Some handful of years ago, I wrote an article for a different online platform that offered up some lessons that I thought were valuable to teach to our young sons. Really, it was just a list of things I tried to teach my own sons, and I offered it up for everyone else’s consideration. Some of my “Navy SEAL Dad’s” ten lessons for boys included taking care of one’s siblings, not hitting girls, respecting your elders, and tending to your faith, among a few others.
I read back over that article recently, and in addition to the devastating realization that my kids were growing up way too fast, and that my time as a “dad of boys” was quickly coming to an end, I also thought it was time to offer up some lessons for the “dads of young men,” or really, just for parents of adolescents in general. My boys are all teenagers now, and these are the lessons I hope they will take with them in the next few years, when they go off on their own to start their own lives.
1. Don’t settle
When it comes to the earliest adult decisions you will have to make — picking a vocation, a college and/or major, a trade school, even making a decision about love and marriage — you have time and you should never settle for “good enough.” This is the time in your life when you can afford to make mistakes, to strike out, to try and fail at different things. Search and explore and find the one thing you love more than any other — that college major, that career field, that man or woman — and hold onto it. Don’t become a firefighter, or enroll in pre-med, or enlist in the Navy just because your mom or dad did one of those things. Find your own passion and then latch onto it. If you love something, it is far less likely to constantly feel like “work” instead of your labor of love.
2. Be kind
It’s so easy in today’s world to be an asshole. It takes no effort, and society seems to encourage (or at least tolerate) it more often than it used to. It sadly seems like so many of us have made a conscious choice to live according to a mantra of “F your feelings” when it comes to our neighbors and those around us (in both the real and virtual worlds). Instead of living this way, make it a point to be kind to strangers and friends alike. Take the time to hold a door open for someone. Make a point of saying hello and asking someone how they are. Be empathetic and make an effort to understand where people come from. It’s not that hard, and you will probably even feel good doing it.
Related: Embracing the lost art of empathy
3. Stand up for what’s right
There are times when being kind has to be put aside. When you see injustice, or bullying, or a situation in which someone has transgressed some invisible moral or civil redline, stand up for yourself, and for others. Don’t stand by and allow someone to be victimized, especially if that person is in a position of relative weakness. Defend them and defend “the right thing.” You will usually know what it is in the moment, and don’t ignore that voice sounding the alarm in your head. It’s never wrong to do and fight for the right thing.
4. Learn practical skills
No matter what choices you make in life when it comes to higher education and a career field, learn practical life skills. Learn to fix small things, to do some plumbing, to build a simple structure, and to perform basic home and vehicle repair. With YouTube, you can really learn to do anything. Before you call for help, read up on the issue, and try to tackle it yourself. You can always call for help when you need it, but make an effort to experience the satisfaction of trying it first yourself. You might even fix the problem, and that feels pretty good.
5. Figure out who you are
For your whole life up to this point, you have had your parents telling you how to live, what to do with most of your life, what is important and what isn’t. It’s time to start making those decisions on your own. You need to decide what you want to spend your energy, effort, and time doing and being. This seems like a nebulous piece of advice, but it really is as concrete as it comes: What you spend the majority of your time doing is what you largely will be defined by. Don’t just fall into a routine, but be purposeful in how you spend your time. Definitely set aside some of it for your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
6. Learn to listen
As I tell my sons, we men in particular are admittedly lacking at this skill. We often want to offer advice and solutions instead of just listening to someone and trying to hear them. Being a better listener is good advice for any young adult, though, man or woman. Practice doing this and you will be rewarded with people’s affection and trust. When someone feels like you listen to them, and make an effort to understand them, then they will value your friendship and reciprocate with the kind of support you might find yourself needing some day. Take the time to really hear people and care about what they say to you. They are giving you the gift of friendship and trust.
7. Keep respecting your elders
Finally, this one from the “lessons for boys” stays on the list for young adults. You’re grown up now, but that does not mean that you get to stop respecting your elders. Listen to their stories, learn from them, show them the respect that they deserve, and never forget that they’ve likely done all or most of the things you’re about to try yourself, with varying degrees of success. Show them the respect they’ve earned for having lived their lives and for taking the time to teach you, care for you, and guide you in your own life. You’ll be one of those elders, too, one day…believe it or not.
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