In this episode of The Universal Man podcast, Grego and Pricey welcome a couple of special guests – Craig Murphy and Brendan Hawes aka Hawesy – to explore the great adventure of raising boys to become men.
In this episode we talk about:
The importance of being involved in your son’s life and his activities, but not overstepping the mark
Having realistic expectations around his development and not trying to impose yours on him
Why boys are risk-takers up until their mid-20s and appreciating that they are developing the ability to control their emotions
The importance of humour and why the dad joke is the best tool you can use!
“Have an untapped level of understanding, and an even greater level of patience.”
Key points from the episode
It doesn’t matter how competent or confident you’re feeling professionally. If you’ve got a teenage boy, there’s always something that’s going to bring you back to earth really quickly, and you never really end this journey of being a dad, and being a dad to sons.
One of the coaches of one of the rugby teams at one point in time, said to me, “It’s really important to be there and to be around.” And even if you’re involved in being a linesman, or being a manager, or just bringing the fruit along, or just being a spectator. It’s about making sure that you’re putting in the time and the effort.
One of the rules I’ve had over time is try and pretend to be an umpire. If you’re on a footy field, an umpire won’t call up every single rule breaking, he’ll let things flow a bit. But if there’s foul play or a really clear issue that’s when you call it up. So you’ve just got to let it ride a bit, let the game play. And that really resonated for me, because I think I was calling up things way too fast. And then just getting frustrated and stuffing it up. I realised that most of the things I was trying to get involved with, just blew over anyway, and were just a distant memory within seconds.
You get to a point where you realise that you’ve got to have realistic expectations of where your son will get to. There were periods where I may have wanted to do the whole Good Will Hunting moment where I get to sit my son down and have these wonderful moments where I share all my amazing wisdom, which clearly he sees through it. But that’s assuming that we are dealing with someone who’s rational and mentally mature.
Teenage boys, particularly early teenage boys, their brains haven’t developed yet to really have a rational conversation. Their whole prefrontal cortex is still developing. And so if there are problems, I think like what Hawesy was saying, sometimes it’s just knowing when to actually shut up. And if they’re safe, just let it go, and not try and insert your will, or your wisdom, or talk your way through a situation to what you think is a good outcome.
Learn to let go and not bite on things. And humour works a lot, because it’s a great way of just diffusing tension. But I think it’s just learning where there’s boundaries, which is a bit like the umpire thing. And not actually trying too hard to influence an outcome, one way or another.
It’s 26, 27, before that fully develops in men. That means that more of their decisions are based on emotions. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain, it’s the most advanced part of the brain, I guess, that does all of our thinking. High order thinking, logic, rational judgement. I can remember the slide, but it was an image of a volcano. And they said, this volcano erupting is your son’s brain. So it’s the monkey brain. It’s the reptilian brain that’s really firing emotional stuff. So you get the emotional outbursts that are actually not in proportion to what you’d rationally think should occur. But it’s not rational. It’s not being regulated by the prefrontal cortex. So yeah, that ability to rationally or logically think your way through, generally speaking, is something that develops a bit slower for men or young boys.
So that’s why risk-taking and those sorts of things can be a bit of an issue. Because they just don’t think through the consequences of action sometimes. So again, your job, if you boil it down, I remember part of the advice was if you can get your son to a point where they’re not at risk of harming themselves or others, they’re not dropping out of school, they’re not stealing stuff, and they’re not drugs or whatever, they’re not taking those risks, that’s a pretty good place to be. Because a lot of people aren’t in that position. So if you’ve got your child or your son to that point, give yourself a pat on the back. He’s not living maybe the life you thought was going to happen, but that was about me, really, not about him.
My son played sport a lot as well, but they weren’t sports that I was all that familiar with. But what he was really fortunate about was joining a tribe of people. So great coaches and other men, who I guess was the tribe. It gave me a lot of comfort that, well, if he wasn’t going to talk to me, he was going to talk to others. And the reality is he’s actually spending more time with them than he was with me. So he was doing a sport that took a lot of time, a lot of training, and a lot of commitment. And that’s fantastic, all good things to have. But he was working very, very closely, under pressure, with other men. And good men.
I’ve used this a number of times: “I’m not your mate, I’m your dad.” There’s a stage with all teenage boys where you ask them a question and they just grunt back at you. It’s that grunt stage, closely followed by the eruption stage, where they yell and scream and slam their doors, and run to their rooms. And at that point in time, you’re going to have to be the dad, not the mate.
The perfect dad is a pain. There is no perfect dad – he does stuff up, and there are inconsistencies. Because if you’re perfect, you’re a bridge too far for them to reach.
And the other legacy that I hope I’ve continued with all my children, is the dad joke. You haven’t been successful as a dad through the teenage years, unless you can make your teenage boys cringe in front of their mates with a dad joke of dubious humour, and some of the time, bordering on inappropriateness. “Do you want to know the secret to dad jokes? Very small repertoire, constant repetition!”
One of the things my dad always tried to do was say “yes” as often as he could, because there were going to be times he had to say no.
You can say something funny that’s not sarcastic, then it’s a way of building some bridge to what they’re doing.
There’s lots of long silences with teenage boys as well. Part of my journey with one of my lads, was to take him to sports training at school, early in the mornings, on every single morning, during winter. And there wasn’t a lot of conversation in the car.
You’ve got to say to yourself, “Slow down, mate. It’s their pace, not yours”.
Somebody said to me many years ago that their goal with their children is to create functioning human beings that leave the house, but then want to actually come back. So you want teenagers, in particular, teenage lads that go out and make all the mistakes, and do all the things that they want to do, but are genuine people that eventually move out, that eventually stop eating every single item in your fridge, and then what’s in your cupboard. And then go out into the world, but then want to come back home for Sunday dinner, or to get mum to wash their clothes.