The greatest knowledge a gentleman can ever acquire is from his father or about his father. It’s moments when you’re completely alone and vulnerable as an adolescent, like facing off with an angry driver that you’ve carelessly bumped into the back of, that the words of your father form the moral backbone of your behaviour.
In my time at University, when I was cast out alone from any familial influence, I often found myself treading on fragile stepping stones as I tried to negotiate my way through adult life. I made mistakes. Many do. But slowly I learnt that what your father tells you is often true to what you experience. From the simplicity of being taught how to pitch a tent, or how to handle money or even how to take a punch, these skills set your son up to endure the experience of adulthood.
So here, gentlemen, are the 5 life essentials that every father should teach his son, and we’ve also included our own recommendations on how you can teach them:
PITCHING A TENT
It’s ‘character building’, a phrase that your father would have repeated profusely whilst he handed you a damp slice of toast and undercooked bacon during a soggy weekend without your mother in Devon. As a young teen it was difficult to understand the benefits of camping; seeing it as a skill only carried out by Bill Bailey doppelgangers, chipper over-eccentric old couples, and families of four where the parents would stay up under torch light playing Scrabble whilst ushering their children to sleep in damp, grassy sleeping bags. Everybody has a dodgy memory of camping with their father that they have firmly lodged to the backseat of their mind.
But yes, gentlemen, camping really is character building. Being able to pitch a tent sparks the inner explorer within you; it creates weekends away with friends, offers an escape from the monotony of modern life and stands as a great testament to your primitive ancestry. Taking your son into the wilderness for the weekend – without his iPhone – may not be his quintessential epitome of cool. But later on in life, that skill you so forcibly engrained into him, will help him greatly.
How: Start by taking him on a weekend away; teach him to pitch a tent (if the skill is alien to you, then click this step-by-step guide), build a fire, and show him how to see nature as a tool for survival and appreciation.
You can picture your father’s look of contempt towards you, that time he gave you £5 to get yourself some lunch. Expecting you to buy a cheap sandwich, you returned with a packet of hundreds and thousands, a Coca-Cola and a Snickers bar, and the £5, like a Houdini disappearing act, was gone. He probably muttered something along the lines of ‘You have no idea’, to which you understood completely, you didn’t know how to handle money.
A vital life skill; how to save it, make it and at times… forget it, being able to handle money will help your son gain independence, be successful, and – rightly or wrongly – happy.
How: On a chance encounter in a tuk tuk with a Singaporean male, a Nationality notorious with its understanding of economy, I learnt a fundamental lesson in approaching money. He shared with me some information his father gave him as a child. The man was 64, ‘If, on the floor, there is a £50 note and a £10 note, which do you pick up?’ he asked me I replied quite innocently; ‘The £50?’ He chuckled, ‘No, you pick both up.’ It was this valuable lesson that taught me the importance and the intelligence one must give towards handling money. What struck me as particularly heart-warming was how accurately he had recited that lesson his father had taught him.
TAKING A PUNCH
In the words of the great Kenny Rogers: ‘Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.’ No, you don’t. But sometimes, gentlemen, you really do have to. Having the ability to fight is important in building confidence, creating independence and controlling aggression. I’m not suggesting that you build your son into an adolescent MuhammadAli that threatens every Tom, Dick and Harry with a fight to the death. I’m simply stating the importance that one must learn in how to deal with an aggressor, and how to potentially avoid a fight.
How: Why not take your son to a Martial Arts taster day and let him get stuck into the training. Personal trainer Eric C. Stevens states the importance of learning and practicing Martial Arts as a key way of boosting a child’s ‘self-esteem and self-respect.’
OPERATING A CAR
A car is a statement of masculine superiority. Turning 17 and finally getting behind the wheel is one of the most exciting, yet gut wrenching, feelings a boy can experience. From turning the key to replacing a flat tyre, a father needs to teach his son the vital skills in order to fully operate his car. Not only does it give a social superiority to him and his class-mates; the car offers freedom, a chance to experience the world, to travel. These are liberties that are vital to a young man’s development.
How: On the first day of your son turning 17, after all the Happy Birthday wishes, the wrapping paper and stale chocolate, take him aside with a firm hand on the shoulder. Let him know that he is about to become a man. Take him for a ride around the block, with him behind the wheel and you by his side. When you feel he is competent, take him to a car park and show him how to replace a wheel. It will help him greatly.
DEALING WITH STRESS
Your son is about to enter the world of stress, not the stress he currently experiences of missing homework deadlines or England Cricket losing on the weekend (they often do), but the stress of adult life. It is important that you teach him the skills needed to escaping this. The night before I was to find out whether or not I had made it into University, my father muttered some advice; ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ Again, it was a father’s word that was repeated in a time of stress.
How: There is no fixed practice for dealing with stress; many use music, writing or meditation to escape. Further, people have experimented with exercise and travelling, all have worked for them. It is something that is wholly individual. Make your son aware that there are ways to dealing with stress and he will find his own method.
Article published in The Gentleman’s Journal [19.05.2015]