Jon Tyson, fatherhood, manhood

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Good New for Sons: Life Is Hard

And other lessons to hear from dad about shifting into manhood.

The Intentional Father: A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character

By Jon Tyson

How can we help our kids enjoy adolescence while intentionally moving beyond it? One book written on this that I’ve read multiple times is Adam’s Return by Richard Rohr. Rohr writes about five rules of manhood, five definitive things that have been poured into men in almost every other culture to help shape them and form them away from childish ways. 

These rules are: (1) Life is hard, (2) you are not important, (3) your life is not about you, (4) you are not in control, and (5) you are going to die.

Sounds like wonderful news, right? Stick with me. These rules are all true, no matter how hard they might sound, and almost all cultures have had ways of helping men understand these rules — except modern culture.

What does our culture tell us? Life should be easy, you’re important, your life is about you, you should try to control everything, and you can live forever. And as a result, all of that emphasis on the self and self-fulfillment produces an extended adolescence, where men never grow up or reach their full redemptive potential. 

Now, I have to admit, I first tried to impart the five rules to my son when he was very young ... in the third grade, in fact. He gave a quote that was recorded in his elementary school as the quote of the week. With a huge smile, he said, “Life is hard, this is the first rule of manhood.” 

That was one of my prouder moments. 

He didn’t understand. No young man wants to hear the apparent bad news that these rules have to offer, but they do need to learn them. So, when Nate was a little older, instead of trying to directly impart these rules to him (again), I instead tried to facilitate contrast. I turned Rohr’s five rules into five shifts: 

1. Instead of saying, “Life is hard,” I said, “It’s a shift from ease to difficulty.”

2. Instead of saying, “You’re not important,” I said, “Boys care about themselves, but men care about others.” 

3. Instead of saying, “Your life is not about you,” I said, “You’re part of the story, but you’re not the whole story.”

4. Instead of saying, “You’re not in control,” I said, “It’s a shift from control to surrender.”

5. Instead of saying, “You’re going to die,” I said, “It’s a shift from the temporary to the eternal.”

I began a period of time when I consciously wanted to show Nate that the life of a boy is a life of ease, a life of self in which we try to control everything, and a life spent living in the moment. But the beauty of being a man is that a man embraces difficulty, cares about others, is part of a greater story, is willing to surrender to a greater cause, and lives for the eternal, not the temporary. 

Our core framework for walking through each of these shifts looked like this: during our morning meetings, I did a Bible teaching where I tried to point out whichever value we were discussing at the time. We read from Proverbs, the Gospels, the epistles, and the writings of Old Testament saints. We read biographies, and on a weekly basis we watched a movie that embodied the shift we were exploring. We had long discussions about what that journey looked like and what its challenges were, and toward the end of our exploration into each shift I designed an experience and challenge to show Nate the joys and possibilities that come with moving from one to the other.

The above is adapted from Tyson’s The Intentional Father:  A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character (Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, the copyright 2021). Used by permission. Tyson pastors a church in New York City. Data supplied by Barna Research and used with permission.

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