BY JASON WILLIAMS, ENGLISH TEACHER, WASHINGTON MIDDLE SCHOOL
I know I’m a month late for Father’s Day, but this topic just popped into my head thanks to my son. So, this article is going out to all the “fellas,” the big ones and the little ones. If any ladies feel like they need to read this article, just know that I will deny ANYTHING in here that divulges the secrets of, or incriminates my gender in any way. Guys, let’s face it, we’re strange. We’ve been strange since birth! I’ve never noticed it before, but now that I have a five year-old son running around, I can see why I left my father speechless on so many occasions.
However, I am very fortunate because a five year-old is not nearly as complicated as a teenage boy – those guys are REALLY strange! As an 8th grade teacher I have had the opportunity to live in the world of teenage boys for the better part of a decade and, during that time, have worked with hundreds of them. Let me tell you, they do not get any easier to relate to no matter how many of them you come in contact with! No matter what we say or how much we may believe it, none of us remembers exactly what it was like to be a teenage guy nor should we ever assume that we know exactly how any particular teenage boy feels.
One of the biggest problems with “our people” (a.k.a. “dudes”) is our difficulty with communication. You mix an adult male with this deficiency with the complicated teenage version of the species and you have a recipe for a whole lot of awkward nothingness. But fear not, there are chinks in the armor of these adolescent hombres and my father knew how to find mine back in the day.
My father is my hero and I am fortunate that we are very close. I will admit that he is not a professional communicator by any means, in fact my mother most definitely is laughing deviously while she reads this, but whenever a situation required “fatherly wisdom,” he always hit the nail on the head. How did he do it? Well, if Dad were ever to go on tour as a professional father trainer, I think these would be his five sure-fire credos.
Work conversations into other activities. Guys don’t like to sit down for those awkward, tedious father/son chats. There’s no reason why there needs to be a special “talking time.” Start the conversation while doing a mutually enjoyed activity: fishing, working on the car, tinkering in the basement, driving to a ball game, or WHATEVER it is that you two like to do. When you are both in a comfortable environment, it is so much easier to open up to one another.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. There is no reason why you need to cover an entire subject in one conversation. Children, especially teenagers, need to know the risks of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and on, and on, and on. But why would you try to cover the entire Health class textbook in one sitting at the kitchen table? Find a good real life situation that you can use at an icebreaker (such as watching a TV show where a character is drunk, or a visit from a friend who is a heavy smoker) but just talk about that specific piece of the topic. Guys have very short attention spans and you want to make sure that your teenager’s mind doesn’t wander while you are still talking about important things. So keep it brief and direct.
Don’t force your beliefs. My dad and I see eye-to-eye on most things. But there are a few hot topics where we agree to disagree. That is more than acceptable. Times change and ideas don’t stay consistent from one generation to the next, but my father never told me which way I should think. He never told me his way was the right way. He never hid his beliefs from me, but he never preached them to me either.
It is okay to watch your child struggle. Dad always has my back and if there is anything I need his help with, all I need to do is ask and he is there in a heartbeat. However, in most cases, I needed to ask. Letting your teenagers figure things out on their own helps build stronger, more independent adults. If you feel the need to swoop in and save the day, by all means, do it. But if you know your teen will be able to prevail with a bit of perseverance, let them achieve on their own. Then you can be the first one to pat them on the back and tell them that you are proud.
Know when you don’t know. Everyone knows the stereotypical dad things to say: “When I was your age…” “Well what I would do…” etc. You know, the father-knows-best blarney. However, sometimes my father didn’t know best and, more importantly, he had no problem telling me that. In those cases, he did two things; he either questioned me about the unfamiliar situation or, a lot of the time, said nothing. If he weren’t familiar with my situation (like when I was getting my Masters degree from an online program), he would ask me about what my problem was and why it was such a big deal. He would ask me what my possible courses of action could be to make the situation better. A lot of the time, just helping him understand where I was coming from would give me enough answers of my own that I could fix the situation. Still other times when things were out of both of our control, he just let me unload on him. What advice can you give someone who can’t even pinpoint what is bothering them? At those moments in life when I feel like absolutely EVERYTHING was going wrong and I was at my wits’ end, my dad just listens; he doesn’t give advice, he doesn’t judge, he doesn’t pretend to be an expert. He just acknowledges that my feelings are justified and that he would help if he could. Sometimes that’s enough.
So, as I sit here watching my incredibly peculiar five year-old run laps around my house in his underwear making one of his Transformers sing a line from a Rolling Stones tune over and over again, I shudder a little to think what life is going to be like when he hits his teenage years. But, I will just follow the example set by my father and I know my son and I will both get through it in one piece (more or less) and hopefully he will remember what I did for him when it becomes his turn to take up the torch of “daddyhood.” And, in conclusion, for those of you wondering whether or not next month will feature an article of mine on how to communicate with girls, don’t hold your breath. My wife has informed me (on many occasions) that I am definitely not qualified to report on that subject.
Jason Williams is an 8th grade English Teacher at Washington Middle School. He is a life-long Chautauqua County resident along with his wife, Holly, and their son, Drew. He holds two degrees in education specializing in instructing adolescents.He is the owner and director of Lights of Broadway Productions and an avid supporter of Team DJ the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.