What Fathers Need to Do
About the Guest
How will my son learn to be a man? Best-selling author and pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker, tells parents why it's important to teach their sons about the power of virtues like self-control. Meeker tells parents that if they set the bar high for their sons, they'll most likely see them rise to that level of character and behavior.
Dr. Meg Meeker tells parents why it’s important to teach their sons about the power of virtues like self-control.
What Fathers Need to Do
Bob: But, when you do have both, what you are saying is—
Dennis: It is powerful.
Bob: —a boy can learn what it means to be all that God made him to be.
Dennis: Yes, no doubt about it. Dr. Meg Meeker joins us again on FamilyLife Today. She believes the same way. Meg, welcome back.
Meg: Thank you, Dennis.
Dennis: Meg is a mom of four. She is a pediatrician—an author of six books. She has appeared on 60 Minutes, The Today Show, and even appeared on the O’Reilly Factor. And her eyes rolled back in her head on that one. [Laughter]
Meg: You didn’t see that.
Dennis: She has written a book called Boys Should be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons. I want to focus today on what a father needs to make sure he is doing—engaging, practicing and building into his son—
because you, and I, and Bob all agree on the same thing here—fathers are indispensable if we are going to see boys become men; right?
Meg: Yes; absolutely. Another thing I talk about, in the book, is virtues. We talk about virtues for girls, but we don’t talk about virtues for boys. Oh, no—virtues have sort of been feminized: “Those are just for girls,” and, “Those are for moms,” and, “Those are particularly for Christian girls and Christian moms.” Virtues help us live, and this is something that I feel very strongly that fathers should teach their sons.
It is interesting—if you look at teen boy behavior with mothers—I see a number of teen boys with single mothers. The boys are out of control and often will get violent with their mothers. This can be a real problem. Boys don’t become violent with their mothers when dad is in the home.
It is almost as sort of a muscle-type of a thing. I say, “Big ‘T’ needs to hit little‘t’ and little‘t’ needs to bang up against big ‘T’—Dad—in order for him to realize: ‘This is what I can and cannot do.’”
That is something that Dad can teach—that Mom has a much harder time teaching.
Really, when you think about virtues—that is, really, self-control—is so very important. Dad can teach it with a power and authority that Mom can’t. However, Granddad can teach it. A pastor can teach it. If Mom has no good man that she can point to in her life—to sort of steer her son toward—you can read about good men in literature and paint a picture for your son.
Dennis: As you were talking about that, I was thinking of the number of times I came home, when we had teenage sons, to find Mom—my wife Barbara—wrapped up in a corner—tied-up emotionally.
Dennis: Do you know what I am talking about?
Meg: I know it. I am a mother, and I have a 6’ 3” son; yes.
Dennis: I honestly think that mothers have the most difficulty with sons because they outgrow them.
You’re looking up at him. He is no longer your sweet little boy. He is becoming something that is kind of foreign to you, as a mom; and yet, my sons, at points, needed me, as a dad, to step into their lives—put my arm around them, with a grin on my face, and say, “You will not treat your mom that way.”
Dennis: “You’re not going to get away with it because—you know what?—behind your mom, stands me.”
Dennis: “I love you enough not to let you get away with it.”
Meg: I will say that feels so good to a boy. That feels so good—for a man to look at a boy and say, “Stop it!” How many adult men do we have out of control because nobody ever came along and say: “Stop behaving this way—you can’t do that.”?
You know, there are a lot of 50-/60-year-old adolescent men, running around out there, just out of control. They are miserable because self-control has to be taught by someone that we admire, and respect, and who has authority to us.
Bob: Meg, talk about the transition that you have made, as a parent, from the first ten years of your son’s life—when you were primary and building into him—and then, you have talked about how he pushed away at a certain point. What have you had to consciously do, as a mom, and how has your husband stepped in and engaged in the process of raising him?
Meg: Oh. Now, this hurts. [Laughter] This hurts. You’re hitting home. You really put me to it.
Dennis: You’re forcing her to relive some painful moments.
Meg: It is painful!
Dennis: We are laughing about this, but this is one of the tough things for a mom. And some moms don’t make the turn—
Meg: Yes; exactly.
Dennis: —because they can’t let this happen.
Meg: Exactly. Here is the key. And here was the key for me. I encourage dads, when their daughters do this, too. I was very close with our son, until he was about 10 or 11. People would kind of joke about it. He was attached to my hip. He would like to go to the grocery store with me. I loved being with him.
Then, as he matures, and his body starts to change, and he is feeling uncomfortable around me—and that first time you go to hug him—and he bristles, and he pushes away, and says, “Oh no,” your heart breaks. It gets worse, and worse, and worse because he doesn’t want to talk. Then, he just grunts. You ask him questions, and he doesn’t hear you. So, you take him to an audiologist.
I think the thing that really helped me was to understand I couldn’t take him personally—that what was happening in him—and his tearing away from me was extremely important, and he was wired to do that. God designed him to do that. It didn’t have to do with me. It wasn’t because I parented him poorly, or because I was saying the wrong thing, or because I was hugging him at the wrong time. It was what was meant to go on inside of him, and I wasn’t privy to it. So, I had to back away and say to his dad: “Okay, as much as this pains me, you’re on; and I am off.”
Of course, I still cook his favorite meals; and I do a lot of things I probably shouldn’t do to kind of spoil him. He is the baby in our family, but I really respect his masculinity. I am not part of that development right now. I had to reconcile that with myself. It is something that is very personal between him and his dad, and I have to honor that and back away.
Dennis: I want to ask you to unpack how you communicate respect for his masculinity because that takes some wisdom and maturity.
Bob: That is a pivotal question because you are going: “Now, wait a second. I am still the mom. If there is respect flowing here, it should flow from you to me.” For a mom to think about respecting her son feels somewhat foreign and unparental.
Meg: I feel it’s easy to respect my son and communicate that to him because I am his ally and the culture is his enemy.
His dad, and I, and he are on the same team. So, when he goes off to prom, I sit down and talk with him about how he should behave towards his date—that I fully expect him not to get drunk, and not to leave prom and go have sex—because everybody else expects that—but I know that he is bigger, and stronger, and he is wiser. So, I talk up to him. That is what we need to do to our boys because part of masculinity is respecting their sense of authority, and imparting a sense of authority to them, as a man: “You are a man, now.”
Bob: You are calling that out of him; aren’t you?
Meg: Yes. I am calling it out of him. As a woman, I am saying: “I fully believe in your manhood, your masculinity, your ability to behave tonight. I will see you at one in the morning, when you get home, because you are not going to some girl’s for a sleepover like everybody else in your class.”
I think another part of it is speaking respectfully to my husband, who is pretty easy to respect. He is a good man. I think that that confers a healthy sense of masculinity on my son.
Bob: You are saying how you relate to your husband is a part of how you train your son to be a man?
Meg: Yes; exactly. How I show respect to my husband says that I respect masculinity, which is very different than me, because I am not masculine—I am feminine. That confers respect on my son.
Dennis: You said something else that I want to make sure we don’t want to run past.
You said that you and your husband are together.
Dennis: You are in agreement?
Dennis: You have got a game plan that—where you are headed—as you raise your son?
Dennis: That is very important, as well.
Meg: Yes; very much so. We are on the same page, as far as the rules and our expectations of our kids. Our expectations didn’t shift from girls to boys.
We have three older girls, and our son and they are the same. We expect excellent behavior and good character—not necessarily performance-based—you know, athletics and that kind of thing—but we expect good solid character from all of our kids, and it works.
Bob: You talk about this issue of character. I think, as we continue to unpack it, I am just thinking of boys being called to things like courage, and bravery, and noble strength. There is a lot of what we would think of as masculine character qualities—not that girls shouldn’t be courageous, or brave, or noble—I am not saying that—but there is something about calling young men to a picture of nobility and manhood in their character that I think will resonate in the heart in the 16- and 17-year-old boy.
Meg: It absolutely does. I even go a little bolder in the book. I talk about that the power that a man has—that a young man has—that’s good.
I think that we approach the power we see in boys, and we put it down. We constantly put men down, and we constantly put boys down; but I tell boys: “You have inordinate emotional power—mental and intellectual power—sexual power.” I think that it can be very frightening for boys; but if we say: “No, you don’t need to be afraid of it. Let’s use it because it is who you are, and it is part of your masculine package. Be proud of it; and now, constrain it.” There’s where you help a boy start to feel noble—start to feel courageous—start to feel meek. That’s when you see boys really start to excel.
Dennis: You say, in your book, that it takes a man to raise a man. Now, I want you to reflect on your husband for a second. What does he reflect to your son?
Meg: You guys just don’t let up; do you? [Laughter] My husband reflects a lot to my son. My husband is a man of few words, but he is a man of tremendous amount of action.
He doesn’t talk about prayer—he prays. The kids catch him praying. My son has caught him praying at midnight. My husband is extremely respectful to me. My husband has never sworn to me. He has never put me down—in private or in front of the kids. My kids pick up on that. That makes them feel more valuable. He has really exercised self-control to my son a lot. My son really mimics a lot of my husband’s behavior. When my son was probably nine, he started opening the door for me and for his sisters, without even thinking. I never heard my husband say, “That is what you are to do.” I think a lot of what my son has gleaned from my husband is just by watching him.
My husband believes that his work is his commission from the Lord. He takes his work with his patients very, very seriously. You can just see that as we live with him.
He never complains about his work. He will get up at 3:00 in the morning, and he’ll run out to attend to the delivery of a high-risk baby. He’ll come back in the morning for breakfast; and then, he’ll take the kids off to school when they were young. He didn’t complain.
My husband is a very, very humble man—a tremendous amount of humility—honors others above himself. I’ve never heard him say that to our kids, but they do it. You can tell who is the talker in our family—[Laughter]—and it isn’t him. That is one of the great things that dads do that women don’t—is that you talk less. Kids like it that you talk less.
Dennis: There is less lessons coming from dad?
Meg: Yes. We mothers lecture, all the time. Dads just do it. My daughters will tell me that. We feel like we need to jump in and correct all the time. So, that is a strength that my husband does. So, when he is just doing it, I try not to jump in and lecture. I let him show the kids how to do it.
Dennis: Underline the word, “try.” [Laughter]
Meg: That’s right, “try.”
Dennis: I have been in some of those situations, even as a dad, where I wanted to be able to lecture, as well; but what I hear you saying is the character of a man determines the man. So, as a father, who you are is constantly speaking to your children. They are like little radar units that lock on you; especially, the boys. They lock on their dad and they go, “This is how you do life.”
Meg: Do we have time for one little story?
Meg: How my husband taught my son how to serve and do ministry. We run a soup kitchen in our town. Many years ago, my son was about eight. He was driving home from somewhere—I think they had picked up some Chinese food. My husband pulled his truck into a parking lot.
My son said, “What are you doing, Dad?” He jumped out of the car; and he saw an elderly man—a homeless man—rummaging through a garbage can. My husband took all of our Chinese food, and he showed it to the man, and he said: “What would you like? What do you need?”
The man picked a few things. He jumped back in the car and came home. When I went to serve the take-out Chinese-food, I was upset because my eggrolls were missing. I got very upset. I said: “You forgot the eggrolls! I can’t believe it.” And then, “I sent him off to do this. I should have done it myself, and I would have gotten my eggrolls.” And my son looked at me—[Laughter]
Dennis: Barbara likes eggrolls.
Meg: Have you heard it?
Dennis: I am sorry.
Meg: You know, I really was—and I was blaming this man—
Meg: —and I was just ready to let it rip.
Meg: We do that pretty well, too. And my son spoke up and he said, “But, Mom, Dad gave your eggrolls away.” I said: “What do you talking about? He gave my eggrolls away?” He said: “Mom, Dad didn’t say anything; but there was a man in the park. He was rummaging through the trash can, and dad just asked him to take whatever he wanted. And he wanted those eggrolls.” [Laughter] Now, how large do you think I felt, standing in my kitchen?
Bob: Little bitty.
Meg: Little, little, little, little bitty person. My husband never told me. He didn’t come home and say, “Oh Honey, I had to give your eggrolls away because there was a man who needed them more than you.” He didn’t say a word. He just pulled the car over and offered the man all of the food. He did that kind of stuff routinely.
He took the girls to South America. He ministered to the people who didn’t have shoes—they didn’t have health care. He just brought them along as he brought the medicine. He gave them coats, and he loved them. That is who my son is. While I write the books on how to raise boys, my husband really does it.
Dennis: I am listening to the story, Bob. I am thinking: “He makes house calls. He takes his daughters to South America. I mean”—
Bob: —runs a soup kitchen. Does he wear a cape, too?
Meg: You are talking to the wrong person here! [Laughter]
He doesn’t; but you know what? I will tell you—his dad did the same thing. His dad was a small town GP, who drove around town, with a trunk full of Bibles.
Dennis: Your husband gives away Bibles today, too?
Meg: He gives away Bibles, too, with his dad’s name stamped in the front. This is the way he honors his dad—is he gives away Bibles. Whatever money we have—you know—we have some extra cash, at the end of a month—he buys more Bibles. His dad used to go to prisons, and he would just do this. He was very, very quiet man; and my husband does the same thing.
Interestingly, after his dad died, I saw my husband become so much more like his dad. And I adored his dad. I hope and pray that my son, now, will become more like my husband is. He is a great man. I don’t want to sound sort of Pollyannaish—he makes a lot of mistakes, and he drives me crazy.
Dennis: Could you just give us one? You made him sound so perfect here. [Laughter]
Meg: I got on this bandwagon—that many of us women got on—
Bob: The fix-your-husband bandwagon?
Meg: The fix-your-husband bandwagon: “You are never home. You are never attending my needs. You are just working all the time,” and, “I can’t stand it,” and, “Why don’t you be here for me?”
Dennis: I am glad you mentioned that because Bob and I have designed a fix-your-husband kit that we are offering at the end of today’s broadcast. [Laughter]
Bob: We have?
Dennis: No, I’m kidding. [Laughter] This is a universal need.
Bob: This is wives who are always trying to fix the man in their life. You came to the point where you said, “I have got to give up this quest.”
Meg: But only after 15 or 18 years. The first 10, I figured out what needed to be fixed; and the second 10, I tried to fix it. Then, I just gave up. But I really think, as women, what we do—and I think our culture feeds into this—we look at our husband and go, “Okay, I need you to do this; and I need you to do that,” and, “I need you to fill all this need,” and, “Oh, by the way, I want a really nice house, and two cars, and all this kind of stuff, too.”
It really hit me hard several years ago.
I was talking to a family member—with four children in her home—and her husband works extremely hard—complaining about he was never home, and he never cooked, and he didn’t everything—
I said: “Stop! How can you expect him to attend to those needs when he’s providing all of this for you?” I said: “Your kids need to see that his provision is a noble thing. It is a good thing. By you constantly criticizing it, you are tearing him down in your kids’ eyes. Stop it!” I have called myself on that: “Stop criticizing all that stupid little stuff in him! He is a good enough man.” No—he is not home enough.
Bob: He’s not perfect.
Meg: He’s not perfect. Sometimes, I wish he were more protective of the girls and that kind of thing because he believes they can do anything and everything at any time. Sometimes, it drives me a little bit crazy.
Dennis: But you had a father like that.
Meg: Yes, I did.
Dennis: I mean, he expected a lot of you and had high standards for you. That’s part of why you are doing what you are doing today.
Dennis: I have an assignment for you, before we are done, here. I want you to speak to the moms about the single best piece of advice on raising sons for moms and the same thing for fathers, raising boys. I want you to wrap things up, in just a moment, with that.
Bob: And while you pull your thoughts together on that, let me tell listeners how they can get ahold of your book, Boys Should Be Boys. Then, there’s a book that you’ve written for dads of daughters called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. We have both of those books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
These are books that I think ought to be in every parents’ library—really outstanding books that will help every parent raise their sons to become young men and raise their daughters to become young women who have a healthy sense of what it means to be feminine. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for information on either of these two books by Dr. Meg Meeker. Again, the book for parents of sons is called Boys Should Be Boys; and the book for dads, who have daughters, is called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.
You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the toll-free number: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
And quickly, let me just remind our listeners, Dennis, about the matching-gift opportunity that we are hoping to take advantage of, here in the month of December. Friends of this ministry have come forward and offered to match every donation we receive, during the month of December, three-to-one. You make a $25 donation, and it is $100-worth of benefit to FamilyLife Today, thanks to the generosity of these friends.
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Go to FamilyLIfeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE,” and make an end-of-the-year online donation to support FamilyLife Today;or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone, or mail a check to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223. Of course, please remember to pray for us. Pray that God would provide all that we need and that we’d be able to take full advantage of the matching-gift opportunity that we have available.
Dennis: We have talked today with Dr. Meg Meeker about her book—all about raising boys and helping them grow up to become men. I kind of threw the gauntlet down to the doctor before—
Bob: Boil it all down into one thing; right?
Dennis: Boil it down to a piece of advice for moms. I am actually thinking of my daughter, Ashley, who has five sons; okay? And I am thinking of her husband. What is the single best piece of advice to moms and dads as they raise boys today?
Meg: I would have to say for mothers—it is to respect and honor the men in their lives—their dad. Respect and honor their dad—and your boys will turn out well.
I will say for fathers, who are raising sons—that just when you feel like pulling away, during those teen years—move in because he needs you during the teen years more than ever. He needs to watch you. So, let him watch you be a good man; and he will be a good man.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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