A week or so ago we went to a holiday resort with our kids. The resort has a big water-slide – about three storeys high. Two of our kids were instantly excited about this cool ride! But the other two… not so much.
Facing your fears and overcoming them is something often talked about, but the programming begins at a very early age. Very early in our lives, the connections are formed. We start telling ourselves that we are able to do scary or difficult things. Or we tell ourselves that it’s just too difficult. That we won’t be able to pull it off and therefore shouldn’t even try, as the risk of failure and humiliation is too high.
My eldest wouldn’t go on a water-slide since he was old enough to understand his own fearfulness. For years we would try and convince him to at least try. We would beg, offer to accompany him and try to explain what he was missing out on, but to no avail. He just wasn’t ready. And to force him was no option. It would break the trust between us.
But this time was different. He watched his sisters come down the slide a couple of times and then went up with them to investigate. It took him years, but he was ready to look his fear in the eye. When he came to the top, he hesitated: this was tougher than he expected. But he decided to do it anyway! And when he came to the bottom of the slide – he’s laughter said it all! He probably went down the slide another thirty times after that first “breaking the ice” experience that day.
Then it was our youngest boy’s turn. He’s two years his brother’s junior and had absolutely no interest in trying. It seemed way too scary and he was happy watching from down below. But I knew he would love it if only he tried! So I tried a little psychology: No. More psychology: No. A portion psychology with a hint of positive guilt: Nope. Okay, so I needed another approach: Psychology (to face the fear) plus reward (to make it worth facing the fear) and… voilà! He conjured enough courage to try the slide once, and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the thrill of the adrenaline rush, as prophesied. By the time the reward became due, it was already irrelevant. The real reward was the gift of leading him through his fear, enabling him to “show his fear who’s the boss”. We discussed this concept with our kids when debriefing on the day’s events (as we usually do).
It is so important to instil a mindset of “I have what it takes” in the early development stage of a child. It is commonly known that the first seven years is a crucial time from a “programming” perspective. This is the time when the most important connections are made in the brain. It is therefore a decisive phase to start showing Fear who’s the boss. If this life skill is mastered at an early age, the benefits will manifest exponentially throughout the life of the child.
I am given a glass of water in the morning. I drink my glass at once – not planning for later. Later in the day I get thirsty because I finished all my water in the morning. I decide to walk over to my neighbour and ask if I can have some of his glass of water that was also given to him in the morning. He says yes, but only if I promise to give it back tomorrow. I take a quarter of his glass of water and drink it to quench my thirst.
The next morning I am handed my daily glass of water again. I remember that I owe my neighbour a quarter of my glass and quickly give it back to him. I now have only three quarters of my glass of water for the day. I drink half of it and the other half later the day but remain thirsty because I didn’t have a full glass to start with. I decide to ask my neighbour again. He agrees to give me a quarter of his glass but wants half a glass in return – to make up for his discomfort for sharing with me. I agree and quickly drink the quarter glass of water he gave me. Now I’ve had my full glass for the day but owe half a glass already on tomorrow’s issue.
The next day I get my glass of water, give back half to my neighbour and am very thirsty by noon. You can see where this is going, right? The point is that we need to teach our children, very early in their lives, not to spend what we don’t have because it lands us in trouble. If we need more than what we have available, we need to be innovative and resourceful to channel more of what we need into our direction. We could become the neighbour who has more water available to those who ran out because he invested in a reservoir tank and collected rain water for later use. He planned ahead.
This simple analogy is the most basic form of financial management: Don’t spend what you don’t have because in time it spirals out of control. It comes in many forms in our day and age, but the worst enemy is consumer debt in the likes of credit cards, clothing accounts, revolving loans, car financing schemes (to make it affordable right now) and micro loans (when you’re really in dire straits). These things combined will gulp up three quarters of your daily glass of water, leaving you to slowly commit financial suicide. This evil of instant gratification – to want something right now even if you can’t afford it – is what ruins individuals, families, corporations and even countries in our day and age.
This morning I woke up late – the perfect way to start a morning on a bad foot! As with most mornings, I try to cram too many activities into one morning, despite being late: Prayer and meditation (the day will be even crappier without it), some prioritisation of the tasks ahead (otherwise I’ll get nothing done), replying to overdue emails (before office hours for extra effect), doing a few stretches before my shower (my back kills me if I neglect this) and having a few words with my wife whilst preparing our breakfast protein shake (a quick chat is even more important than the protein shake!). I grab my briefcase before I run out to jump into the car. By now I am really late. Wifey gets a quick kiss and the kids will have to do with a “Enjoy your day guys – love you!” for today as I head for the garage in a frenzy. Once inside, I start the car and head for the driveway. Just then, my one daughter (5 years old) comes running out from the front door. I didn’t give her the hug that she is used to this morning and she’s on her way to demand it! I contemplate a clear and distinct wave as a consolation to her before I drive off – I’m really late and my first meeting starts in 20 minutes! Just as I lift my hand for that cowardly wave, she trips and falls on the hard paving underneath her. Looking up at me, she starts crying – tears running down her cheeks. There and then I stop the car, park it and get out. I run to my daughter, grabbing her into my arms and holding her tight whilst wiping away tears and telling her everything is alright. I slowly drop down to sit on the driveway – legs crossed with daughter on lap – just being with her for a while. The tears start to fade and after a while a smile replaces the frown. We sit there a little while longer, breathing in the fresh morning air, connecting with each other and enjoying our moment as if the world around us does not exist. When I eventually get back into my car, I notice that five minutes have passed. Only five! That’s the time it took to reconnect with my little girl. Was I late for the meeting? Yup – five minutes late. But that five minutes meant all the world to her. I prioritised her over anything else when she really needed me, and the five minutes late at the meeting was forgotten five minutes after the first agenda item was announced. Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
In the 1999 hit movie “American Pie” Jason Biggs plays the character of a sexually inexperienced adolescent whose father attempts to provide him with advice on sexuality by, amongst other things, providing him with “girly” magazines. Paging through erotic books of some sort is something that most teen boys will do if they can get their hands on it, and they tend to get their hands on it sooner or later. The curiosity to explore their sexuality is intense at that age, with a specific focus on the visual. In the movie it is humouristically portrayed as quite normal. Boys will be boys. For some boys this may be quite an innocent way of experiencing something which is still outside of their reach – the forbidden fruit. For others, though, pornography may awaken a very strong urge for more. More of the physical, without spending time developing the emotional complexities forming part of a man/woman relationship. Later, that yearning may grow into a burning, all consuming force for more of this drug called pornography – hard-wiring a boy’s brain to expect what he sees in those porno scenes when he becomes sexually active. The effects may last a lifetime.
Sex sells. It’s true and tragic. The sex industry, and specifically the porn industry is growing globally with an annual turnover of billions of dollars. Human atrocities linked to the sex industry, like human trafficking and forced sex has become well documented. It is an industry that locks on to one of man’s most basic needs – the need for physical touch and intimacy. For men, the quickest form of arousal is by visual means.
The Old Testament story is well-known of King David who was walking on the roof of his palace when he saw Bathsheba bathing. He immediately desired her and, being king, arranged that she be brought to him, even though she was married to Uriah. He then seduced her and later she became pregnant with his child. This act of King David had very serious consequences and even caused him to have her husband murdered in an attempt to cover up his scandalous act. Even David, being a man of God, was not strong enough to resist the temptations of the flesh. Our challenge today is even greater.
With easy access to the Internet wherever we go, porn has become just a click away. Children, and especially boys, are exposed to sexually arousing images at a very young age. We see it in magazines and movies, on television and billboards – it’s all over the place: imagery of the female body portrayed in alluring ways. And because of the fact that men are hardwired to be aroused by imagery of the female form it is easy to understand why “sex sells” the way it does. If King David couldn’t resist it thousands of years ago, how do we think our boys and men will be able to today – especially when it is hurled at us from every angle? It is no wonder that it has (almost?) become acceptable male behaviour to view pornography.
“Boys will be boys”, right? So it’s not entirely cool, but it’s kind of okay and girlfriends and wives try to live with it – even trying to embrace it by participating in the re-enactment of what their men see in the porn movies and then desire to experience. These acts are mostly vulgar, sometimes violent and almost always removed from any form of genuine love and affection. And as the journey into this addiction continues, the need increases for more hard-core stuff to get the same kick – much the same as with any other drug. It is a devastating path to follow. It affects relationships in a very negative way, creating little space for a loving, caring and respectful relationship between a man and a woman. And if you are a Christian (like me) there is just no way you can reconcile porn and Jesus. The re-wiring of men’s brains by porn is a widely discussed subject.
Yesterday I heard one of Beyoncé’s 2008 hit songs on the radio titled “Single Ladies”. We all know the song with its punchy beat. In it, she sings: “If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it…” Really? On “it”? Okay, so the context is that she just broke up with her boyfriend and is trying to make him jealous by really acting out on the dance floor with another guy. These lyrics link on to the tendency to “objectify” the female form. I guess King David also liked “it” and decided to put a ring on “it” by taking Bathsheba as his wife even if it meant murdering Uriah. I wonder how she felt about it at the time. Maybe she was seduced by his power and grandeur – he was the King after all. But maybe she was forced into a situation to which she could not, or dared not resist. To me it seems that she was seized – an object of desire for the King – to be his wife, whatever the cost. The consequences were devastating and I doubt that the two of them could have shared a loving relationship.
I touched on the subject of our girls needing to feel that they are “lovely” in a previous blog. What does it mean to be lovely in this context? As mentioned in my previous blog, Dictionary.com provides the most fitting description of what lovely means: “Charmingly or exquisitely beautiful; having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye; of a great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character.” Merriam-webster.com says “Attractive or beautiful especially in a graceful way.” There is nothing lovely or graceful about porn. Period.
What values are we teaching our boys? Are we teaching them that “boys will be boys” and that men are after one thing and that’s just how we are? And that a woman needs to keep her man happy and engaged sexually even if he subjects her to things she doesn’t feel comfortable with, just to keep his attention? You can read what a daddy had to say to his little girl about her future husband here. He sums it up so strikingly at the end of his letter by saying: “Because in the end, Little One, the only thing you should have to do to “keep him interested” is to be you.” Do yourself a favour and read the letter.
We need to understand that pornography is a drug – no less addictive than cigarettes or even cocaine and heroin. Some people may spend time with it and be able to move on, but some men (and woman too!) may get hooked for life, living with the consequences and sometimes not even realising the damage it does.
Boys may be boys, but real men live in faith and build relationships based on trust, love and genuine affection. This is not a battle everyone can win without guidance and support, but the first step is to understand the danger thereof and be willing to tackle it head-on. Like it or not, making pornography part of our lives have consequences. Guiding and educating our children, and especially our boys, on how porn can harm them and their relationships is of critical importance. Our girls need to know that they are lovely and worthy and not just objects of desire for men.
If we can raise our boys to value the beauty within first, they will more easily comprehend the sacredness of physical intimacy. We will prepare them to experience the bliss of growing old with the same person. Time takes its toll and youth disappears, but when your eyes meet those of your lover when you’ve both grown old, the warmth you feel in your heart will still remain long after the physical body has lost its appeal. My prayer is that my children, and yours, will experience this true form of intimacy with their life partners instead of just putting a ring on “it”.
When we think about leaders, most of us invariably think of a strong charismatic character walking in front – leading the way and showing the rest of the team where to go. In my mind, this leader would possess certain traits or qualities such as wisdom, courage, honesty and integrity. A spot of intuition and a positive attitude would round it off nicely! People want to follow this guy (or girl) because they trust him and believes that he will know what is best for the group.
But what if the leader was to walk at the back of the group? From that vantage point he is able to keep an eye on his flock. Its sounds Biblical, doesn’t it? Intentionally so. In my mind, this is how a true leader feels about his people – family and colleagues alike! When you are leading from behind, you are able to assess the interaction of your flock with each other and with the outside world to understand their needs. This enables you to find ways of meeting those needs – creating an environment of growth and further development – a nurturing environment. Sometimes it will be physical needs – tools needed to get the job done. Sometimes it may be a spiritual need or an emotional need requiring a serious sit-down or just a leisurely discussion over a cup of coffee or a tall beer. Needs can be intertwined sometimes, requiring wisdom and a deep understanding of the situation. The important thing is to know your people. Really know them; their hopes, dreams and fears.
Sometimes a leader needs to move out of the way to let real growth happen.
Leading from behind is not about being subservient or submissive. It’s about spotting people’s talents, nurturing them and pushing them forward into the spotlight so they can shine. It’s about helping them reach their full potential. It’s about giving your flock the opportunity to test their wings and fly. Yes, they may fall – they have to for them to fully master the art of flying. You need to equip them, encourage them and be there to catch them if you see they’re going down – but you have to give them a chance to fall – at least for a while. Chances are they’ll turn out better at flying than you! And if they do, you have been the best leader of the kind that leads from behind!
My father was a military man. I loved him to bits. He was a man of stature; both physically and in rank. I was very proud of him and I can remember specific occasions which made me feel even more proud than usual. Like the times we would drive to his base camp in his big old Mercedes-Benz. We would be saluted by the guards at the gate and by everyone else in uniform as we made our way to the main building where his office was. Once there, we would walk into his big office at the end of the corridor – an office befitting to the senior rank he held with flags on both sides of his huge wooden desk. The walls were decorated with honorary awards of all kinds. Throughout his office, there were all sorts of interesting artefacts: Spent cannon shells, bayonets and scale models of military vehicles. Photographs of friends and foes with a story to each them scattered throughout. His office kept me busy for hours.
He was a senior officer, and I was the senior officer’s son – a title I keenly assigned to myself as if it was a rank in its own right. I believed that my dad could conquer the world! He was able to order the mobilisation of tanks and cannons and other armoured vehicles in a matter of hours. The politics and authorisations around doing was unknown to me, obviously. The way I saw it, he had what it took to move and shake the world! And because I was his son, I believed I had that too.
But I didn’t always feel this way about my dad. He did not always act honourably and principled. There were times when his short temper would get the better of him and he would take it out on me. There were times when he would say things without thinking. Things that he didn’t really mean and would not have said had he thought it through.
One specific day – I must have been about nine or ten years old – my dad said to me: “Why are you not more like so and so?” He was referring to a friend of mine. I can’t really remember what the context was, but I remember that he wanted me to be more like someone else’s son. He wasn’t happy with the way I was put together – with the only me I knew how to be. Or at least, this is how I felt. From that moment on, I could sense my “not having what it takes” in almost every interaction with that friend of mine. In that very moment, my self-esteem was gone – stolen unintentionally.
Although he probably only said it to me once on that specific occasion, it kept replaying in my head, over and over a hundred times. It became like a broken record – something I wasn’t able to stop that kept on repeating itself in my mind. It became part of my inner voice. In my mind, I declared that I did not have what it takes. Why? Because my dad said so. The guy in uniform – my ultimate figure of authority. If he said so, it had to be true.
You may wonder how it is possible for me to still remember that incident of so long ago. But we all have incidents like that. Just get over it, dude! Well, I believe I have. But it probably took me three decades to figure out that I DO actually have what it takes – in so many ways! Ways that are totally unique to me; that taps into my traits, abilities and personality to create a package of valuable service to those around me. I discovered that I could be of great service to man and God alike – very fulfilling experience!
I believe that my dad probably struggled with the same burden I struggled with. I wonder if his father ever took him on his knee and told him that he loved him and that he had what it takes – that he was so proud of him. I doubt it. I never asked him about it because he died when I was 15.
How can a man’s heart be big enough to support the needy and strong enough to defend the weak if he does not know that he is loved? And how can his character be strong and steadfast if someone didn’t tell him that he has what it takes? But there is someone very special that can make magic happen in a little boy – someone who can make him believe that he has what it takes – better than anyone else. That someone is his daddy. No one else will be able to say to him – with more effect and credibility – that he has what it takes. No one else can do it like dad. A son yearns to hear it from his father.
We can share with our boys what it takes to be a man. We can guard and direct their minds so they can grow strong and resilient with a moral compass. We can pray with them daily to teach them where their Strength lies. We can teach them to work hard and play hard and to be brave in the face of danger. We can encourage them to stand up for what they believe in. But all of these concepts will only blossom in a young man whose dad took him on his knee and told him that he has what it takes.
In two of his books (Bringing up Girls and Bringing up Boys) James Dobson talks about a fundamental concept that critically influences the lives of girls and boys. It’s the concept of the inner voice. It encapsulates the essence of what a child needs to hear to grow a healthy self-esteem. It is the basic starting block for him or her to understand their self-worth and sets the table for how they will be treated by others in future. The inner voice ultimately influences us as adults in a very profound way, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Henry Ford is quoted as saying: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.
Dobson explores the inner voice concept by examining the mind of a child to help us understand how this (self)belief system starts during our early childhood and eventually becomes part of our inner voice as adults. This inner voice remains throughout our lives and could develop into an immense catalyst for greatness. But it could also become a massive inhibitor of our ability to achieve our full potential, depending on the character of this inner voice. Amongst boys and girls, that inner voice differs, and the need (or even yearning) for what the voice should be saying is not necessarily the same. In this blog entry we examine the inner voice of girls.
Dobson believes that the most important thing a little girl’s inner voice needs to tell her is that she is lovely. Think about this for a moment. What does it mean to be lovely in this context? To me, Dictionary.com provides the most fitting description of what lovely means: “Charmingly or exquisitely beautiful; having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye; of a great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character.” Merriam-webster.com says “Attractive or beautiful especially in a graceful way.” Wow! This is a form of beauty that speaks to the soul! Something that has to come from God – not a worldly type of beauty as we so often see in magazines and movies. I believe that this depiction of what lovely means could be translated to this: “I am worthy of being treated like a princess.”
I recently came across a letter a father wrote to his young daughter. In it, he expresses his anger at the perception that women need to “keep him interested.” By chance, this dad came across numerous online discussions focusing on how women need to be sexy and how they can make their man feel “smart and superior”. That’s missing the point, in a very profound way. I was as angry as this daddy when I observed the general trend of discussions on forums and in articles where the concept of being lovely is completely absent. Because of this absence, it is so important for us dads to influence that inner voice – to create the reference for our girls to know that they are lovely and worthy.
When I Google “how to treat a woman like a princess” I am overwhelmed with about 13 100 000 results – all steps and guides in letting your girlfriend or wife feel cherished and appreciated. It’s about whispering sweet nothings in her ear or confessing your love to her over voicemail. It certainly is romantic and will put a smile on her face. But if she is lovely, she is worthy of your time and attention. The focus is on the word worthy. She deserves it. And she needs to feel that she deserves it. She needs to know it, believe it and expect others to treat her that way. And if her inner voice tells her that she is lovely, she will believe it. She will know that she is worthy of care and attention. But where does it start? Where do I, as a dad, have a chance to influence that inner voice of my precious little girl?
From the very beginning, a little girl’s daddy becomes a template against which she will measure future interaction with men. If her dad treats her like his little princess – like a lady, and if he makes her feel lovely, she will expect nothing less from her future husband. And as a daddy, I will also expect nothing less from my daughter’s future husband. But when the time comes, I will not have a say in her choice of life partner. I will have to bear witness to the result of the inner voice which I played a part in forming and experience the outcome of the template I created for her. For this reason, I cannot waste a single minute. I need to ensure that my little princess knows – in her heart and mind – that she is lovely.