Eric Davis, former Navy SEAL and author of “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons,” is quick to point out in his book, “Our boys need our help.” Even though he has three girls and only one son, he purposefully chose to write about raising men. According to Eric,
I have four children: three daughters— Taylor, twenty-three; Ella, eleven; and Lea, nine— and one son, Jason, twenty. They’re not always perfect, but they are drug-free, self-confident, respectful toward others, and, most important, happy. I treat them equally. I parent them with the same principles. However, there’s a reason why I’ve chosen to focus on boys, on raising men, for this book.
I see far too many dudes getting their asses handed to them— they’re stuck in the wrong careers, not making enough money, not healthy or active, or just plain miserable. For generations, fathers have been slowly slipping out of the parenting game. When the Industrial Revolution hit, we headed away from our homes to make the almighty dollar, and for many years our success as a father was measured solely by our financial contributions— our ability to make a lot of money for our family. Tradition, heritage, and the art of manhood stopped being passed down and transferred to our sons, because we were straight-up too busy punching the clock. Our absence allowed our manhood to get shoved around and redefined by others and by popular culture. While the sheepdogs were away, the punks played.
We must reclaim our role. We must lead by example. How can we expect our boys to become powerful, successful, and complete men if we ourselves don’t possess or act on the tools and the know-how to take them there? This book is as much about us being a man as it is about our sons becoming one.”
LEAD FROM THE FRONT
I was sitting in Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., after having spent weeks in special preparation for a top-secret mission on the opposite side of the planet. Once a week, the CIA would have a plane pick us up and take us into a country where no American was allowed. It would be our job to develop relationships and smuggle in equipment and weapons so that the U.S. forces, and/or the forces that came behind us, could take up arms, move around, or escape.
For this particular mission, I had learned the finer points of staying alive if captured by terrorists, how to avoid spending the rest of my life being tortured in an enemy’s prison, and sophisticated surveillance skills and methods of surreptitious entry that would allow my three-man SEAL element to gain access to just about anything that we wanted to. I had been briefed by every major intelligence agency I had ever heard of, and some I hadn’t heard of, and was on my way to carry out their wishes.
To go on missions like this meant that you were an Advanced Force Operations (AFO) operative, one who conducts clandestine operations in areas typically not occupied by or permissive to U.S. forces or allies. AFO teams go out ahead of all other forces to conduct operational preparation of the battlespace. To be on one of them required a special selection process and, for me, represented the pinnacle of being a SEAL.
As I sat in the airport that day, wrestling with the guilt from leaving home once again, I realized that a large part of being a father is going out— alone—to prepare the environment. It’s often part of our role to leave the family behind to recon and plan the routes to life’s meaningful objectives— health, happiness, purpose, helping others. Particularly in today’s knowledge- fueled and technologically advanced world, fathers must always keep multiple steps ahead of their families to reinforce the right path, to scout out the next step, and to make sure the battlefield has been surveyed and prepared in order to come back and lead our families through it. Then it’s out again and back to lead.
“Being asked about my father is a very difficult question, because there is an inside and an outside— outside being that he is a super-cool elite warrior who’s jumping out of planes in the middle of the night, and inside being his never-ending effort to make sure he spends time with us as a dad and makes us happy. I know, at times, he will feel guilty if he thinks he is working too long and therefore losing time with us. However, we understand. Every one has to work, and the time not with us is when he is working to support all of us.”
— JASON DAVIS
“Over the years, we have come to realize that we can lead our kids, but they have to be the ones to choose what path they want to follow. All we can do is be the people we want our kids to be and lead by example. A lot of what Eric learned in the SEAL Teams was from the instructors leading by example. The instructors can do every evolution on the O Course; they completed freefall school and SQT. They achieved success in more ways than just monetary rewards. They earned their Trident and are now showing the others how to earn theirs. That is how Eric parents, by leading. It is all he has ever known.”
— BELISA DAVIS
Read Next: Interview with a Navy SEAL: Eric Davis reveals why he wrote ‘Raising Men’
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
As a kid, I always knew what kind of man I wanted to be. I wanted to be like my father, a person others would look up to and count on when things were at their worst. Having served in our nation’s military as a marine, he was also the bishop of our church and a captain in the San Mateo County’s Sheriff’s Department. My father stood at a commanding six-foot three with black hair and olive skin, and by the age of seventeen, I had but one purpose in life—to prepare myself to become a sheriff. Just like him. Although I wasn’t old enough to enter law enforcement training, I was anxious to start preparing, and that led me to the military.
In 1990, I visited the Army Recruiting Office, where I learned about the legendary Army Rangers and that I could be a medic with them. Instantly, I signed up in the army’s Delayed Entry Program, since I was only seventeen, thinking that the medical knowledge would make me an even better sheriff. As I learned more about the various military options there were, I became hooked; the amount of training and possibilities seemed endless.
Soon after I enlisted, the movie Navy SEALs came out— yes, the one with Charlie Sheen— and I learned that there was a Special Forces unit that focused on the ocean. Being a surfer, I thought that would be the way to go. I went into the Navy Recruiting Office, and the recruiters showed my best friend, Jay, and me a video about being a SEAL. It looked so gnarly that Jay said, “That looks too crazy.” That was it. The moment I realized that being a SEAL was the most difficult thing I could do, I knew it was what I had to do. We went to the Army Recruiting Office and got let out of our contracts so we could enlist in the navy. (Jay never ended up going to SEAL training. After several years, he got out of the navy and went into the army, where he is thriving as a warrant officer. Leadership was always in his blood.)
Eventually, my ambition grew to a deep, unwavering desire to become three things— a Navy SEAL, a sniper, and a point man. I may have been too young and inexperienced at the time to realize it, but the primary purpose of all of these roles was to prepare and train to a high degree, so that I could go out ahead and lead— just like my dad— and prepare the way for others to accomplish their missions. People would need me to get to where they wanted to go.
When we think of snipers we tend to focus on their ability to engage and eliminate targets from a great distance, which, while important, is not their primary purpose. Before any mission is conducted, shot is taken, or target is assaulted, someone has been there first. A sniper is that someone. He has trained relentlessly to master skills such as camouflage, concealment, and movement, and he has used those skills to access the seemingly impossible areas from which he can observe and report on the enemy. Snipers do the reconnaissance work necessary to figure out how to exploit and dominate their areas of operation. It is only once they have done those things that they serve as an overwatch, guiding and protecting their team as it penetrates in order to take the target.
While being a sniper is not a prerequisite to becoming a point man, it is definitely helpful, because the roles are similar. A point man is the member of a SEAL platoon who walks, climbs, or crawls ahead of the rest. His job is to plan the routes to and from a target, then lead the platoon there. As a point man, it is your primary duty to break new ground— sometimes in the wrong direction— and see what lies ahead, so that you can bring the other members of the team safely past any threats and to their objective, and remain with them to help accomplish the mission.
Walking point— being the first man on patrol, literally the “point” of the spear— requires levels of alertness that, once developed, never go away. Since SEALs primarily operate in harsh and unfamiliar territories, the point man is arguably one of the most exposed positions and is considered very dangerous, because it’s highly likely that what ever threat he comes upon he’ll momentarily face alone, before his platoon is able to get to him.
Similarly, being the point man of your family team means that sometimes you will have to go out ahead and take time away from them. You’re going to have to leave— not to become an absentee father but to be the knowledgeable and relevant father your son needs. If you’re not leading from the front, being the person you want your children to be, then you will not be able to show them the way. You need to be as well as be there or else the whole thing backfires.
I find that men have difficulty with that. Trust me, I get it. As a SEAL father, I used to struggle with leaving my kids behind for what could sometimes be nine months out of a year. I couldn’t participate in Boy Scouts or stuff like that. It sucked to be gone, but sometimes that’s what it takes.
In the world of human intelligence, there’s a concept called placement and access. This means that in order to obtain the battle plans of another country, you need an agent who is already working in the place that contains the plans and has access to the plans themselves. Our sons need the battle plans for a good life, and it is up to us to place ourselves in such a way that we can access the strategies and tactics required to live it. They need us to be their agents in the fi eld. We must infiltrate success. You can physically be next to your son twenty-four hours a day, but if you are not experiencing a good life and teaching him to do the same, then you may as well be gone. Conversely, you can be away from your son for months at a time, but if you’re living a life of example and he can access it— via phone, e-mail, or video chat with you— then this all can work.
There are very few dudes out there just crushing life and being the person that they want their son to be. Too many (at times, myself included) hamster into their home lives, because they are either feeling too guilty about doing what they need to do or, worse, using “ family time” as an excuse not to get out there, get healthy, and kill it in their careers. Being home is valuable and important when it comes to raising our sons; however, it’s not the objective. Where you are doesn’t trump who you are, because sometimes— despite your best intentions— you may not be around when your son needs you most.
Eric Davis’s book,”Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons,” can be ordered on Amazon now.
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