Strengthening our sons – Part 2

This is the second part of an adapted extract from Rob Pluke’s new book, “A Son to be proud of’ (Part 1). As a father of three boys it is impossible for me to read any of Rob’s work without thinking ‘I wish I had known this earlier’. His words are infused with a practical wisdom distilled through years and a variety of experience.

The territory Rob invites us to explore is not a landscape for the fainthearted. Based on hours of conversations with both fathers and sons this literature is grounded in real life and so are its solutions. If you love your son then read his book and prepare to go ‘off road’, away from pre-navigated routes to masculinity.

Enjoy this excerpt.

To build real-deal, go the distance strength, we have to be prepared to nurture it from the ‘inside-out’. We need to stay close to what our sons want and feel, and we need to show faith in who they are. This, I believe, helps our sons build the muscles they already have.  

Going the distance (Photo credit: James Fleming)

Understanding effort

The alternative of forcing an unwilling child into a more active, effortful attitude can lead to years of frustration and fall-out between father and son, without any clear benefits. So what do we do?

Effort is important but it is also a complex emotional accomplishment. It involves hanging in there even though you’re tired, even though you’re nervous, and filled with doubt. When you ‘go for it’, you take a risk. You put yourself on the line, be it writing an exam, playing a match, or starting a new course. You may succeed but you may also fail.

As such, a range of emotional skills are involved. Can we tolerate frustration? Can we defer short-term comfort for the sake of long-term dreams? How do we deal with nerves? And how do we cope if things go badly once we start? Do we lose it? Do we act as though we don’t care? Or are we able to hang in there, and keep on doing our best? And if we lose? Do we blame the opposition, the umpire, the teacher? Do give up? On the academic front, can we tolerate ‘not knowing’, and being wrong? Can we ask for help? Are we able to push through the tough sections? 

A three-step framework

A lot of emotional sub-skills are involved when it comes to trying, yet we don’t always see them. If we want to help our sons persevere when the going gets tough, we need to be able to work at this subterranean level. Here’s a three-step framework we can use:

  1. Understand feelings – If we want to cope with difficult feelings, it really helps if we are aware of what we are feeling. Emotions such as anxiety, fear, frustration, and self-doubt, are best dealt with when we bring them into the light. If we don’t know what we’re feeling, we’ll make hasty, defensive decisions, and pull back from challenges. However, if we take time to think and speak about what we’re feeling, we start to access our pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain helps us calm down and make wise choices.   
  2. Contain feelings – Emotions are a normal and important part of life. However, they are fast and powerful, and sometimes overwhelming. In order to stay smart and responsive we need to learn how to accept our emotions without losing our bearings. If we lose the plot we’ll be prone to regrettable choices and actions. So, in the midst of our emotions, we need to learn how to calm down and remember to breathe.    
  3. Move forward with wisdom – Children need to see that solutions lie on the other side of difficult emotions. Getting upset is OK, as long as we calm down enough to focus on the next step. If we don’t learn this, we’ll think ‘getting upset’ equals a disaster and then instead of working towards solutions, we might shut down or get angry. Unless we learn how to go through bad feelings and towards solutions, our bad feelings will boss us. So, when our sons are upset, we want to teach them how to access their intellect, creativity and optimism in order to make brave choices. 

From truth to strength

In these ways, our sons learn how to go from truth to strength. We don’t want them to pretend, to ignore their fears, or to feel ‘unmanly’ when they cry. Rather, we want them to discover a strength that exists in the midst of fear. If they don’t learn this, they’ll end up being afraid of their feelings and negative emotions with weakness. This could lead to a brittle kind of strength, one that’s based on denial and avoidance.

Understanding doesn’t mean dwelling-on, or dramatizing. It just means registering, or realizing where our sons are. If we listen, we can help our sons to break their problems down into achievable steps. With our support, our sons can transform threatening, overwhelming situations into doable challenges. As fathers (and mothers), we are then able to say “you can do it!”, and our sons will actually believe us.

Rob Pluke’s new book, A Son to be proud of is now available on Amazon.

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