Read an Excerpt
Dad's Everything Book for SonsPractical Ideas for a Quality Relationship
By John Trent and Greg Johnson
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Waterfall Approaches
While few dads would describe the preschool and early school years as a quiet canoe trip down a tranquil river, believe it or not, the water hasn't even begun to get choppy. And while some parents manage to raise perfect kids who help them paddle down the lazy river of mom- and dadhood (that is, they got extremely lucky because God gave them compliant children), most seasoned parents aren't bashful about describing their son's teenage years as thundering rapids. And they, the parents, are stuck in the back of the boat, holding the rudder to keep the nose of the boat pointed in the right direction, mainly hanging on for dear life.
Do you hear the Niagara Falls-like waterfall in the distance? Some good friends of mine didn't.
Jason, their oldest son, was handsome, athletically gifted, a great student, and knew how to charm a rich uncle out of his wallet. And spiritual? No one could memorize verses at AWANA the way Jason could. By age thirteen, however, his growth spurt hadn't hit. That left him odd man out at gym basketball. He got picked with the nerds and smokers. Guess who his friends started to become? Since the nerds weren't cool, he picked the smokers. Smokers, as we all remember from our teenage years, usually became the drinkers, then the stoners, then the drop-out-of-school-because-it's-so-uncoolers. Read: every parent's nightmare.
By age eighteen Jason was taking heroin. At age twenty he was in and out of rehab. He hit bottom by joining the ranks of the homeless at Union Gospel Mission shelters throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
Okay, let's push stop on this video from the pit of hades and realize one thing: your cute grade school son whose voice is set to change in the not-too-distant future likely won't be on heroin before the end of the decade. Maybe he won't rebel at all ... not even a little. But maybe you're in dreamland about what lies ahead. It's tough raising a teenage son. No, real tough.
That's why these years between eight and twelve are perhaps the most important years of your parenting career. You have at least four years to solidify the relationship for life. When your son's a teenager, he'll be busy breaking away, getting ready for adulthood, and basically trying to pretend in public he doesn't know you. Fine. Good. You want to let him go and be a living, breathing adult, clothed and in his right mind. But when you let adolescents go-or when they let you go-sometimes they crash ... hard.
The safety net your son needs, and the reason God is keeping you around, is to be there when he comes back. What will bring him back from a short walk down that prodigal road-or a long prodigal marathon over the mountains and canyons he's put between himself and you (or between himself and God)-is your relationship with him.
A Sure-fire Formula?
Since my own faith journey didn't include growing up in a Christian home-and since I remember very well what my journey was like-I've been determined to raise my two boys in a way in which God's love could always be within their reach. That means taking them to church, Sunday school, AWANA, having one-on-one devotions with them ... whatever. My goal has been to have them know Christ early in life and grow from there.
About ten years ago I thought it would be educational and enlightening to interview parents who had raised children who stuck with the faith, and then interview the adult children who had been raised by these faithful parents. My hope was that I'd discover the habits and attitudes necessary to make sure I did it right. (Actually, I was looking for the magic formula to guarantee that my boys would stick with God-if one existed.)
My writing partner and I surveyed hundreds of parents and adult children (over age twenty-one), then followed up the surveys with dozens of phone interviews. The results were fascinating.
One-third of our sampling of adult children who had "made it" had gone through full-blown rebellion. That is, they left the church-and the Lord-for an extended period of time before coming back. Another one-third had "rebellious times" but always stayed in church. The final third never drifted far from the Lord.
My question was obvious: "What made the two-thirds of adult children come back to the faith they had-at various times and in various ways-tried to escape?"
We found out that parents generally had three ways they tried to impart spiritual truth: (1) emphasizing behavior, (2) emphasizing content (biblical truth), or (3) emphasizing the relationship.
If you took these three factors and made them three rings of a target, what would be your bull's-eye? What would your son say was your bull's-eye? Bigger question: What's God's bull's-eye?
An accurate read of the Bible would indicate that all three are important to a growing, active faith. But only one thing is the bull's-eye, both between God and us and between you and your soon-to-be teenager: the relationship. Jesus didn't have to die because we didn't know the Bible. And he didn't just die because our behavior wasn't appropriate. He died because our sinful nature had caused our hearts to bend away from God. Where our hearts went, our behavior followed. He died to restore a right relationship between God and us.
Guess what the one-third of adult children who said they went into full-blown rebellion perceived their parent's bull's-eye to be? If you chose behavior, you win a cookie. Conversely, the ones who stuck with the faith said they had a great relationship with their parents. With few exceptions, those who came back to the faith could trace their epiphany to a renewed relationship with their now older parent. The reconciliation stories I heard were tearjerkers. It was amazing to see that when the parent-child relationship was healed, the relationship with God often followed.
What's your bull's-eye with your son?
While most dads would say it's the relationship, many are unknowingly implying, by their words and actions, that good behavior and right beliefs hold the key to Dad's love and acceptance. A child will naturally conclude that this is what God is mainly concerned about too. It's not hard to walk away from a God who only cares about boring theology and towing the line.
There is certainly a time and a place where behavior and spiritual content must be emphasized. We don't do our boys any favors if we let them run amuck, and right beliefs about God's character and his plan for salvation have to be made clear. But if both are not seasoned with heavy doses of hugs, time, and consistent unconditional love, the challenge to better behavior and right beliefs will fall on deaf ears.
It's not spiritual content.
It's not just behavior.
Those two circles on the target are important but they're not the bull's-eye. Relationship is.
That's what this book is about. It's designed to give you tons of ideas about how to creatively-yet with purpose behind the fun and the serious-give your son a relationship he can enjoy today and know he can always come back to. No matter what mistake he's made, no matter how many miles he seems away from you and God, he will always need a place to return to.
Relationship is the key for you and God too, isn't it? It's not just content from God's Word; it's not just you knowing right from wrong and doing the right; it's that Jesus Christ died to give you open access to a God of grace and mercy. God is someone whose arms you can always fall into when nothing else in life is working. He's someone you can always come back to.
A human representative of God on planet Earth is what you're supposed to be to your son, but it doesn't just happen by accident. It has to be intentional.
If your goal is to give your son everything he needs to face adulthood and a lifetime of walking with the Savior, this book will help. But before we get completely started, you need to understand what type of hand you've been dealt in terms of how God has uniquely put your son together. All sons are not created equal. And since you're a motivated dad who wants to do the best by each son he's been entrusted with, you have to adjust your dad style to the individual nature of your son.
Excerpted from Dad's Everything Book for Sons by John Trent and Greg Johnson Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.