A Father and Son Connection
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Joel FitzpatrickJoel Fitzpatrick has served as an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America with a focus on youth and family. He received his MDiv from Westminster Seminary California. He is the co-author of Mom, Dad . . . What’s Sex? and contributed chapters to The Sinner and Saints Devotional: 60 days in the Psalms. Fitzpatrick lives in Southern California with his wife and their two children.
As a youth pastor, Joel Fitzpatrick has seen countless boys struggle with what it means to have a life shaped by the gospel. Fitzpatrick encourages fathers to dive into deep conversations with their sons.
A Father and Son Connection
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 14th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. As a dad, if you need a little courage/a little confidence—maybe some coaching—on how you can better connect with your teenage or preteen son, we’re going to talk about that today with Joel Fitzpatrick. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. When my boys were—I don’t know; seven or eight years old, I think—I would, with each of them, say, “Here is what we’re going to do…” I went and bought them—I may have shared this with you—I bought them a notebook and a new pen. I said, “I want you to open up to Page 1 in your notebook; I want you to write, ‘Manhood Training.’ Every Saturday morning that I’m in town, we’re going to go out for biscuits at Hardee’s®; and we’re going to have manhood training.”
Dave: Are biscuits part of manhood training?
Bob: I thought it was; yes. [Laughter] Biscuits and gravy—you’ve got to have that.
Dave: That’s manhood training right there.
Ann: That’s called southern manhood training.
Bob: All I knew, as a dad, was—I needed to have some conversations with my sons. I don’t know that I knew what those conversations needed to be; but I knew I needed to help them understand: “God made you a boy. He made you to be a man. You need to understand that, to embrace it, to grow into it.”
Here I am, wishing that I could rewind the clock, and—because there is a book that’s just come out called Between Us Guys: Life-Changing Conversations for Dads and Sons by Joel Fitzpatrick.
Dave: Where was that book 30 years ago?
Bob: Joel wasn’t old enough to write that book back then. [Laughter] Joel joins us on FamilyLife Today. How old were you 30 years ago?
Joel: I would have been 10.
Bob: We could have taken you out for manhood training.
Joel: Yes; totally. By my size, I fully participated in the biscuits and gravy. [Laughter]
Bob: Joel is a pastor; he is an author. He has served in a number of churches in Southern California. He’s written books with his/you wrote a book with your sister—
Bob: —called Mom, Dad…What’s Sex?
Bob: We’ve talked about that, here, on FamilyLife Today. Your mom, Elyse Fitzpatrick, is also an author, who has been with us on FamilyLife Today. The Fitzpatrick family—
Ann: —they are authors.
Bob: —they are part of the FamilyLife Today family. We’re glad to have you here.
Joel: Thanks so much for having me on.
Bob: This book—is this something you wrote because you’ve got boys growing up and you needed to have these conversations with your sons?
Joel: Yes; actually, this book came out of two different places. One was my work with youth at the church that I was at—just realizing that boys really struggled with what it meant to be a boy. They struggled with the different influences that were coming in on their lives—whether it was through video games, or through movies, or through the TV, internet—all those different things—through their own friendships.
Then my own conversations with my son, just trying to help him set up what it means to be a man, who lives his life shaped by the gospel/shaped by who Jesus is and what He’s done for him.
I wrote this book because, quite frankly, when I was growing up, I wish that my dad would have taken me through conversations like this.
Bob: Yes; I think all of us can look back with some sense of deficit that there were things we could have been better equipped for/better trained for; but I love the fact that in the—what are there?—18 conversations you’ve got here?
Bob: —14 conversations. It’s everything from family, to love, to generosity, to money, to girls, to heaven—defending others—all kinds of subjects. You followed the same pattern—
Bob: —in each of these conversations. Just explain what this pattern is and why you picked that pattern.
Joel: Yes; I picked this pattern because I think it’s the pattern of the Bible. I mean, I think it’s essentially the gospel story that’s laid out in the Bible. I want to be able to show my son, and boys around the world, how they fit into that story. What that is—is creation, fall, redemption, and then our lives lived in love for one another as we anticipate the consummation/as we anticipate heaven. We were created to be something.
Bob: So, you take a subject like money—
Bob: —you would say: “God has a design for money. He has a creation plan for that”; right?
Joel: Yes; money is meant to be used in a certain way. Then we look at, not only how we were created to be generous with our money, but how we are to use our money to glorify God/to serve the people around us. We were created in that way, but then we see how Adam and Eve—in the fall section of each of the chapters—we see how they actually grasped for power.
Then we move on, and we look at how Jesus then came and lived the life that we never could live; right? Jesus was generous; in fact, Jesus—when He had the power to come and take over and run things—Jesus laid His power aside. He didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped; but He set it aside for a time and then became one of us and lived in generosity—generosity to the point of dying on the cross for us.
Then, now, how does that motivate me to live?—knowing that Jesus’ righteousness is my own. It actually frees me, because I don’t have to worry about God providing for me; in fact, God tells me: “Don’t be anxious about anything. Look at the lilies. Look at the flowers of the field. They are beautiful. They grow. I clothe them. Won’t I do the same for you?”
You see, that’s the sort of pattern of life, where I think so often what we do, as parents, is—we do really good at the creation aspect; right?—“You were created to be this.” We do really good at the fall aspect; right?—“You—you, little sinner. [Laughter]
Ann: We know that conversation.
Bob: Yes; right.
Joel: —“you messed this up again. You used money for your own ends”; right? We do really good at those parts. Then, where I noticed in my own parenting, and in the parenting of the folks around me, we are all wrestling with: “Well, how does the gospel change this?” and “How does it change it for our kids?”
That’s where I think that this book really has—it seems, to me, to have struck a chord in that it equips dads who, quite frankly—most dads work a long week. They come home; they are exhausted after work; they’ve been doing things all day long—and most dads just don’t have the energy to put into figuring out how to have a gospel conversation with their son. I think that’s where this book really comes in—is like just to help and to guide dads—to say, “Hey, think this way…”
Dave: Yes; it’s a tool.
Dave: I know every dad in my church is saying: “Just tell me what to do.
Dave: “I mean, don’t give me…”—and you just did. You just walked us through a discussion on money with your son—
Dave: —in the last five minutes. Any dad can do it.
I mean, I’m thinking, “Where were you 17 years ago?” I mean, you talk about clueless. Here is what I did—and I’m a speaker for FamilyLife®, so I should know better—[Laughter]—but I wanted to have, at one point, a rite of passage—and actually several. The first one with my sons—I had three sons—was around 12/13. We had discussions; but I’m like, “I’m going to take them away.”
Here is the funny thing—I get to my third son—
Dave: —Cody is his name. He says, “Dad, you’re not going to do that lame thing you did with CJ and Austin,”—that’s what he says!
Joel: That’s so perfect.
Dave: At this point, I thought those trips were life-changing; you know? It was like, “What?!”
Joel: Yes; total fail.
Ann: —which was interesting; because he came to me first and said, “Mom, don’t let him do that to me.” [Laughter] I said, “You need to go talk to Dad about it.”
Dave: So, he tells me this. I’m like—I’m not going to mention what I did—but I used a cassette tape series, by a well-known author, that helps you do this; you know?
Ann: They were a little dated at the time, probably.
Dave: They were dated, but it was great stuff. It just got you into discussions on important topics for a young boy, 13. So, for my last one, we were actually going to drive to Pittsburgh and go to the AFC Championship game between—
Joel: Oh, sweet!
Dave: —the Patriots and the Steelers. I had a buddy that was a Lions player—now a Steelers guy—got me tickets/the whole thing.
We’re driving there, and I hand Cody a little sheet of paper; we’re getting ready to drive. He goes, “What’s this, Dad?” I go, “See all those topics,”—I had probably 25 topics—he goes, “Yes.” “We’re going to talk about every one of those on this trip. You pick any one you want, any order you want; but we’re covering all 25.” That’s what we did; we just sort of had a discussion. It actually went really well; because we had six hours there, six hours back—twelve hours.
But you’ve written it in a way I had never thought through. What a great concept to say: “God’s idea of creation; how we’ve missed it; now, how do we recover?” So, way to go! That’s a very helpful tool.
Bob: Here’s the thing about that format. It’s easy for us, as parents, to say: “Here’s the right way to do it. Now, do it.”
Bob: That’s a formula for disaster; because you’ll try it—and if it goes well—you’ll pat yourself on the back and go, “Look at me.”
Bob: If it goes poorly, you’ll go, “I can’t do this.”
Bob: So, you’re either going to go toward self-righteousness—
Bob: —or you’re going to go toward failure and sin; but what you’ve done is say, “Let’s just expect that we’re not going to be able to implement this because we’re flawed.”
Bob: When that happens, we shouldn’t look and say, “I guess we don’t know.” “Well, we’re all in the same boat!
Joel: Right; yes.
Bob: “Now, how does the gospel speak to that? And out of understanding how the gospel speaks to it, now, it’s not just behavior modification; but now, it’s heart change that leads to a different life.”
Joel: Right; and the thing is—I think that parents come into these conversations, thinking they need to nail it on the first conversation.
Joel: I know I fell into this trap, where I would have a conversation with my son, and then I would think to myself: “Oh, man, I totally blew it. I didn’t cover this and that and the other thing.” Having a guide like this—I found in my own life and in my friends’ lives, who have read this—really opens them up to say, “Man, I can have multiple conversations on this one topic.”
What this book, actually, is giving me is less of a script and more of like just a way of being so that I can live this, and I can talk about it, and we can have multiple conversations over our lifetime.
Ann: And what you’ve done is you’ve opened the door to conversations.
Ann: That right, there, can be awkward with a dad and son, even to know how to get into it,—
Ann: —what to say. You’ve also geared it to a certain age group. Why that?—why that age group? How old are the boys that you’re thinking?
Joel: So, yes; this book is written for the age group of boys between about five and eleven. The reason is because an old friend of mine told me that, in that age, kids are like wet cement. You pour them in; and if you don’t put up forms, they just kind of go wherever they want to go; then the cement dries. Then you’ve got to bring in the jackhammer to break it up; right?
But if you help your kids in that era/in that time of their lives—and you help them set the forms on their lives so that their life is shaped by the gospel—then, when you pour the cement in, the cement is shaped to be like Jesus. It’s shaped to be molded and conformed to what the gospel actually says about who we are, as human beings.
Really, as dads, we have this amazing opportunity with our sons to be able to speak into the midst of their experience and help them see where they are, where is God, and who God is making them to be.
Dave: One of the things I love about the book is it’s a conversation—it’s just a conversation—
Dave: —“Have these conversations; here are 14 topics to talk about with your sons.”
Bob: Each conversation, I think, is six or eight pages long; right?
Bob: So, it’s achievable over biscuits and gravy; right?
Joel: Oh, totally.
Dave: But I know buddies of mine that have just—they’ve got stuck; they’re afraid.
Dave: They: “I want to,” “I should,” “I’m working a lot of hours,” “I’m tired,”—they don’t do it. What do you say to that dad? How do you get him started?
Joel: Yes; first of all, I would say to the dads out there, who struggle with this particular issue. Number one, I totally identify with you. I’m a dad, who works construction. That means that my day starts at about six o’clock in the morning, and it ends at about six o’clock at night—that’s every day. I also preach on the weekends, write books—
Joel: —I get what it means to be busy.
Dave: Wow! I guess so.
Ann: You do.
Joel: I get it. The reality is, dads—first of all, it’s never too late to start talking to your sons, whether your son is six, or your son is sixteen, or your son is twenty-six. It’s never too late to start talking to your sons. If you struggle in this area, then I would just encourage you, dad: “Take your son out for ice cream. Ask him how his day went—that’s a great lead-in question. Show your son that you’re there to hear your son talk more than you are there to talk to your son, because you want this to be a dialogue.”
Dialogues are scary, I think, for dads; because a lot of times, we don’t know how to respond in the right way. If you’re a dad like me, you come home from work and you’re tired. Your son starts talking about video games, and Fortnite, and the next thing; and it’s like my eyes gloss over, and I’ve lost track; right?
But the reality is that, as dads, we have this amazing opportunity to lock in with our sons. For the dad who is afraid/for the dad who thinks he’s blown it, man, there is grace for you. There is gospel for you too, Dad. The beauty is—is that God knew you weren’t going to be the dad who you think you should be; and yet, God is our perfect Father, and He’s that for us because of the work of Jesus. That gives you the ability to just step into—just lean into the awkward/just move right into that space and tell your son: “Son, we haven’t done this before. This may get awkward; this may get weird; but I love you, and I think this is important. So, let’s just do this.”
Don’t think that you need to have six hours of conversations—that may be the right thing to do—but it may be right for you to just take your son out for an ice cream.
Dave: So, there was another one—so, I’m thinking: “Well, my wife has done this. Mom has done this with Johnny.
Dave: “It went well, and I know they have a great relationship. Do I really, as a dad—do I need to step in as well?” How important is it for dad to have these conversations with their son?
Joel: Yes; as dads, I think we are two things. We—in many ways, and this isn’t meant to scare you, dads; but this is just kind of the reality of the situation. As a dad, in many ways, your son will see God/His Father through the lens of your parenting. So dads, you have a very vital role in that. That’s scary on the one hand because, as dads, we blow it; right? We blow it big time.
On the other hand, though, that’s a perfect way for you to lean into this story: “As a dad, I was created to be something so much more than what I am. Yet, sin, so often, rules in my life; it reigns in me, and I hate it. But I know that Jesus connected me to my perfect Father. Jesus loves me and embraces me, and now I want to do that with you, son.” So, it’s number one.
Number two: Dads, you can move into this area—and you can do it with confidence—because you’re going to bring a perspective on masculinity that your wife just doesn’t have. Your wife doesn’t know what it means to be a man. She doesn’t know our struggles the same way that we do. Your son having these conversations with your wife is great. I mean, believe me, that’s something you need to promote/you need to support. My wife does that with me—she supports my conversations with our daughter. But the reality is that: “Dads, you bring a perspective into masculinity; you help set your son up to know what it is to live by the gospel, as a man. You have that perspective that your wife doesn’t have; you have that understanding that she doesn’t have.”
Dave: Yes; and I know that I also, as I reflect back on—you know, I have three grown sons and grandkids. I remember thinking two things: “One, I want to change a legacy. My dad never had conversations with me”—he wasn’t there/divorced home—“and I get to change”—but the passive part of me is like—“tomorrow.”
Dave: “Friday”; you know?—another day will go by.
Joel: Yes; totally.
Dave: The other thought was—and Bob and I know; and Ann knows—and you’re going to discover—you’re going to blink, and they are gone.
Dave: I heard that from older dads—tell me that. In the middle of that, I’m like: “Oh, no, they are never leaving. Every day is exhausting. There is snot; there are diapers.” [Laughter]
Joel: Yes; totally.
Dave: Then you get here; and you’re like, “Where did it go?!”
I’ll never forget—I was sitting in the Silverdome/Pontiac Silverdome at one of the Promise Keepers—had to be the ‘80s; is that when Promise Keepers was?
Bob: —early ‘90s; yes.
Dave: A local pastor from Detroit gets up. I’m in the very other end zone, with probably 70,000 men; and his name was Joe Stowell/Dr. Joe Stowell. He was the pastor of Highland Park Baptist at the time and ended up at Moody as President.
He told this story—I’ve never forgotten it. It was this simple—he goes: “I really care about my front yard,”—this sounds ridiculous—“I don’t hire anybody; I do it.” He goes, “Sounds crazy; but I wanted my front yard to be the nicest yard in the neighborhood, and it was.”
Dave: He said, “I had three sons.”
Dave: I’m sitting there, going, “Well, I have three sons”; and they were little at the time. I’m not even sure my third was born yet; but I’m leaning up, like, “Oh, here is a father, ahead of me, telling a story about three sons.” He says: “My youngest son loved basketball, and he wanted me to put a basketball pole in the front drive way. I said, ‘No; it’s going to ruin the yard. I don’t want a basketball pole.’”
Dave: He said, “Finally, I gave in and said, ‘Okay; we’ll put up the basketball pole.’” He said, “Every time, I pulled down my street, I would see that thing, like, ‘The yard would look so much better without this hoop sitting there.’ Every day, my son would say, ‘Dad, let’s shoot hoops’; and every day, I’d say, ‘I’ve got to work on the yard.’”
He goes—I will never forget—“I had to do a funeral for a 12-year-old boy in my church that passed.” He said, “I’m driving home after that funeral, and I see my front yard.”
Dave: He looks at it, and he goes: “What am I doing? It’s the nicest yard on the street; yes; and I’m missing this moment.” He says: “I walk in the house; I go upstairs. My son is doing homework. I open his door. I go, ‘Hey, want to shoot hoops?’ He goes, ‘No, no, Dad. I’ve got a lot of homework.’” I’ll never forget—Joe said, “I shut the door and walked down the hall; and I said: ‘I messed it!
Dave: “’There was a season of his life; I missed it for a yard.’”
Dave: That story stuck. I’m a young dad; I’m like: “Don’t want to miss it. I want to have these conversations.
Dave: “Seize the moment and the day.” Now, we know; those days are gone.
Dave: You either grab them or you don’t. You’ve written a tool that says: “Dads, I’ll help you.
Dave: “Here you go. Use this, and have these conversations while you can.”
Bob: Here is the thing—now, we’ve taken the excuse of “I don’t know what to say,” away from dad—
Dave: Right; right.
Bob: —right? So, the dad, is thinking, “Well, I’d do it; I just don’t know what to say,”—“We’ll give you what to say for the next 14 meetings with your son. [Laughter]
Bob: “It’s mapped out for you; you can walk through it. Joel has given you the theme; so if you’re going to have a talk with him about a subject like love: ‘Well, what does the Bible say about this?’—there are suggested activities; there are discussion questions as you go through this—Bible verses you can look at; and then: ‘How do we respond to it?’ It’s simple; we’ve got the script. Now, all you have to do is carve out the time and be intentional with your son.”
Dave, your point is exactly right—there is a window for this; don’t let the window close. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Get a copy of Joel’s book, Between Us Guys: Life-Changing Conversations for Dads and Sons. We’ve got the book available; you can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Once again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The book is called Between Us Guys. Order online or call to order at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, one of the things we are committed to, here, at FamilyLife is the goal of helping you, as parents, pass on a legacy of spiritual vitality to your children/to the next generation. We believe that this is what God has made us for, as moms and dads. It’s our number-one priority. Here at FamilyLife—along with helping you in your marriage and understanding your roles in marriage; helping you walk closely with God—we want to make sure we’re coaching you on how you can make a spiritual handoff to your kids and point them in the right direction, spiritually.
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We hope you can join us back, again, tomorrow. Joel Fitzpatrick will be here again as we continue talking about dads and sons and how they can connect, and how dads can be intentional about discipling their sons.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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