The Intentional Father: Choosing Time Together
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Jon TysonJon Tyson is a pastor and church planter in New York City. Originally from Adelaide Australia, Jon moved to the United States over two decades ago with a passion to seek and cultivate renewal in the Western Church. He is the author of Sacred Roots, A Creative Minority, The Burden is Light, and Beautiful Resistance. Jon lives in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan with his wife and two children. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Church of the City New York. Learn more at www.churchofthe...more
Amidst the urgent — & the pull of passivity — how do dads carve out time together with kids? Author Jon Tyson helps you prioritize energy for what matters.
The Intentional Father: Choosing Time Together
Jon: “When my son leaves our house, which he is going to do in five or six years, who do I want him to be? How do I develop his character? What do I want him to know? How do I want to make him a wise man?”—and then—“What do I want him to be able to do? Like, what real world skills do I want this kid to have?” If I don’t do this for him, who is going to do this for him?
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
When our boys all turned 13, you took each of them out individually with a group of your guy friends; and you had your guy friends speak into their lives. What was that like?
Dave: Well, I mean each trip was me alone with my son, and then the guy part was usually a surprise. It was really funny—I don’t know if we shared this here before—but our third son, Cody—when I was getting ready to do the trip with Cody, he says—do you [Ann] remember this?—he goes, “Dad, whatever you did with CJ and Austin, they told me it really wasn’t any good.
Ann: “It was lame.”
Dave: “Can you do something different?” I’m like, “What?! What are you talking about?! It was the most epic journey of their life!” He said, “No, the trip was incredible; the actual material that you used was dated.” I won’t tell you what I was using at the time; but when I heard that, I’m like, “Oh.”
So you know what I did with my last one? We were going to the AFC Championship game—the Steelers against the Patriots in Pittsburgh—
Ann: —which was perfect for him because he is a sports guy.
Dave: Yes, it fit him.
Ann: You did a different trip for each one.
Dave: It fit him. One of my former Detroit Lions, played for the Steelers, got us tickets.
Anyway, I put together a list of topics we were going to talk about; I was just winging it now. I’m not going to do what I did with them. I hand him this sheet of paper. We get in the car. We are going to be in the car six hours; I said, “Cody, we’re going to talk about every one of these, any order you want. Just pick it, and we’ll talk about it. Let’s talk about it. These are things men need to talk about.”
I’ll never forget. He looks over at me—he looks down at the sheet—he goes, “We’re going to talk about women’s body parts?” I’m like, “Yes, we’re going to talk about…” I mean, it was just anything and everything. It was an incredible trip, because we talked about stuff men need to talk about.
In some ways, Ann, when you asked me that, it’s like, “Yes,” because I never had that experience with my dad; so I wanted to try and create something that would be totally different with my sons. You’d have to ask them what they thought of that.
Here we are today, talking about manhood stuff again, with Jon Tyson, who is—you know, you’re the manliest man I think I’ve ever met, Jon—[Laughter]—you know, I’m looking over at you, saying—
Jon: Nobody has EVER said that to me before! [Laughter] I’m 44 years old—that’s a first—and it’s not true, so thank you. [Laughter]
Dave: —“Boy, he’s a very—
Ann: I don’t even know what that means. [Laughter]
Dave: I looked over at you, and you started smiling; like, “I don’t think he has heard that.” Here is what I meant by that. When you think “manly man,” you think this rugged—I don’t know—macho.
Ann: Well, back in the day, that was your picture.
Dave: Yes, you sort of thought of The Rock [Dwayne D. Johnson]; you know?
Jon: Yes, I mean, I think he still is a manly man—
Dave: He is.
Jon: —the gold standard, perhaps.
Dave: But when I think, “manly man,” I think a man can encapsulate what God instilled a man to be. I mean that, Jon—I look at you, as we had lunch, and even as we’ve done these shows together—it’s like, “You capture what I believe God said a man of God should be.” With that, I say, “Welcome to FamilyLife Today.”
Jon: Oh, that’s so kind; I really appreciate that. How do I get back on the show? [Laughter]
Christy, darling, did you hear that? [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; make sure she listens to that. Of course, you are talking about your wife Christy and your son Nate and your daughter—
Dave: —Haley—21 and 18.
Dave: I’ve got to ask you: “What’s it like being an empty-nester?” I mean, it’s new to you.
Jon: Am I allowed to say “incredible”?—I don’t know if that’s disrespectful—it’s incredible. I think, when my son left—he left to do a gap year—we got up early, and he got an Uber. We live in the middle of Manhattan; none of us are driving to the airport: “What are you talking about?” [Laughter] The Uber shows and off he goes. Everything in my heart was like, “Go into the world, young man. Get after it. The safety net under your life is huge. Just go!”
And then I’m hugging my daughter about a month ago; and she literally says to me, “We need more time; we need more time. I need more wisdom from you. There hasn’t been enough.” Then I hug her, and she walks off. I was like, “I’m still not over that.”
Jon: I’m still carrying that in my heart—my little baby girl—she’s amazing. She’s studying nursing. She’s a giver—she [cares]; she’s such a tender heart—been raised in the middle of the craziness of New York and is like pure in heart. I mean—
Ann: But it’s cool, Jon—even as you say that, though—I think every listener has just leaned in to think, “I want to listen to a guy whose daughter would say that about him and whose son”—like what you just said about your son: “Go into the world,” because you feel confident; because you feel like you’ve probably equipped him with the best that you could do. And that’s what you mean, Dave, about being a man of God.
Dave: Yes, I mean, I called it being a manly man; but that is what I mean.
Jon: If by manly man you mean like a chubby, out-of-shape rugby player—sort of a manly man—it’s like: “Thank you!” [Laughter]
Dave: You’ve got it! [Laughter]
It’s interesting the way you started—because it’s in your book, The Intentional Father: A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character—but obviously, you haven’t just done sons; you’ve got a daughter as well. You’ve done, obviously, rites of passage ceremonies; walk us through this, because you started this at age 13.
Dave: What’s the passage sort of look like?
Jon: I mean, to be clear, I had the whole thing in my mind, I think. You know, one of my favorite authors—I realized when I was reading him—I was like, “Oh, he does this literary technique called bookending.”
Dave: I didn’t know you read my stuff. [Laughter]
Jon: Yes, thank you. It’s really, really helpful. [Laughter]
Open with half a story, and then leave you in suspense the whole time; and then close with that story. It’s like: “I’m going to bookend this trip with my son. It’s going to start with him running into the ocean, off the coast of New York; it’s going to end with him running into the ocean off the coast of Spain at the end of this 500-mile walk called the Camino de Santiago. I was like, “Everything is going to happen between those two baptisms. The first baptism is the baptism into the journey, and the second one is the baptism into manhood.”
Dave: Oh, alright.
Jon: It started with/I had formed a little cohort of friends with sons, who were my son’s age. We basically—I mapped this out—I presented this sort of overview of our time together in a PDF vision document. I said, “I think I’ve got something for us to take our sons through for the next few years.” I sort of tried to cast some vision for them. I’m like, “How many of you are in?” They’re like, “We’re all in!” I had this little tribe—like group of dads/group of sons—I hyped this up for my son.
I’m still meeting with him every week—just doing hang-out time—that sort of thing. I was like—
Ann: Talk about that just for a second. Like what do you mean you are hanging out with him?
Jon: So, it’s like, basically—I got this idea from Covey. People talk about the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He wrote a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, which is, to this day, one of the best books on families I have ever read. His chapter was: “You give your kids time, and they set the agenda”; so I would say to my kids, “We will do anything you want in this time we are having together, but I am so committed to you and having a great relationship with you. We’ve got to prioritize this time. It’s whatever you want to do. You want to go skateboarding; we’ll skateboard. You set the agenda: ‘If I could do anything with my dad, I would do this.’ I’ll show up; I’ll fund it.”
Then I started to tell him: “Hey, man, when you hit 13, it’s about to get real. You’re going to enter into this journey into manhood. And men in every generation have done this—it’s been lost—but we have recovered it. It’s going to be very hard for you. I mean, I think you’ve got what it takes; but we’re going to test that.”
He would be like, “What are you talking about? What are you talking about?” Then we took them down to the beach; we actually went to Coney Island, which is still a pretty amazing place in New York City. We took them out there, and then we took them down to the beach. We had this ceremony, gave them this speech, talked about this formational process, how it was done in other cultures. Then had them strip down to their swim trunks and run into the ocean: “This is a baptism of your birth into manhood.” Then we spent the rest of the night like talking with them about it and hanging out at Coney Island.
I wanted it to have a content component, like: “Here is a vision speech.” I wanted it to feel solemn—in some sense, healthy intimidation—like a little bit of the fear of God. Then I wanted it to be something really enjoyable that they would remember: “Do you remember that night, late summer, right at dusk, where they took us out?” I wanted them to have sort of like a rich, aesthetic experience, you know, connected to it.
Ann: At 21, does he recall that in that way?
Jon: Yes; if he doesn’t recall it, he has a video of it; I’ve got photos of all of it. He does remember that. He will say things like—you know, his recollection now is funny—he’ll be like, “Oh, that was really interesting. I didn’t quite comprehend how serious you were about all of that. It seemed pretty vague, but I was grateful for it. That was a great night,”—lots of those sorts of things.
Dave: And then, what happened after? Because I think a lot of men—at least, in my generation—from Robert Lewis and other authors, gave us some pictures and visions of what ceremonies could look like. I’m not sure I’m exactly right, but a lot of us did the ceremony and then that was it. It was like after the ceremony, it was like there was a period of time or years until the next ceremony; but it wasn’t always something in between.
Ann: I think that’s because a lot of dads just didn’t know what to do.
Dave: Right; so what did you do in between?
Jon: I basically—two things—one getting back to the big-picture idea. I basically spent a lot of time thinking; and I basically said this: “When my son leaves our house”—which he is going to do in five or six years—“Who do I want him to be? How do I develop his character? What do I want him to know? How do I make him a wise man?”—and then—“What do I want him to be able to do? What real world skills do I want this kid to have?”
Then I basically reversed engineered to when he was 13; and basically, built out a calendar. The calendar was like: “Okay, this month, we’re going to talk about this,” “This month, we’re going to talk about this,” “I think this might take two months”; then I’ll do that for two months.
I basically did a big-picture brainstorming and then reverse engineering; and then filled in daily events, weekly events. I had a little daily connection, which we just called The Primal Path. I told dads, “It can be as simple as this—it can be—‘Here is a section of Scripture…’ ‘Here is a quote from a godly guy, and here is one question I want you to think about today.’” You can do that in ten minutes in the morning; but the compound effect of ten minutes a day for five years can be radically transformative.
Ann: Jon, what is so impressive to me about this is you are a pastor of a large church. You’ve got a lot going on. People are pulling you in every direction. I think a lot of dads feel like that, like, “Man, my life is so busy. I’m building my career.” Yet, you carved out that time because it was a priority to you.
Jon: I loved my son, like, “I love this kid.”
Jon: I was like, “If I don’t do this for him, who is going to do this for him? He’s just going to do this on Google.” I saw a day of my son, at 25, just saying, “Dad, why didn’t you? What was so important in the church that you couldn’t?”
A lot of this was based on a very painful conversation I have had, about a decade earlier, with my best mate. He had said to me—like he grew up in a home, where his dad had a small business—and his dad, every night, was never around; because he was always at the small business. He said, “It wasn’t until I was older, and went into business and understood how business works, that I realized that, what my dad did every night, he could have paid an accountant to do it for $10 in 5 minutes; but I lost my childhood, because he didn’t do that.” Then he listed out the specific things his dad/he said, “My dad traded those little widgets for my teenage years.”
I just remember thinking, “I’m not going to do that to my kid. I will not let the crisis of my people rob this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to form my son.” I went into it with that conversation ringing in my ears.
Yes, it was a lot of work. I want to say this: “Listen, if you want to break generational cycles, it’s going to be intense; but do you know what is more intense?—not breaking them and spending the next 40 years frustrated at the same stuff.” So like you pick your pain point—pick your price pain point—and I was like, “I’m never going to get this chance again; I’ve got to prioritize this.”
I’ll say two things: number one, what I did in a typical day looked very, very small compared to what a lot of other dads did. You wouldn’t look at my life and say, “You are doing something radically different.” It was like, “Hey, you use your mornings; you do
30 minutes differently”; about 5 years in, that’s hundreds of hours; and it was like: “You’ve built a different life.”
I want to say that to encourage people: “Don’t look at the big picture and be overwhelmed. Look at the daily opportunity and do what you can,” and “Small moments of intentionality can have a life-changing impact if they are done consistently.” That was the goal, basically: “Thread the needle between large events,” “Thread the needle: put content in there”; you know?
Dave: You know, I’m just sitting here, listening, going, “There is a dad listening right now who doesn’t even realize God just spoke to him; because He is using Jon Tyson right now, a person, to tell his story. He just spoke to this dad, who said, ‘I have been selling my life to a widget or to a dollar, and my son or my daughter is sitting right across the table. I’m not at that table because I’m at work.’”
I’m just telling you, dude, this was a moment God just spoke and said, “You have a chance right now.” If you have a five-year-old, ten-year-old, twelve-year-old, thirteen-year-old, fifteen-year-old in your home—I’m an older dad, who says, “They are going to be gone when you blink. So make the move right now. Say, ‘Okay, you know what? I’m not going to miss the next five years. I’m going to do what Jon…’”—pick up Jon’s book and just follow the pathway.
But man, you just modeled for so many—I’m just sitting here, thinking, “Man, if I was a young dad again, I would do it differently; because of what you’ve said.” You did it that way—again, you didn’t do it perfectly—but you modeled for us, and you’ve written it all down in your book.
Talk about this—as you walk through 13—you’ve got those 5 years. What made you think you needed a gap year with your son?
Jon: Well, it was getting back to what we talked about in the first episode: this concept of the crucible—the testing—the ordeal. I knew, as a youth pastor, how many kids went straight from youth group to college and spent the first three months doing everything within their power to experience all of the freedoms that were suppressed through moralism the previous six years.
Jon: I’m not slamming those young kids. I’m like, “There is flawed design experience here. What do you think is going to happen?”
Why do the Mormons send their kids on a two-year thing? Do you want to know why?—to form them into Mormons. There are other organizations that do this. Christian church doesn’t seem to do it. I was like, “Okay, I would have given anything—anything—to have a year to explore the world, to see other cultures, to feel God’s heart.” Plus, I said, “Look, I want to irreparably break my son’s heart for the global poor; and I don’t want him to be an entitled American, which is what like happens if you grow up in America. I want him to like see if the stuff he has learned works in real life.”
My son had a few character flaws—like nagging character flaws I could not get out of him—I just couldn’t get out of him. The process of formation starts in your mind; then your attitude changes; then you do it; and then it becomes a culture. I could never get it past his mind and attitude—like he always liked it/agreed with it—but never would do it. Well, you throw him into a group of people, [where] he is living in super proximate engagements with for a year; and two weeks in, he’s like, “Dad, you’re completely right. I’m getting that stuff out of my life; I do not want to be that guy in the group.”
My son—the number one thing—like Nate—I don’t think he would mind me sharing this—he was a complainer; he was a whiner. When everything was going great, it was great; but when it wasn’t going good, he just would whine. He left my house a whiner; and he came back from that trip, and he’s like fundamentally a different person—my son almost never complains; he just handles it—I’m like, “What happened?” He goes, “I watched myself, like almost out of my body, be the whiner and was like, ‘You are not going out like that!’” So now, he just like handles stuff. He’s like, “Let me just load that on my back and get it done. I don’t want to be that guy that complains.”
That was formed in the gap years. All of my efforts, all of my intentionality, could not do what two weeks of a trip with peers did. Do you know what I mean? It’s amazing. So, yes, I wanted him to see what was in him. I wanted to test it. I wanted him to see God’s kingdom outside of the US context. He went with an organization called the World Race, like YWAM sort of a thing; and he just came back transformed.
One of the weaknesses that I think these organizations do is sometimes they don’t have a reintegration. These kids are living in the book of Acts.
Jon: They have peak teenage energy, around peers, and then they dump them back in America; and say/and the kids often are like: “Was that even real? Was that just group manipulation?”
I said, “I want to close this out by doing a process with my son—like: “I want to do this walk with him,”—which is the backend, called the Camino de Santiago—“Let’s just hike for 33 days across Spain together.” Pilgrims have been doing this for 1,000 years; it’s like an embodiment of our journey together.
Ann: And your church let you do this?
Jon: I mean, yes, they did let me do this. I mean, I’ve probably undertaken vacation over the years rather than abuse my vacation time; but they’re excited. I mean, they’ll/like they’ll—like modeling this—you want a pastor spending time with his kids like this.
Jon: And there is nothing to do on this walk but talk; it’s like six hours a day of walking. It’s just like you talk about it all. I had questions prepared for every day to sort of recap what we’d gone over during this journey together; I had some stuff about his trip: “What did you learn?” “What did you learn about God?” “What did you learn about self?” “What did you learn about how life works?”
At the end of that trip, we went into this cove in Spain in a town called Finisterre, which is where the pilgrims traditionally hiked this journey; and they left something to show: “The journey is over.” They used to burn out on the beach; but now they changed the rules, where you can’t set stuff on fire; but it was like, “You’re going to leave your childhood behind on this beach. You’re going to walk into this water, and you are going to come out; and I will recognize you as a man.”
We had this ceremony. I have all these letters written by friends who’ve walked with him. I read this over him. I go through everything I can think of that I love about him, and then he runs into the ocean and like comes out. I just scream out: “Behold a man emerges from the ocean!” It was wild, and then that’s basically how we sort of finished it out.
It started in New York, as a 13-year-old, and ended in Spain as a 19-year-old with 1,000 beautiful moments of pain and heartache, joy and struggle in between.
Ann: Let me just say, “That makes me cry.”
Ann: Because I think, as we look at our culture/we look at what is happening with our teens today—our young men and women suffering with severe depression, anxiety, suicide—to hear that/to envision your son coming out of the water and you saying that to him; it’s what we all long for as parents. We want our kids to feel like: “God has made you; He has prepared you; He has equipped you; and He has something great for you”; because God is saying that to us: “I’ve made you on purpose for a purpose.”
I think most of us and a lot of our kids—I would say a lot of us and most of our kids—have no idea what that is. So they are trying to find their life and fulfillment through what the culture says will bring them joy and life. What you did is you equipped your son and said: “This is who you are,” and “This is what God has placed in you, and I can’t wait to see.”
Dave: And in some ways, it’s—you said this is what every parent longs for—it’s what every son and daughter longs for. I mean, it reminded me of the baptism of Jesus when God spoke.
Jon: That’s what I modeled the whole thing off, man. I was like, “I want the loudest voice in my son’s life to be that voice of affirmation: ‘My dad is for me.’”
Dave: I mean, that is awesome.
Here is one last question: “Any regrets?”
Jon: Any regrets? Aw, I’ve got regrets. I think, if I could give you one regret—I travel quite a bit—I would still do this: we would get up; we would do it on FaceTime®; we’d do it on Skype®. I was very, very consistent; but I would trade a few of those trips to be back in the home and do it in person.
Jon: It was like I was still intentional, still connected; but I was like I ached for a few more mornings in person. I was there the majority of the time; but still, some of those are like, “I would do anything to get that time back.”
Dave: Yes, and I have a feeling there are men listening that are going to be sitting at a table with their son and daughter because of this program. You’ve changed some dads. Thanks, Jon.
Jon: Yes, what an honor; thanks for having me.
Shelby: So many times, as parents, we can give so much of our effort and time to our jobs, to the other things that are clamoring for our attention; and our kids can suffer because we’re not intentional with them. We go through—day in and day out, weeks, days, months, even years—just kind of surviving and not giving them our intentionality/our best.
Pastor Jon Tyson has been talking with Dave and Ann Wilson, reminding us about carving out intentional time with our kids. A little amount of time a day can compound significantly over the years. It makes all the difference when it comes to investing in our children—making our kids a priority, not being passive—being intentional with them, and watching God work through us to make their lives flourish as a result of our faithfulness to Him.
Pastor Jon Tyson has written a book called The Intentional Father. He lays out a clear path for fathers and sons that includes specific activities, rites of passage, and significant marking moments. If you log onto FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation of any amount to this ministry, we would love to send you a copy of Jon’s book, The Intentional Father, as our thank-you to you for investing in the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Again, you can log onto FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation of any amount. We will send you, as a thank-you, a copy of Jon Tyson’s The Intentional Father; or you can give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, we hope you have a good weekend. There are a significant amount of Weekend to Remember® conferences that are happening. Couples are getting together in places like Omaha, Nebraska; the Poconos in Pennsylvania; in Boise, Idaho. We’d love it if you would pray for them and the marriages that can be healed and rekindled this coming weekend in our various Weekend to Remember locations.
If this content today from Pastor Tyson, or any of the FamilyLife programs have been helpful for you, we’d love for you to share today’s podcast with a friend or a family member. While you are there, it really helps to advance what we’re doing in this ministry at FamilyLife Today if you’d scroll down and rate and review us.
Now, coming up next week, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking with Alan Wright about The Power to Bless, empowering the people you love by speaking words of life into them. That’s coming up next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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