Straight Talk Advice

Sep 26, 2012

Son needs Dad — and fast

Dear Straight Talk: I separated from my wife last year after much unhappiness. Our youngest, "Jon", age 16, is living with his mother because she allows a no-rules environment — plus, he blames me for the divorce. Last year his grades sank, he got a minor-in-possession ticket for pot, this summer he was involved in petty theft, and without asking, "borrowed" a family friend's car for the night. I am worried sick. My ex obstructs me at every turn in providing him guidance and I'm the bad guy for being upset. What do you and your panelists suggest? — "Richard," Sacramento, Calif.

Colin 19, Los Angeles Ask me a question

Battling with your ex just means Jon suffers. Work around her. You can find ways to be with your son. Put him on the spot and ask him what kind of person he wants to be. Pose this same question to your wife. Best way to get them both to listen: admit your past mistakes.

Gregg 21, Los Angeles Ask me a question

Best thing that helped me with my father was going to counseling. Getting in a room and talking with him (with the help of the counselor, after individual sessions) made me able to live with him. Push for and create as much time with your son as possible. Time with you is less time for trouble. Find out what positive activities he likes and treat him to them.

Christina 20, Marysville, Calif. Ask me a question

I have seen these situations. He needs a parent who will discipline him, teach him morals, and prove that you care.

Brandon 20, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

I took sides with whoever gave the most leeway — and got in a lot of trouble. Eventually I realized I needed to shape up and emulate someone with a successful mindset. My dad was right there getting me into shape physically, mentally and emotionally. You are his main positive influence. You get a big high five for having the cojones to step up when everyone else is letting him down. Standing up to him shows you care and causes a conflict of interest in his brain between his current lifestyle and what he knows is better. 

Of the guys who graduated with me, the pot addicts split pretty much in half, some setting up for jobs or college, and the others — well, they must've lacked positive role models like yourself. I'd like to sugarcoat this, but they didn't go down a good road.

Make sure to be a great (stern) father through every inch of his journey. Even if he continues negative behavior, don't give up! Eventually, his “buddies” will disappear (drugs, jail, being “daddies,” etc.) and he will need you.

Dear Richard: You son is in huge trouble. He needs to become your top priority — not just in hand-wringing. It's man-up time. Consider his meltdown your opportunity for finding your male power.

Colin is correct that apologizing/admitting mistakes is the number one way to open doors to communication and respect. Drop any need to be “right” and focus on action. Gregg is correct that family counseling can help you get there. Don't rag your son about it yet. Find a good one and go first. (I suggest a rehab counselor; they work with families, divorce being when many kids start using.) Christina's point about proving that you care is huge. He needs proof in action that you didn't divorce him. Finally, I am so grateful for Brandon equating a great father with a stern father. Kids really do want that faithful sternness to lean on — many enter the military for this reason.

Get your backbone on and barge into your son's life. Flood him with text, email, phone, and face-to-face time. Be tireless in your devotion to straightening him out and he will respond. —Lauren

Editor's Note: The two-parent family works so well because women tend to be more sensitive and sheltering in their parenting and men tend to be more stern and brave. It's a great combination because kids need both impulses. Teenagers, especially, need what fathers have to give — that is, fathers who haven't been neutered into thinking that they can't be stern and demand right action from their kid. I'm not talking about corporal punishment — that worsens things — but teens really crave fair, faithful, male sternness. For girls it feels protective and helps them not lose confidence as they develop a woman's body; for boys it wakes them up and gives them a leader to follow, which is step one in becoming a leader themselves.

In the past, teen boys were spirited away by male elders for initiations into manhood. These same men were there in daily life as well, as constant allies and mentors. Today, fathers with a group of male friends who consciously support each other and each other's children, benefit everyone greatly. Our sons, especially, are suffering from lack of engaged male role models.

For fathers reading this, if you're not already in one, consider joining or forming a men's group. In many households, women have all but taken over parenting. I rejoice in the rise of feminine power — and what we really need is collaborative honoring of the masculine and feminine equally. It's time, Dads, to take back your very needed role. —Lauren

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  1. By tameka, age , from charlotte nc on 12/04/2012

    Never smother him try being there for him more often and he will come around sympathize with him. You can’t continue to always tell him he is doing wrong. He will just push you off further and if his mothers don’t care then he will think you are being the bad guy.  Just be there and he might turn around for the better

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