I see it almost on a daily basis. Children, especially boys, attempting to traverse the many and varied terrains of growing up without the presence or the emotional connection of their fathers. Often a father in the home does not mean an emotional connection exists between father and son. In many instances a father is cast simply as the disciplinarian and the father/son relationship is based primarily in those moments when a boy is to be punished. So much so the boy unconsciously stays in some form of trouble. The need to be punished is often due to a boy’s deep desire for attention from his dad and his experience has taught him one way that is guaranteed to work every time. Trouble from poor decision, bad choices, disrespectful behavior and failing achievement.
It’s important to note many will say “but my father was in the home” or “I had/have a great relationship with my step-father, grandfather, uncles, coach…etc”. All these men come into a boys life and play key roles in their development while building those necessary bridges to manhood. No one can replace a boy’s biological father although many men do an adequate job in parenting.
One of the primary bridges necessary to a boy growing to manhood successfully is derived from discipline.
Discipline can be understood on at least two different planes. There is the discipline following an abhorrent act by a child and the discipline a child deploys during the many moments of stress, chaos or at the point of decision making.
Punishment and discipline are two very different expressions. Punishment provides no direction. The immediate response of punishment marks an end to bad behavior and poor choices but nothing is learned from the experience. I often equate punishment to rubbing a puppy’s nose into the wet spot of the carpet: the puppy feels the pain of having his very sensitive nose rubbed against the course carpet but learns nothing in the moment. Discipline, as i teach it, is a loving correction. A parent often misses those “in the moment” opportunities to lovingly correct. There is a response to the poor choice of the child, but the lesson from the correction is not considered. Missed opportunities plague parenting. The focus of the parent is to stop whatever behaviors being demonstrated by the child without any understanding of why the child would make such a choice.
The other form of discipline to be considered. The discipline that spurned this post is related to what a boy learns within the relationship between himself and his father. We can acknowledge fathers two ways. There is father the person and father the position. Often to a boys experience this may be the same person, in growing numbers it is not. From the perspective of father the position any man can adequately fill the active parenting role of guidance. The position filled by a father-figure can teach through observation the form of discipline a boy needs to succeed. This discipline is derived from the ability to prioritize, establish a standard of excellence, lift the heavy loads and push through adversity. These are all internalized qualities necessary for success. These are also qualities derived from a boy feeling safe, secure and loved: guided through life not pushed into life.
The caveat to the big picture is a boy not fathered by his biological father has to first bridge the chasm of deservability. With feelings of rejection from the biological father a boy has to be taught he is worth the effort before the lessons of discipline take hold. The internal struggle for these boys is a diminished self-worth. The feeling , not the thought, of “am I worth it” must be bridged.
Any example can be used to make this point but my experience working a brief while in a prison was my teacher. In this prison environment I worked everyday with very talented boys and men who as many as 90% never learned discipline from their fathers. The form of discipline a person gets from feeling safe, secure and loved. These boys and men gained an externally taught discipline provided by the order and structure of prison life. This experience was the introduction many of these boys and men had to a disciplined lifestyle with self-worth coming from a baseline desire to survive. I’m a sports person so I sometimes understand human behaviors through sports analogies. Ive witnessed men with great athletic abilities waste their talents because they lacked discipline. Ive also experienced boys and men outside the prison environment with less natural abilities succeed because of early disciplined guidance from an actively involved father. It is a success derived from self-worth which pushes a boy through adversity, projects a standard of excellence, lifts the heavy load and focuses one toward the objective. Success is in the experience and not the conclusion.
As parents, concerned citizens, mentors or leaders, men actively participating in the growth of our families and communities, lets shift our point of view as it relates to discipline. As fathers we can still provide the loving correction of discipline to our children. As father-figures we can position ourselves to be the influence many un-fathered boys need to grow and succeed.