Raising boys requires a new definition of manhood

Part 1 of an interview with Joel Fitzpatrick,
Author of Between Us Guys

Reports suggest boys are more likely to be violent and unable to express their emotions than girls. There’s also a great discussion going on about toxic masculinity leading to pent-up aggression, frustration, isolation, problematic relationships, violence, anger, and other devastating realities. It’s clear raising boys today requires a new definition of what it means to be a man.

It’s more important than ever for fathers to be role models and have gospel-centered conversations with their sons about becoming a man. In Between Us Guys: Life-Changing Conversations for Dads and Sons (New Growth Press), author Joel Fitzpatrick shares how dads are given an incredible opportunity to be the primary influence in their children’s lives. By inviting conversations about every aspect of life such as family, girls, love, defending others, failure, strength, and heaven, the author shows fathers how to pass down the message of Christ to the next generation, redefining what manliness means through the lens of the gospel.

Q: How has having conversations with your own son prepared you to write this book?

The conversations I’ve had with my son as he’s been growing up has created a bond between the two of us. I didn’t know where to start, I was scared, I messed up a bunch of times, but my son and I built a friendship. The trust we have developed over years of walking, playing and talking about the topics covered in this book set the stage for what I wrote.

Sometimes the conversations in this book are close to how things went when they went well. Other chapters are how I wish I would have handled the conversation. Some document conversations I had with kids when I was a youth minister. The point is that none of us are perfect, none of us get every conversation right every time, but as dads we are called to have these as well as many other conversations.

Q: Why is it important to have these conversations, particularly for elementary school-age or pre-teen boys?

Kids need guidance. They need to know how the world works, what their place is in the world and who God calls them to be. There is no shortage of voices answering these questions. Social media, video games, the internet, teachers, movies, music and friends all tell them who to be and how to act. Some of these influences are good, some are bad, and some are just plain harmful, but all of them are feeding our boys a message.

God has given our sons a great gift, a parent, a dad or mom who cares and wants to speak the truth of what God says about who we are and who our sons are. But God doesn’t stop there. He gives parents a guide to these conversations. We can read this guide, especially the book of Proverbs which details conversations a Father has with his son. Even more than that, the entire Bible is a conversation that our good Father, God, has with us concerning what we should believe about him and who we should be. As dads, we are given the privilege of helping form and shape our kids.

Q: What are some of the common definitions the world gives for masculinity, and how does the gospel define it differently?

There are a few major ones that we are able to see in the media on both the negative and positive side. Some media portrays men as being arrogant and hyper-masculine. These sorts of men display their masculinity by dominating through strength. There is the man who is effeminate. These sorts of men are empowering, smart, witty and caring. There is the nerd who is also snarky and devious. Then, there is the man who acts like a boy. There are so many others. Most men I know are just trying to be good workers, men and fathers, but they also struggle with how to do this while still satisfying their desires for fun and relaxation.

The gospel frees men to become who they long to be. It frees them to be men who love their wives and find fulfillment in their relationships. It gives them the power of the Holy Spirit which enables them to lay their lives down for their families. The gospel connects dads to the only power that will conform them into the image of Jesus who laid down his life for his bride, the church.

Q: How can fathers help their sons express and process their emotions?

Dads can help their sons express and process their emotions by providing a safe space, a role model and a gospel partner. Dads get the opportunity to give their sons a safe space where they know they will be loved and cared for, even in the middle of their anger, happiness and depression. Dads can be their stable rock when their world, bodies and emotions are unstable.

Dads get to be their role models, not only in how to process emotions correctly but also in how to struggle and ask for forgiveness. There have been many times when I have been depressed and it has helped my son (who struggles with his emotions) to see me not give up, but to pray and trust in Jesus for help.

Also, Dads get to be gospel partners for their sons, reminding them of what Jesus says and thinks about them. Dads get to tell their sons about Jesus who had emotions and understands what they are feeling. Dads get to remind their sons about the forgiveness and love of Christ when they struggle with their emotions.  Dads get this amazing opportunity to walk through the difficulty of dealing with emotions and point their sons to the source of all goodness and joy, the gospel.

Q: What advice do you have for a father whose son has shown signs of aggression and/or violence?

This is a difficult one to answer because there are so many different things that could be responsible for his anger and aggression. It may be that his hormones are going crazy or he may be getting bullied at school and feel like anger is the only way he can control that. He may just be aggressive and not know why. I think Dads need to keep their sons and the people around them safe, so this is where Dads need to step in and protect people.

Dads can give their sons a safe space to process their anger in a healthy way, if it is appropriate. They can lovingly help their sons see the dangers of their anger and the seriousness of their violent thoughts.

If necessary, a dad can get their sons help with a counselor. If their son is hurting themselves or others, dads can go with their sons and support them as they get help. Dads get the opportunity to lead and walk with their sons through this with love and care.

Q: How would you encourage fathers to navigate intentional relationships with their sons if they didn’t have strong father figures themselves?

It is important to say; I am sorry if your relationship with your father was not good. If he was missing, abusive, neglectful or just distant, that can make it hard to know how to love and care for your son. However, you are not your dad. You don’t have to fall into the same pitfalls as your father, you can love your son. God can give you the strength to do so.

Maybe you had a dad who loved you but was just too busy or didn’t know how to have these sorts of conversations. You can change things, spend the time with your son and show him the love you wanted and the guidance you needed.

So, two things—first, don’t give up. Make the effort. Second, while you didn’t have an earthly Father who cared for you in these ways, you do have a heavenly Father who is pleased with you and loves you.

Q: During your time as a pastor with a focus on youth and family, what obstacles have you seen fathers run into when teaching their sons how to be gospel-centered men?

Some of the big ones I ran into often were time, energy and lack of know-how. Dads are busy with their jobs, taking their kids places and doing work around the house. Dads must be intentional about the time that they spend with their sons, carving time out to spend with their boys to teach and show them.

Some men, at the end of a long day of work, struggle to have the energy to spend time with their sons. Dads should think about the times when they will have the energy to spend time with their sons. Whether it is during a pancake breakfast, an after-work fishing trip or a simple walk around the block, finding time for these conversations is vital.

Men may be scared that if they say the wrong thing to their son, they will ruin their son. They look for help and advice for how to have these sorts of conversations. That is why a book like Between Us Guys can be so helpful. It gives dads a guide and encouragement for having these conversations.

Learn more at www.joelfitzpatrick.co and follow him on Twitter (@JoelDFitz).