I saw Ben not long ago on a bright, crisp autumn Thursday in Iowa. Ben is a business client of mine from Mason City. I see Ben exactly once a year when he places his annual order with me. Our actual business takes but a minute or two, and then we’re off to talking about more important things—kids and boats and golf, topics that middle-aged Midwestern fathers like to talk about.
When Ben inquired about my son Jasen, his eyes lit up when I told him that my oldest child was enjoying his freshmen year at Iowa State University, which happened to be Ben’s alma mater. “How ’bout those Cyclones?” Ben asked, proud that his football team was having a banner season.
We jabbered on about Iowa State football and the big game coming up on the weekend. “Yeah, I’m taking my son Derek down to see the Texas Tech game on Saturday,” Ben said. “I usually go down to Ames for one game each year, and I really like the atmosphere of those 6:00 P.M. games, with the crisp, autumn air and popcorn under the lights. And what a great match-up this year too! Oughta be a wild one!”
“I’ll say,” I offered. “With Tech’s offense averaging forty points a game, the ’Clones should have a real track meet on their hands.”
“Yep, they always put on a good show down there,” Ben said. “My son’s really looking forward to the game. He’s in eighth grade now, you know. You have one in junior high too, don’t you?”
“Correct. She’s in eighth grade too. Ah, junior high! Weird times, dontcha think?”
That casual comment struck a chord with Ben, who used my comment to shift the conversation in a different direction “You know, Fred, you’re so right about that. It’s funny,” he mused. “I’ve always felt close to my kids. But now, with Derek in junior high, I can’t really read him any more. Well, some days I can, like I’m reading his mail, but there are many days that I look at him and I just can’t read him at all.”
I chuckled. It seems as our children age, it is our sight that diminishes! This hardly seems fair, since there will never be a time when we need our insight to be sharper. Our parenting trek enters our own personal “final frontier” when adolescence arrives. But unlike television’s Star Trek, we must boldly go where many have gone before—the teenage years! As Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear might say, “To their puberty…and beyond!”
And though you may have trouble reading adolescents as you’re warping your way into uncharted space, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read one thing loud and clear: Your teen needs you in the captain’s chair on this voyage. Your kids need your input, your leadership, your heritage, and stories from your youth. They need to hear from you immediately, because many teens bounce into adolescence having no idea what hit them. When that happens, they feel…desperate.
Trouble is, too often they remain desperate. They don’t get our input because our subspace communications with our kids have failed.
Why is that? Is it because they’ve changed so much as they’ve moved into adolescence and have become harder to read, jamming communication?
Nope. These changes are just a normal, glorious part of God’s plans for our kids’ growth into adulthood. That’s why our teens aren’t the problem. The real problem lies with our sins as fathers.
You heard me right. Among fathers, what is the most common sin in this world? If you’ve read our first book, Every Man’s Battle, you might suspect I’d name sexual impurity as our number one transgression. If we were playing Family Feud, there’s no doubt that sexual sin would rank as one of the top three answers. But what is the number one most common sin of the fathers?
The answer is: failing to make the hand-off.
What do I mean by hand-off? For those of you who grew up in Antarctica, the hand-off is a football term for when the quarterback hands the football to the running back, hoping that he’ll escape the clutches of the defensive linemen and break free for a long run. The hand-off is a great metaphor for what we’ll be discussing throughout the rest of this book, and it’s all laid out here in Scripture:
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
JUST HALF A MINUTE
How’s your ball-handling? Do you feel like you are—or have been—successfully handing the ball to your son?
It’s our belief that too many parents are fumbling away their chances to make a successful hand-off. Recent studies have replicated what earlier studies reported years ago: Fathers are not interacting with their children. When fathers were wired with recording devices and sent home to tape their interactions with their kids at night, the average American father spent about thirty seconds in direct conversation with his children. Thirty seconds! Little is happening as we sit, walk, lie down, and get up in our homes.
Bart Starr, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers dynasty of the sixties, believed that one of his most important responsibilities was the hand-off, an aspect of the game that few football fans notice. Starr practiced for years placing the ball into the runner’s hands at just the right spot, at just the right time, with the same precision and pressure. Why? To insure that his running backs could fulfill their roles too. The responsibility for the hand-off lay with the quarterback, never with the running back.
I quarterbacked my high-school team for three seasons, and I worked extra snaps after practice to perfect the proper hand-off. Like Bart Starr, I was determined that no player on my team would ever wonder if he was going to get the ball when and where he should.
My days of gridiron glory are long past. But, in a sense, the art of the hand-off has never been more critical for me. Why is that? Because I have an eleven-year old son on my team, ready to run for daylight, and I’m responsible for getting him the ball.
We’ve huddled up, and Michael’s play has been called—adolescence is upon him. The ball of truth has been snapped, and as the quarterback and leader of my team, I must get the ball into Michael’s hands. God is opening holes in the offensive line of life for him to safely pass through. But if I’m sloppy with the hand-off or a split second late, the gap in the line may close, stacking him up at the line of scrimmage until an enemy wave overwhelms him.
But how do I accomplish this hand-off? What do I tell my son about how his transition from boy to man is going to go? How do I tell him all that I’ve learned from God, my pastors, and my mentors? What do I tell him about my mistakes and what I’ve learned from them? Most difficult of all, when do I tell him? Life is just so doggone busy.
Beneath the roar in the stadium of life, the crush of school performances, swim meets, and piano recitals, how can I even be sure that Michael is hearing my signals? If you are remotely like those average fathers who interact just thirty seconds a day, you can be sure he isn’t. It’s not because he has hearing problems; it’s because you aren’t talking enough.
You haven’t had much practice making that hand-off. You’ve got to get talking. For now, beginning in junior high and through early high school, our boys really want to hear from us. So many things are confusing them, and so many things are new.
When my firstborn son, Jasen, was eleven years old, I stumbled onto a process that opened my life to Jasen and gave him a steady voice that he could hear and understand as he entered this strange, strange world of puberty and adolescence. I got him the ball.
Jasen is in college now, charging through the opposing lines on the field of life, the ball of truth safely tucked under his lanky arm. As he runs for daylight, a lump comes to my throat as I whisper a line from a favorite song: “Godspeed, dear runner. Carry it home!” I know Jasen will not fumble.
What about your little runner? It’s tough for a man to talk to his son about sexual issues. To raise the subject fights against that time-honored code that almost every male we’ve known has followed, which is called the Sexual Code of Silence.
The code states that it’s okay to joke about sex or even lie about it, but other than that, it’s your solemn duty—as a male—to keep silent whenever a serious discussion about sex takes place.
Everyone seems determined not to talk about the eight-hundred-pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the living room. Maybe it is too embarrassing, but it doesn’t help that we adults often have a fuzzy picture of what healthy sex is all about. If we’re confused, imagine what is going on in the heads of our pubescent sons! They must be walking around in a twisting, swirling fog.
Even the best fathers we know fear discussing the topic. They can’t bring themselves to convey the truths they long to share with their sons. My friend Kenny, a father of three, once told me, “I remember when I was in high school and my father and I were driving home from a fishing trip in southern Missouri. I noticed his hands tightening their grip on the steering wheel, and then he said it: ‘Son, you’re getting older. Do you have any questions about girls?’
“And in my great wisdom at age fifteen, I emphatically said, ‘No!’ And nothing else was said about the topic the whole trip. In fact, the subject was never brought up again. I didn’t know anything then, and I’m still learning years later. What a loss,” Kenny concluded.
Without a decent “How to Talk to Your Son About Sex” example set by our dads—and with the Code of Silence hanging heavy like ankle weights as you prepare to walk down this path—most of us haven’t a clue about where to start this discussion.
What should I say to my precious boy?
How much do I tell him?
Do I talk about dating?
Do we discuss touching girls where they shouldn’t be touched?
Do I have to talk about masturbation?
Do I tell him about my own sins in high school and college? That might strengthen him, but it might weaken him too. How do I know?
Our fears and our inadequacies urge us to think of “the talk” as a one-time event, a towering mountain that must be scaled as quickly as possible. Mustering up the courage to begin climbing is difficult enough, but if our sons say they don’t have any questions, we’re happy never to leave base camp, saying, “Okay, but if you ever do want to talk about it, let me know.” We instinctively know that those questions will never arise again, so we are only too happy to kick back and watch the sun settle behind the horizon. But look again at Kenny’s words.
“What a loss,” he said. We cannot do that to our sons.
That’s why Stephen Arterburn and I have decided on a two-books-in-one approach to this topic. Book 1 is for parents only and teaches an easy, easy way for you to approach any topic with your sons (and daughters, too), including sex. It involves reading through books with your kids, and while that thought may evoke unpleasant images of a class at school, nothing I do with my kids is more fun or pleasant.
More important, as you read along together, you’ll get to interject your thoughts and your stories and your growing-up advice and your values, completing that call from God that has, for so many of us, been largely ignored in the crush of life.
Many of us men find it difficult to connect deeply with our kids, because our own fathers did not do so with us, and it doesn’t seem to come naturally. Book 1 will teach you how to build bridges of connection with your kids. We want you to learn how to teach sexual truth to your sons, but we also want you to learn how to connect with any young human being in general, whether boy or girl. With this goal in mind, I’ll be sharing stories of going through books with both my sons and daughters to give you a good feel for the process.
Book 2 gives you a chance to put what you’ve just learned into practice. This portion of the book is divided into two parts that provide timely, age-appropriate material about sex to read through with your son. We’ll help you jump-start gripping discussions with your young man, teaching you how to say things and when to say things. Part 1 is for eleven- and twelve-year-old sons who are approaching the outer boundaries of puberty but are still largely sexually unaware. Part 2 is for thirteen- to fifteen-year-old sons clearly within the grasp of puberty or heading out the other side. You’ll find that sharing this information is easy and fun and may be the most enriching thing you’ll ever do with your son.
Okay, I saw that flicker of doubt come across your face. I know what you’re thinking because I’m a guy too, remember? Maybe you’re the typical overcommitted, somewhat hesitant, little-bit-guilty dad who knows he should do something about this adolescent sex stuff with his boy. Perhaps you’ve picked up this book and skimmed the contents, and now you’re thinking, Wow, this looks like quite a bit of prep work to do this with Johnny. Maybe I better find a different book.
Don’t worry. Only a small portion of Book 2 involves any sort of prep work.
Yes, I could have given you fewer chapters, but I prayed long and hard about what I believe God wanted me to write here. I’m confident that the Lord wants this to be far more than a “here’s how to talk to your son about sex” type of book. He wants to change the way you communicate with your son on every topic, not just the birds and the bees. He wants you and your son to be tight, and you will be tighter after you go through this book with him. Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle will affect your relationship with your son forever, and your ability to communicate with each other will never be the same.
I also believe this book can alter your son’s Christian destiny. When we wrote Every Man’s Battle and Every Young Man’s Battle, we wanted to help free those who had already fallen into sexual sin. With Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle, our goal is to keep young men from falling into sexual sin and wasting years spinning their wheels in the slime of sexual impurity. As his father, you are his first line of defense against sexual impurity, and it is your responsibility to teach him what you know. We’ll help you do that.
In line with our goal to keep them from falling, we will be less graphic in our word pictures than we were in Every Young Man’s Battle, allowing you to teach your son at his own level. We also will not discuss masturbation in this book, since we don’t want to add new temptations to the lives of the young men who haven’t yet discovered the practice. You can bring it up on your own if you choose. If you find during your discussions that your son is already up to his neck in this quagmire, you might pick up a copy of Every Young Man’s Battle, where we cover the topic exhaustively.
BUT WHAT I F DAD’ S NOT HOME?
Many boys grow up in homes without fathers. I did. My parents divorced when I was eleven years old, and though Dad continued to live in the same town, the divorce blew a gap in our relationship that he could never quite bridge when trying to share the truths of human sexuality with me. If you are not living with your children—for whatever reason—I believe this book will help you bridge that gap, providing a great, healthy interface through which to pass these truths.
If you are a single mom, then you’ve come to the right place. You’ll be able to easily use this book with your son as well. Single moms find it especially daunting to talk to a son about male sexuality. It has to be really hard, but as the only parent on duty, it’s up to you, and we’re here to stand behind you and encourage you to give it a shot.
Since you, as a single mother, aren’t male and can’t share the male point of view from stories of your own life, we will be transparent about our teen years and our father years so that you will have stories to share with your son.
Relax in the fact that we are targeting boys in the eleven- through fifteen-yearold age group. That doesn’t mean Preparing Your Son wouldn’t be useful to older teens, but we give you the age range to inform you that this book will be less sexually graphic than Every Man’s Battle and Every Young Man’s Battle. That should make it somewhat easier for you as a single mom.
In conclusion, our teens need to hear from us. And we need to hear from them. When that happens, relationships are deepened.
Let’s chart a deeper course with them and see what we’ll find.
So…ready to get started?
Stepping Through the Crack in the Door
I stood silently in the dark upper hallway, frozen by fear as I peered intently into the light slipping through the crack of Jasen’s bedroom door. He sat in the middle of the floor, focused tightly on the Game Boy he was playing. I knew something he didn’t…a man with wild, desperate eyes was quietly sneaking up behind him to shatter his peaceful evening.
That man would be me, his father.
Oh, he is having so much fun…I won’t disturb him now. I’ll come by tomorrow night instead, I reasoned to myself. That sounded like the best course of action. So good, in fact, that I’d followed that line of reasoning four nights in a row already.
Dallying in the darkness, I realized that sooner or later I was going to have to make my move. Just how many times could I sneak up the hallway, peek into his room, only to slip back down the stairs into the warmth of the family room without making a sound? And besides, just what was I going to do about that faint but unmistakable odor following me with every step? I smelled a sissy lurking about.
Yes, that’s right. Me again. Would I ever go into Jasen’s room and have our talk?
I was scared—a big, fat yellow-bellied chicken. How do you discuss puberty with an eleven-year-old boy? I sure didn’t know how, and I wasn’t too anxious to learn, either. But I knew I was going to give it a try sooner or later. I had to.
I thought back to what had happened a year before on a clear, warm summer night.
Forty-four guys climbed wearily onto a bus one midnight, and we rolled in the darkness toward Boulder, Colorado, for a stadium-style two-day Christian seminar.
Greg Laurie opened the seminar that Friday evening with a salvation message.
While I’d been saved years ago, I was still struggling with some deep issues regarding my relationship with a dominant father. I’d been praying that God would give me some answers during the trip out west, but I figured I’d have to wait for some speaker the next day to deliver the goods. Not some hip preacher from Southern California doing an altar call before a packed house at Folsom Field on the campus of the University of Colorado.
But Greg quoted Revelation 3:20 as one of his texts that night: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” And then, while referencing this verse, he made a simple statement in the middle of his talk that just blew me away.
“God just wants to put His arm around you and have a steak with you,” he said. In that moment, God’s revelation hit me like a comet.
God wants to put His arm around me and cut into a juicy steak with me? You’re probably scratching your head and thinking, What gives? What’s the big deal with that? All I can tell you is that when that sentence was mixed with God’s power into my spirit, years of pain, agony, and frustration over my dad began to crumble and melt away instantly. My heavenly Father saw me as His son, and He didn’t care a whit about what I achieved or what I did or if I were successful. All He really wanted was a relationship with me, a chance to just sit down with me, put an arm around me, and have a barbecue steak with me. I didn’t have to prove myself. I had real value already.
And you know what? From that moment, it seemed like every other one of my significant relationships changed too. As far as I was concerned, the seminar could have ended right there with Greg Laurie’s talk, and it would have been well worth the long bus ride across six hundred miles of farmland and open range.
But one of the most electric, emotional experiences of my life happened the very next night. As the strains of the last worship song echoed off and died against the Rocky Mountains that shadowed over us, the host introduced the next speaker, Dr. James Dobson, the president and founder of Focus on the Family. I knew that Dr. Dobson accepted only one or two public speaking invitations a year, so I knew what I was about to receive would be a special gift. But I had no idea how special.
As the sun fell deeply behind the jagged mountains and the darkness of the night settled in, James Dobson stepped onto the stage. Fifty-two thousand men stood and cheered for upward of ten minutes—I’d never seen anything like it. My emotions flooded over every bank. I suddenly realized in that moment that nearly everything I knew about being a husband and a father had come from James Dobson.
It was as if my own cherished grandfather had stepped out on stage, a grandfather who had taught me everything he knew because he loved me so. I was beaming, cheering wildly, yet tears of pride just poured from my eyes. What a moment.
Dr. Dobson was funny, poignant, and wise with his words, but I’ll never forget his final statement: “God only gives us so many times to go fishing with our kids…so don’t miss a one of them. Thank you.” He smiled to thunderous applause, and then he disappeared behind the stage.
I was still basking in the glow of that conference a week or so later as I poked through the aisles at a Christian bookstore. I stumbled across James Dobson’s pocket paperback Preparing for Adolescence, and remembering that special weekend, I picked it up and thumbed through it. The book had been a classic since its release fifteen years before, and though I thought I had read everything Dr. Dobson had written, somehow I’d still never gotten to this book. I bought a copy and took it with me on a flight to Dallas the next day. A short, captivating read, Preparing for Adolescence was easily finished on the return flight home.
Closing the book, I quietly laid it on the tray table and shut my eyes. I was pumped. What a great book this would be to read with Jasen someday! I bought him his own copy so that we could go through the book together when it was time for me to explain puberty and the “facts of life.”
One great night in Boulder and one great read on a plane…and nearly a year passed until I figured that it was time for me to follow through on my great idea.
That’s when my troubles in the hallway began, the botched nights stacking up on each other. Up the stairs, up the hall, down the hall, down the stairs, over and over again.
And now tonight, for the fifth night running, I stood in the dark hallway, sweat beading my brow and moist fingers gripping two small books. My heart was pounding, and my mind was racing. Would I go in?
Dr. Dobson’s voice seemed to be whispering, “Go on in! Your son needs you!”
Jesus’ voice seemed to whisper, “Haven’t I asked you to train up this precious little boy? I’m counting on you, my friend.” In my other ear, though, I listened to the whispers of doubt. I also knew that if I didn’t follow through, my wife, Brenda, would only shudder and mercifully say, “Did you chicken out again?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”
“I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want to do it.”
At least your intentions are good, I said to myself.
But in the end, good intentions didn’t turn the tide for me. It was my nose that tipped the scales in that dimly lit moment. I couldn’t stand that sissy smell in my nostrils. It’s now or never. I’m going in!
With my shaky courage covering my solid trepidation, I marched right into Jasen’s room. Slightly startled, Jasen looked up from his game. With a smile, I handed him his copy of the book, expecting a deep, resigned sigh as it dawned on him that Dad was enacting another “plan.”
Settling down onto his bed, I opened my copy and said, “Jasen, I know this might feel a little uncomfortable, but you will soon be entering a very interesting period of development.”
“Oh yeah?” he responded. “I’ve heard of that. It’s called perverty, right?”
With much effort, I suppressed a laugh. “Well, it’s actually called puberty, Son.” I paused and then chuckled. “But actually, your word might be a better fit, come to think of it.” Out of the mouths of babes, you know?
Pushing ahead, I proceeded, “Anyway, puberty is going to be bringing a lot of physical changes in you. You know how Uncle Brent is always tickling you and checking for ‘grass’ under your arms? Well, the grass is about to start sprouting.
And you’ll be getting a beard, and you’ll have to start shaving like me, if you can believe it.”
His eyes lit up at that one.
“But there will also be mental and emotional changes, Jace. It is hard for me to put those into words exactly. For instance, you’ll likely soon experience more peer pressure from your friends, and you might even care more about your friends’ opinions than mine for a while. And because all the other kids are going to be going through this and trying to find their way through it too, you’ll likely also face embarrassments and hurts as you go through puberty. I just want to prepare you for it, Son, so you aren’t caught off-guard.”
I paused, waiting for the dreaded sigh and the roll of his eyes. Instead came the shocker.
“Dad, I really think it’s good that we’re going to read this book together, especially right now,” he said.
Dumbfounded, I could only stare at him. I couldn’t believe my ears. Unable to muster a cohesive thought in that moment, I eventually blurted, “Why?”
“Well, I’ve been kind of scared lately.”
Scared? My son? “Scared about what, Son?” I asked, perplexed.
“It’s just that it’s been harder and harder for me to say no to my friends lately. I’ve been kind of scared—it’s been harder for me to stand up to them.”
A humbled quiet covered me and misted my eyes. Jasen was hurting and needing to hear from me. That made me even more determined to get him the ball—to make a clean hand-off.
Excerpted from Preparing Your Son for Every Man's Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey Copyright © 2003 by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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