Boys need real dads. Not just fathers to put food on the table, set
curfews, and make sons clean the garage, they need real dads.
Real dads play catch, lead hikes in the woods, tell stories at bedtime,
and wrestle on the living room carpet.
I (Dan) grew up with a real dad. He didn't catch many fish-he
was too busy baiting hooks for my brothers and me. He
pitched baseballs at Columbia Park until we were tired of swinging
the bat. He carried the heavy pack so we could hike together
to remote lakes in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.
Real dads shoot their sons like arrows to impact the next generation.
It is tough to be a real dad. The price to become one
must be paid in time and commitment. Our world is short of
both; there are demands and distractions that call us away from
the things that matter most.
When our family goes out for pizza I find myself drawn to the
game "Gopher Heads." I love to stand with mallet in hand, slip my
token into the machine, and await the battle. A gopher head
appears, I strike with precision, and it disappears into its hole. Two
heads appear at once. Like lightning I nail one, then the other. The
battle has been joined. Heads appear faster and faster, more and
more of them. I frantically strike, strike, and strike. Some escape my
blows, but most are defeated. At the peak of the warfare the light
goes off, the music ends, and the gopher heads retreat to their
dens. They will lick their wounds and await my next token.
"Gopher Heads" fill my days. Appointments, phone calls,
meetings, questions, and problems come at me relentlessly. I defeat
one and face two more. I want normalcy, rest, and quiet, but at the
same time, I love the adrenaline rush of fighting "Gopher Heads."
The losers in this battle are the dads who don't know when
or how to call a truce. We love the smell of the battle, so we fight
late into the evening, spend Saturdays in the office getting
caught up, and often bring the battle home with us.
The other losers, of course, are our wives, daughters, and sons.
Sons lose the security of knowing they are worth more to us
than a corner office. They lose the instruction that can be given
only when they are ready to ask the question. They lose the
mentoring of a tested warrior.
After writing How to Be Your Daughter's Daddy, I was asked to
write this companion, How to Be Your Little Man's Dad. I could
write with the credibility of a grateful son, but my personal
experience was as the father of daughters. I needed some help,
and I knew where to find it.
Ken Sutterfield's sons, Ragan and Spencer, were 3 and 2 when
Ken and his wife, Jan, came to work for Pine Cove. At the time,
my daughter Catie was 2, and Haley had not yet arrived on the
scene. Our young families were intertwined with the strong
bonds of friendship. This allowed me to watch Ken and Jan do
the things that grow little boys into men.
They are artists, blending the colors of love and discipline
along with the hues of creativity and consistency to paint portraits
of wonderful young men. Not perfect parents, not perfect
parenting, but making each stroke of the brush count to give
their sons the character and competency they will need to face
Life is a never-ending series of changes and dads must listen
to the call of opportunity. They must test their skills against
greater challenges, but they must test their hearts against the
worth of their sons. Greater challenges and leadership took Ken
and his family from directing the adult and family operations at
Pine Cove in Tyler, Texas, to the executive directorship of Ozark
Conference Center near Little Rock, Arkansas.
A father's life can be filled with building bigger barns to store
our achievements and wealth. We are eager to respond to the
deep desire to achieve and accomplish. In the process of building
bigger barns, fathers must be very careful not to destroy the
priceless little barns. The valuable little barns in many men's
lives are their sons. Too often the price that is paid on the way to
the top is the souls of the sons.
Ken built a bigger barn, but he was careful not to dismantle
the little barns in his life.
Our families remain very close. My wife, Cay, and I have had
the privilege of viewing the Sutterfield boys growth over several
months instead of in daily increments. They aren't yet grown,
and there are no guarantees that their paths will be free of
trauma. But Ken and Jan have worked the odds in favor of their
sons through love and sacrifice.
Ken is a great dad. He acquired his skill from another great
dad. Keith Sutterfield was busy in the newspaper business while
Ken was growing up, yet he found the time to instill the essential
qualities of life into the character of his son.
I had the privilege of reading a letter Keith sent to Ken
shortly after Catie, then nine years old, lost her battle with
leukemia. Keith was still dad, sharing wisdom, encouraging, and
instructing Ken to be a strong friend to our family in the cold,
dark valley of our child's death.
We recently visited Ken, Jan, Ragan, and Spencer, staying in
their home. Skeletons of birds, cages with snakes, collections of
rocks, and posters of athletes fill the boys' rooms. Pictures of
family and friends, books of adventure and information, music,
and conversation fill their home.
Ken is busy, but not too busy for his sons.
That's why I was compelled to ask Ken to work with me on
this book. I've learned a lot as we have shared ideas and remembered
wonderful moments. I've been reminded of events and
projects that the routine and pressures of life had pushed to the
back corners of my mind.
As we have worked together I have realized that life is a series
of wonderful, curious, powerful, eternal moments that form the
collections we call "life." These collections of moments change
little boys into men. Moments can be cold, hurtful, painful,
destructive, or meaningless, scattered in disarray over the days of
childhood. Or they can be warm, strong, joyful, healthy, and
intentional, ordered to create insightful, stable, noble young
men who are able to meet the challenges of the next generation
Dads must be involved in these moments of maturation.
They must invest time, energy, and wisdom to make each
moment achieve its strategic impact.
Since our societies have moved from the country to the big
city and from the farm to the office, many dads have lost touch
with the hearts of their children. The core of many father's
worth and satisfaction exists at the work place. Home becomes
an annoyance, a sideshow, or a disposable appendage. Dads have
learned to delegate tasks. Making good decisions is the greatest
skill to be acquired in the information age. After a long day of
decision making the easiest decision is to delegate the child-rearing
to Mom. Children need Mom, but they need Dad too.
Sons need the model of maleness that they can best find in
their father. They need Mom's love and warmth, but they need
Dad's love and strength.
It seems odd to me that when a mom spends time with her
children she is "parenting." But when it is a dad's turn to watch
the children we say he is "baby-sitting." The difference between
parenting and baby-sitting has to do with the motivation of the
heart and the length of the impact. Dads need to parent with a
heart of love and with a desire to prepare each son (or daughter)
for a life that will make a difference for generations to come.
No father's deathbed regret is that he did not spend enough
time at work and too much time with his son. The pain of misplaced
priorities has haunted many "successful" fathers. We
don't intentionally destroy the souls of our sons, we just fail to
attend to their needs. The natural course of events, free from a
father's support and guidance, claims its prey.
But somehow our kids "make it." Somehow, despite our carelessness,
ignorance, and incompetence as fathers, our kids make
it. The challenge is to help them make it with as much strength,
skill, wisdom, and confidence as possible.
Ken and I desire that we be real dads-that we make a positive
impact on our children. We hope that this book will help
you become the best dad your little man could ever hope for.
Tell him his muscles look bigger.
* * *
Show him the proper use of your pocketknife.
* * *
When he is ready,
give him your pocketknife.
Ask him his opinion
on things that are important to you.
* * *
Say "yes" as much as possible.
* * *
Teach him to call 911.
* * *
Don't make promises
you are not willing to keep.
* * *
Don't make threats you are not willing to enforce.
* * *
Talk openly about current events.
Engage him in the conversation.
Give him access to lumber, hammer, and nails,
and let him create.
* * *
Show him how to spin a basketball
on his finger.
Keep his picture at work.
Teach him how to mow the yard,
and work with him.
* * *
Give him the opportunity
to go with you
to meet important people.
Write about him to grandparents
Show him what you have written.
* * *
Tell him stories about yourself
when you were his age.
* * *
Give him your business card,
and tell him he can call you anytime.
* * *
Take him with you on a short business trip.
* * *
Bring a glass of water to him at bedtime
before he asks.
Admit you are wrong and apologize.
* * *
Know the names of his friends
and as much as you can about them.
* * *
Volunteer to visit his class
and tell the students about your profession.