Magic pixie dust for great fathering. Ok, that stuff doesn’t exist. There is no shortcut or gaming the process of raising boys to men. It is hard work, by design. But effort alone won’t get the desired results. Fathering needs to be deliberate. How does a dad purposefully raise a boy? This is the question Jon Tyson’s book, The Intentional Father, addresses.
Intentional is practical
Tyson’s work is highly practical. Key tasks are explained and supported from Scripture and research. The reader is not left to think, “OK, I need to do that, but how?” Each chapter is marked with an “Intentional Steps” section. In these pages, the reader is led in a style similar to a workshop to process the chapter’s contents and formulate concrete steps.
For example, in the third chapter, the reader is asked to think forward to a day when their son leaves the home to strike out on his own. Rather than delaying that moment as long as possible, Tyson guides us to face this inevitability. How do you want your son to be prepared for that day? The workshop pages invite the reader to slow down, think, and write answers to the prompts, “What do you want your son to know? What do you want him to be? What do you want him to be able to do? What experiences do you want him to have?”
Writing down these answers can provide a plan rather than a laissez faire approach to what sons get from dads. With these goals in mind, this loose plan can minimize the pain of inconvenience. For example, if you get a flat tire, you are stuck. Being stuck is annoying and irritating. However, if you have identified changing a tire as something you want your son to be able to do, this inconvenience has become an opportunity to work your plan. This difficulty is not just a curse but also a blessing. The intentional father begins to have eyes that are always looking to get his son in the classroom of life.
Avoiding the “man-ager” rut
“Man-ager” is a term Tyson and his son use to refer to those who by chronology and biology are adult men, but their way of life is too childish — too much like a teenager. Tyson provides sage advice to avoid or dislodge from the rut of persistent adolescence. He presents this guidance as five shifts: 1) from ease to difficulty; 2) from self to others; 3) from whole story to part of the story; 4) from control to surrender; and 5) from temporary to eternal.
These five qualities are critical for both men and women to thrive in a life that is lived to please God. They are central to a biblical worldview. If boys are unaware that these are the views God is intending to develop in them, they will not only be surprised when these occur, but they will resist the change they are designed to foster. For example, if boys are unaware that a core change in their view of the world needs to be from ease to difficulty, they will likely misinterpret all hardship as poor planning, unjust people, or hatred from God.
Dads don’t need to plan difficulty; it is baked into life. Rather, an intentional father is ready to take a hard experience and invite his son to consider what he really wants. Does he desire the tough stuff to just be over, or does he desire the good things like perseverance, humility, and dependence that hard things can grow in us. The boy that embraces that difficulty will not only happen, but that it is also designed for his good, will be less likely to put off the increasingly hard responsibilities of adulthood.
Likewise, the shift from temporal to eternal is a mark of those that are maturing. For example, dads should take their sons to funerals. They are events that force us to face our mortality and consider what kind of legacy we desire to be remembered. End-of-life moments expose what is temporary and awaken our hearts to consider what is eternal. Furthermore, this change in mindset can aid in curtailing the temptation to look for complete satisfaction in this world.
Boys that embrace the eternal are not surprised when things of earth are only partially fulfilling. They become men who resist chasing satisfaction in the creation and are less prone to anger when they don’t receive such contentment from the temporal. These men begin to see all temporal things as road signs and billboards pointing their longing of satisfaction to the One who is eternal.
Tyson argues for dads to create a growing realization in their boys that God has invited him to leave the center stage of his own small story and take a role in his grand epic story of redemption. Too many boys, and man-agers, are trapped in an illusion that a life that is largely about their own glory, pleasure, and power. The intentional father is actively leveraging experiences to open his son’s heart to see beyond the three-foot circle he lives in.
A proactive approach to parenting
The author identifies critical worldview formation that readers may have been putting off. What is a person? What is true? What is good? What is beauty? What is ethical? What happens at the end? People have been asking and trying to answer these core worldview questions for millennia. God has given clarity on these types of questions in his Word. Waiting for a son to eventually “figure it out” is not taking fathering seriously. The world will give plenty of answers to these quarries that won’t make your son flourish.
Tyson posits that a father must be intentional with the views his son leaves home with. We need to help boys develop a theology of sex, a theology of money, a theology of work, and a theology of satisfaction — not simply telling them what to think but walking them through the long-suffering process of helping them to think. For example, a son who has wrestled with questions of God’s design for sex and God’s boundaries will have a level of protection from the culture in which he will live. That culture will try to catechize the boy into its godless, self-determined view of sexuality. Intentional fathers guide their sons to consider what God has said and prepare them for challenges that the world will raise.
Additionally, God is a worker, and in making man in his image, he made man to be a worker. Because God works, work has intrinsic value. A man does not avoid work. His dream is not to win the lottery and never work again. Rather, a man experiences God’s goodness through work. He grows in discipline, dependence, and humility before God. A theology of work helps a young man see through the warped view of work his culture is trying to sell him.
Tyson highlights the need to be purposeful in the threshold moments of life. Life has a series of firsts. First cell phone, first exposure to pornography, first girlfriend, first break up, first exposure to drugs, first exposure to the LGBTQ world, first exposure to death, first job, first exposure to racism, first time with a driver’s license, etc. Fathers are assured that all of these will happen. Being purposeful in preparing sons for these events is loving and wise.
In order to be intentional, Tyson encourages the reader to embrace the practice of initiation. Most cultures throughout history recognize that age 13 is a period where change happens in the heart of a boy. Though preliminary work can be done in younger years, early teens is when Tyson recommends that fathers really need to get to work in a particular way. Readers are led through a series of exercises to recall watershed moments and gifts in their own journey toward manhood. A deliberate plan to mark the transformation of your boy to a man is a high task that ensures he will get the blessing from his father that every man needs.
Tyson’s work is most helpful as an example to inspire rather than a blueprint to replicate. He admits as much, indicating that what he did was tailor-made for his son, in their region of the country, and with their resources. These variables will likely differ for readers. Tyson gives several details about the specifics he and his son, Nate, did such as regular early morning meetings. Meeting at the same time with one’s own son is not as critical as the regular meeting at a time that best fits you.
Don’t skip the step at the end of each chapter. They function like mini commitments and targets. Deadlines help us complete tasks and uphold responsibility. We can experience them as stressful and weighty, but they are usually necessary. You sometimes get to audit a class, but no one gets to audit fatherhood. Even those who abdicate nearly every fatherly task and opportunity leave indelible marks on sons. In addition, no one is sufficient, all on their own, to the task of raising sons.
There is more than enough grace from Jesus for your son to develop better than the work you put in. Being an intentional father is a means the true and better Father uses to change you. With this volume, you will get to make a plan that is custom fit for your son. God chose you to be his dad. Roll up your proverbial sleeves and get your hands dirty in the heart of your son. It is work. Expect to be frustrated, tired, and at a loss sometimes. But look ahead to the man he will become, knowing all your effort in the Lord is worth the result.