Former Navy SEAL, Eric Davis’s book,”Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons,” is a unique parenting book because of the way a Navy SEAL approaches parenting and the common issues and problems that can arise. According to Eric Davis, Navy SEALS approach parenting differently,
“…because of the high-threat environment in which SEALs operate, they work hard to discover and learn these under lying principles, which affect their ability to survive and dominate out in the field. Because people’s lives are on the line, they learn not to chase the bull, but to do the hard work and to correct the problem— with no excuses. Many parents don’t realize that the actions and abilities they embody are a matter of life and death, just as much as they are on a typical SEAL mission. The consequences may not be immediate, but they can be just as fatal.”
“Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons,” is available on 5/3/2016 and can be pre-ordered now on Amazon. This will be a perfect gift for Father’s Day.
Building a Team: David Rutherford: The Power of Communication
My class was already a few weeks into BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) when Instructor Samuels directed us into the First Phase classroom for a special brief. We shuffled in quickly but quietly, looking more like prisoners of war than SEAL trainees— heads down, our wet and sandy boots sliding rhythmically across the tiled floor.
As I made my way to one of the chairs— the kind they have in high school, with the desk attached to the side— a high-ranking SEAL officer was standing off in the corner of the room. My heart cramped a bit. I was certain his presence meant that we had fucked something up so bad that the level of hammering we were about to experience was to be so intense that it would require congressional oversight. People do die in SEAL training. Not very often, but it does happen. As we waited, our collective body heat evaporated the saltwater that had become a permanent part of our uniforms, since, in this early phase of training, it was routine for us to hit the surf so often that we never actually got to dry off. The room smelled like a harbor on a hot sunny day.
“You guys are steaming up my class,” Instructor Samuels said quietly. “Go hit the surf and get back. You’ve got sixty-five seconds.” He said it as if we should have already thought of it ourselves. He glanced down at his black G- Shock watch. Ding. His timer started.
Instantly, a hundred dudes cycled out of the classroom, across the SEAL compound, through the parking lot, over the sand berm, and into the salty ocean. We made it back in what had to be close to sixty-five seconds, but judging by Instructor Samuels’s face, we had just stacked yet another failure that we’d no doubt pay for later.
Instructor Samuels, all 5′ 11″ and about 180 pounds of him, stood at the front of the room. He was like a young and extremely fit Richard Gere, but with a light southern accent. “To be honest, you guys aren’t even worth talking to right now, because most of you will quit by the end of the week,” he said in a straightforward yet friendly tone, “but Mr. Smith is heading off to Africa, so we had to push up his brief.” He stepped aside, and Captain Smith crossed to the front of the room. He was shorter and leaner than Samuels, with a mustache, and looked more like a presidential candidate than a SEAL.
“How are you fellas doing?” Captain Smith asked, even though he knew the answer.
“Hooyah,” we responded collectively.
“So have you figured out what this is all about yet?” he asked.
This time, just a couple of guys answered, “Hooyah,” which meant I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I felt like I just had to respond.
Captain Smith and Instructor Samuels exchanged a what a bunch of dumbasses look, and then Captain Smith surprised me with what he said next.
“I’m here to explain why we are doing what we are doing to you.”
This caught me off guard, considering the first part of our SEAL training was all balls to the wall, pedal to the metal, a not for me to ask why but for me to do or die type of thing. If the instructors said to dive into the cold ocean, you dove in and stayed there until you were hypothermic. If they said to carry your buddy on your shoulders, you carried him until you dropped, and then you kept crawling with him strung across your back. For them to stop and dial us in to what was going on was meaningful. I realized that they wanted us to be thinkers as well as doers— a paradigm shift from typical military training that would later change my life forever.
Hooyah: a form of release; an expression of mind over matter, of attitude and mental self-regulation. It has many meanings, but these three are among the most common: Yes, Ican do it; Right on; and You’re a fucking cocksucker.
BUD/S training consists of approximately six months of field training divided into three phases:
- Basic Conditioning Phase: SEALs are taught to rely on themselves and the presence of others. Threat: You can inconvenience others and hurt yourself.
- Combat Diving Phase: SEALs are taught to rely on themselves and their dive buddy. Threat: You can get your buddy kicked out of training or killed.
- Land Warfare: SEALs are taught to rely on their team to produce nearly impossible results. Threat: You can kill the entire class.
READY TO LEAD. READY TO FOLLOW. NEVER QUIT.
Do SEAL candidates ever quit? Yes, of course they do, upwards of 70 percent of them. First Phase weeds out a lot of guys for a lot of reasons, but at the core of the matter, it’s because of their inability to see past, or override, their personal preferences and desire for immediate comfort.
Do fathers ever quit? Yes, and I don’t just mean that they walk away. I’ve heard the expression Once a father, always a father, but I’ve come across many dads who have thrown in the towel—it just doesn’t look like quitting. My definition of a father is someone who is there for his children, someone who spends a certain amount of time doing homework, having fun, and offering advice. By that definition, a father who chooses to work too much or to spend the majority of his time hanging out with his friends or at the bar instead of spending time with his children is not really acting like a father. Has he quit? No, not officially. However, at his core, he quits every time he allows his personal preference and desire for immediate comfort to take him out of the game. Any father reading this knows what I’m talking about.
What about the father who is home all the time but would rather binge-watch television shows than play a game or go for a hike or a surf? Has he quit? No one’s prob ably going to call him out on it, but he has. Instead of being there, he’s just there. This is important because in SEAL training when a candidate quits, he is removed from training so that he can no longer do any damage to himself or the class. However, when a father quits, he’ll likely still be present in his children’s lives and can inflict harm, particularly if he ignores his kids or damages their self-esteem and confidence by being emotionally removed from them.
The good news? If you’ve stepped out—of SEAL training or of fatherhood— you can just turn back around and step up. Both offer second chances.
There’s an award given in SEAL training that’s called First Time, Every Time. It’s given to guys who went all the way through training without failing anything. (There’s also an award called Fire in the Gut that usually goes to the guy who had the toughest time but made it through anyway.) Because of the dynamic and random nature of SEAL training, very few guys earn this award. However, at graduation, they receive no special recognition for never having failed a single evolution. Nothing. They get the same graduation certificate as the rest of us.
We all trip on our own dicks from time to time. It’s not about perfection. It’s about learning from our mistakes and picking ourselves up when we fall down. Never quitting is about always trying again. And this book isn’t about a group of guys who flawlessly executed fatherhood. (I’ve found the books that contain only flawless execution to be bullshit.) It’s about the dudes who had their share of failures and are sharing the best of what they got.
Captain Smith covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but one thing that has always stuck with me was his explanation about how each facet of our training was designed not just to build us as individuals but to assess and build our ability to function as a team. Over the years, I’ve come to think of SEAL operations and parenting as evolving in a similar way, as a series of progressive phases that continuously increase in both complexity and consequence. The demands of fatherhood change over the course of our children’s lives, from the very basic to the very complex, and a family’s ability to weather those changes comes in large part through its capacity to work as a unit. In the end, the ability of SEALs and parents to dominate is determined by our collective training, communication, and overall desire to achieve. Teamwork!
SEAL TRAINING: Week 1 to Week 7
PARENTING: Newborn to Age 2
First Phase of SEAL training is called Basic Conditioning Phase, which is like telling a fighter you’re going to basically condition him to take a punch by repeatedly hitting him in the face with a hammer. It’s a bit of a cruel and deceiving understatement. The object is to train a SEAL candidate in an environment where his mistakes and failures can do little harm to others. It’s designed to bring men to their true limits and identify and eliminate those incapable of making the journey—or unwilling to make it.
First Phase takes place at the Center— a small compound that’s protected by fences, surveillance cameras, armed guards, and the SEALs who run the training. It’s not much to look at; the only thing that is striking about it is that there is nothing striking about it.
Anchoring the Center is a two story, dirty-looking beige stucco building that stands alongside old military cinder-block offices, creating the feel of a prison yard without the bars. In the center of the buildings is what looks like a large courtyard but in SEAL parlance is known as the Grinder, named for its rough-painted texture, which has the propensity to sand the skin right off your ass as you do thousands of sit-ups. If there weren’t a hundred SEAL trainees working out on it, you’d only know it by the small swim fi ns painted on the ground to indicate where students are supposed to line up for physical training (PT).
In front of the Grinder is a small blue wooden platform, which is where the instructors lead PT, and all around the platform is a breezeway held up by metal poles that have metal crossbars welded to them for doing pull-ups. Beyond the compound are old three-story barracks, where trainees stay during First Phase, and a parking lot, which leads to the beach. There you’ll find another small blue wooden platform, from which instructors lead beach PT, and a tower with several large ropes you’ll climb up and down until your hands, the best I could tell, start to bleed. Just past the ropes is a steep sand berm and then finally the cold Pacific Ocean. SEAL training is really quite basic and primitive— pull-up bars, sand, cold water, rope. There’s not much to it. It flies in the face of modern and overly technical fitness methodologies. Here, you just do the work, and the work works.
During First Phase, SEAL students are constantly tested— physically and mentally. They must withstand extreme duress under pressure and observation in order to make sure that they, as individuals, are fit— and a good fit— for the team. The instructors endlessly push the students while watching their personal and group ethics to make sure that each man is stable, reliable, and able to maintain attention to detail whether sleep- , body- temp- , or energy-deprived. The belief is that only in this pressure cooker of physical and mental assault can a man’s true will— what he’s really committed to—be observed.
Throughout First Phase, SEAL trainees undergo continuous physical evolutions. You run obstacle courses while dry, and you run obstacle courses while wet. You paddle small boats through waves that slam you onto the sand, and you paddle small boats through waves that slam you onto the rocks. In the water, out of the water, again and again and again. In a day, you do thousands of flutter kicks that result in making the act of lifting your legs temporarily impossible. You do push-ups on the cement, on the sand, and in the water. You do sit-ups with giant logs on your chest and pull-ups until the skin is ripped from your hands. In the water, out of the water, again and again and again. You run hundreds of miles without rubber boats grinding the skin off your head and hundreds more with rubber boats grinding the skin off your head. I can remember swimming for so long in the cold, open ocean that— and I’m being serious here—my balls quit on me and tucked themselves into the warm safety of my pelvis. (The crazy thing is that I was so committed to what I was doing that I just kept going, accepting the fact that they might be gone for good!) All of these physical evolutions occur under the close watch of the instructor staff. They are always working to identify any sliver of mental instability or weakness. Their aim is not to evaluate SEAL candidates when they’re at their best but to evaluate them at their worst. Nobody gives a damn how you act when you’re winning.
Trainees repetitively cycle through these evolutions until muscle failure, until they absolutely can’t do them anymore. And then it starts all over again— all day long. It’s very much a 9- to-5 hammering like in that old cartoon where the sheepdog checks in, beats up the coyote, and then checks out after a full day’s work. The instructors want you to recover overnight so that they can hit you again the next day. That’s what makes SEAL training so difficult, the constant push/rest— the instructors bring you to your brink, and then they let you recuperate so that they can push you again and again. The instructors want you to know how to mend yourself when you get injured, and to do that, they give you the chance to let your body rest so you can rebuild, like a rubber band. If you stretch a rubber band farther than it can go, it will break and be done. The painful ordeal ends quickly. However, if you pull the rubber band only as far as it will allow, then rest, and then pull it again, then rest, you can stretch it farther and farther each time without breaking it. That’s a whole lot of what they do in BUD/S.
Sugar cookie has a unique meaning for SEALs. In BUD/S, if an instructor says, “Sugar cookie,” that’s an order for you to hit the cold surf and roll around in the wet sand until every inch of your body is covered. As a result, any PT exercise— running, going through an obstacle course, or simply standing still— can feel like torture as the salt and grains of sand itch, burn, and wear down your skin. It’s like they took the notion of a beautiful, sweet sugar cookie and turned it into a sick and twisted method of pain and despair. Sugar cookie, my wet, sandy, and chafed ass!
Like SEAL training’s First Phase, the beginning stage of parenting can be the most physically demanding. New parents lose countless hours of sleep (by the time we had our fourth kid, I would pretend I was sleeping so Belisa would get up) and endure nonstop physical evolutions as they chase those little bastards up and down every hallway, sidewalk, and mall. Instead of getting wet and sandy, they’re getting puked and shat upon. Every trip out of the house is a perpetually changing obstacle course that is sometimes done wet, and other times done wet. And then you throw in crying babies, walking down the hallway for the fifth time in the middle of the night hoping you don’t trip on the baby gate and fall down the stairs (or hoping that you do), spiked fevers you can’t seem to break— the constant doubt of not knowing what to do or when it will end.
The First Phase of parenting is about having no control. It’s not a time to ask why but to do or die. Although you signed up for this shit and are totally committed, the circumstances feel beyond you. Bottom line: You’re getting your ass handed to you on a regular basis. You’re in survival mode. You think to yourself, If I can only make it through this next evolution, I’ll be okay. And then you think the same thing again during the next evolution and the next until somehow, against all odds, your commitment takes you through to the other side, gaining a little confidence each day, and you find yourself in the next phase, which will bring with it its own set of challenges and opportunities but also its own rewards. If I were to give advice to someone going into SEAL training, it would be the same thing I’d say to someone having a kid: Maintain your composure, don’t get hurt, and never quit.
Eric continues to break down parenting into phases similar to the phases in BUD/S Navy SEAL training. Check out the other two phases of parenting by ordering your copy of “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons,” on Amazon now.