“You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes.”  James Baldwin

Thanksgiving is approaching.  It is a time to reflect on the blessings God has bestowed upon us. 

I am sitting in a deer stand overlooking beautiful Beech Creek in Meriwether County as I write this column.  This is the best time for me to commune with our Heavenly Father and to reflect on what I am thankful for.

This morning, my sons are on my mind.  I am grateful that God gave me two wonderful boys who I love unconditionally.  I am most grateful that they love me in the same way.

I am particularly thankful for these gifts because I have not always been the best father. I am happy that my boys disagree.  However, when I was younger, work, career, and other ambitions were at the top of my list of importance.  As the years have passed, my priorities have changed.

For generations, the fathers in my family taught each child the values of honesty, loyalty, respect, unselfishness, courage, and self-reliance.  We have been warned about the consequences resulting from greed, dishonesty, cowardice, and laziness.  While everyone falls short living up to these character attributes and are tempted by the character defects, by focusing on these aspects of character, the foundation is laid that illustrates the nature of an honorable person. 

But, I have learned that just talking about such things bores even the most attentive child.

During evenings at home, the boys and I will sit for 20 minutes focused on one aspect of character.  Last week, I witnessed an act of true courage.  I told the boys what happened in real life. I smiled as they agreed and disagreed on perspectives to the story.

There are other opportunities to initiate an interesting discussion when part of someone’s character either plays out or doesn’t on life’s stage. For instance, if we are watching the evening news and see a story about someone who rushed into a burning building to save someone, we can talk about courage. “What would you have done in that situation, Reagan?” When I see a child in the community treating a parent or another adult disrespectfully, it can become a powerful learning experience if I ask the boys what they thought of the child.

Perhaps the most important role of being a father is encouraging the boys to fight through adversity.  Life can be tough.  But, by being honest with my boys about their daily challenges and showing them how to pick themselves up after a tough experience, they grow into strong men.  Fixing every problem sends them down the road to weakness and dependency. 

Here’s an example. My friend has a daughter who excels at the piano. She loved music and was excited about learning to play.  When her parents saw that she had amazing musical potential, they asked her if she would be interested in learning from the best.  She enthusiastically agreed. 

They found a teacher who would really push her to achieve. There were times when she wanted to give up after struggling with a particularly hard classical piece. But, with her parents’ encouragement, she stuck with it and developed her playing to an entirely new level. Had her parents just said, “Yes, honey, we know that this is so hard for you. Maybe you could go back to the other teacher,” she would never have felt the joy of really excelling at something tough.

Sometimes a lesson can be learned involving both good and bad aspects of character. 

Every four months or so, the change in my car suddenly disappears.  Based on similar transactions in the past, there is always probable cause to question the boys.  My law enforcement friends taught me how to separate suspects during questioning.  Gerry Word taught me how to cross-examine a witness. 

Even though they think they can outsmart their daddy in most of their creative endeavors, both fold under questioning.  But, when they are honest and take responsibility for their action rather than blaming someone or something else, I tell them how proud I am.

Lastly, I am blessed when I look for times to share my experiences.  I share stories from the day about people who made good or poor ethical decisions and the consequences of those choices. I also tell them about good and bad choices I have made.  Regardless of our age, it seems that we listen to people who are willing to admit when they are wrong.  No one benefits by hearing from someone who only talks about how great they are.

Helping my boys see the importance of character is both a gift and duty. While they will forge their own paths and develop their own unique character, my efforts at shaping the people they become will be worth it. As life develops for all of us, whatever our experience, later in life we often find ourselves coming back to the values that we learned as children.