus in on behavior modification because that is what most people focus in on. But to be clear, there will be plenty of morally upstanding people who are not saved. We don’t need to teach our sons that God’s love and care for them is based on how good they are, we need to bring them to Jesus who can truly save them.
This means Dads must be convinced of the power of Christ. When dads are grounded in the gospel for themselves, they can start to help their sons see how the gospel changes their lives. Dads can tell their sons the stories of how the gospel has changed their life and encourage their sons that God can work in them.
Then, dads can lead their sons to Christ when their sons fail to live the way that God has called him to. This is the joy of having these conversations saturated with the gospel dads get to be a conduit of God’s grace to their son.