I’m a little late to the Adrian Peterson discussion, and that’s probably good timing. The media frenzy has settled a little bit, and we’re left with the more productive work of reflecting on ourselves.
First, let me say that this is not a rant against Adrian Peterson. Primarily, this post is going to be about fathers and the unique role we have in disciplining (word chosen intentionally) our sons.
I think it’s impossible for men to understand childbirth. Not just because of the pain involved, but also because of the brain and body chemicals present during labor and throughout the entire time a mother is carrying her baby. To a lesser degree, I think there are aspects of the father-son bond and discipline relationship that are very unique. Some of it seems alien and incomprehensible if you haven’t experienced it first-hand.
Just in case you were getting worried, let me say up front that I do not defend or excuse whipping a four-year-old boy repeatedly until he bleeds or punching a child in a car seat. That’s not discipline.
Let’s talk about terminology. In child development circles, the term “discipline” isn’t popular anymore. It has largely been replaced with “guidance.” Guidance accurately describes what great teachers, coaches, youth workers and many others who care about children engage in on a daily basis. There are all sorts of trendy and effective ways to do this. A few of my favorites are Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline and Jim and Charles Fay’s Love and Logic.
The word “discipline” has taken on a negative connotation. It generates thoughts of punishment like spanking, whipping, switching, isolation, withholding needs, causing pain, physical abuse and in extreme cases causing severe bodily harm, even death.
In truth, discipline isn’t any of these things. I believe that healthy discipline is one of the most positive, affirming, and life-giving things a son can experience from a dad. True discipline is the core of what the father-son relationship is all about. In fact, for boys, I will go as far as to say that it is what sons want MOST from their dads. Let me explain.
Discipline provides the skills and strength we need to succeed. Discipline shows you a vision of your best and encourages you to get there. Discipline breaks an impossible goal into manageable steps. When we’re living and behaving in ways that hurt others and ourselves, discipline gets in our face and says, “Enough!” When we are slacking at life, discipline kicks us in the butt. When we disrespect others and ourselves, discipline holds a mirror in our face and says, “YOU are better than THAT.”
The father-son relationship is a rare container for discipline. When a dad does it right, the power it holds for a boy is incredible, thrilling and transformational. It can refine and support you like nothing else can. It gives you the courage to do anything.
On the flip side, the pain it carries when a dad drops the ball on this sacred role is devastating. Hurtful words from a father or father figure are searing. Neglect is withering. Abusive, torturous actions can send boys to a very dark place. I’ve been with boys who were there, and cried for ones who couldn’t see their way out.
Any time we, as fathers, choose abuse, fear and rage, we risk sending our kids down that road. It’s an awful exchange. It’s like losing our home to the bank when we have a winning lottery ticket in our back pocket.
When we use violence to train our kids it’s like trying to slice cheese with a chainsaw. It doesn’t do a very good job and makes a horrible mess of things.
None of us had perfect fathers. Some of us had rotten ones. The good news is that no matter where we start from, there are plenty of people and resources out there that can help us get better. There’s always room to grow. Contact me if you want a few ideas.