Okay, so this is not a special operations, or SEAL, or CIA-specific article, nor does it apply to current events, political intrigue, or international affairs. It has nothing to do with terrorism, or the rise of China, or the re-emergence of Russia.
This is a much more important subject.
This article is about how to mold a boy into a man. Whether you currently have a son, or might have one in the future, you have an awesome responsibility ahead of you. You have to raise a responsible, contributing, successful member of society. You have to teach a boy how to take care of himself and his family, to be a husband and a father. You have to teach him how to lead, and follow, and love, and respect others. You may even be teaching him one day to defend our country, or possibly even play a part in leading it.
Now, do not misunderstand me, all you people with daughters. You have an equally awesome duty to your beautiful girls. You probably have an even harder job, I am willing to wager, in raising them. I honestly haven’t the slightest idea, because I was not blessed with a daughter. I am pretty sure I am not cut out for one, so God probably spared all of us the trouble. Who knows? At any rate, do not take as an insult my focus on boys. I am simply unqualified to provide you with any thoughts on raising a daughter. I wish you all the luck in the world, though, in doing so.
Some might also—rightly—point out that I am not qualified to offer advice on raising sons, either. I have had no professional training, nor have I read a bunch of books on the subject, admittedly. I probably should have done so, and could surely use some advice on the subject. I can only offer what I know, most of which I learned from my own father, who I personally think did a great job—definitely the best that he could. Any of my own failings as a man—and there are many—are no doubt of my own doing, and not owing to any lack of example or teaching by my own father.
So, having put all of those caveats out there, and without further ado, I humbly offer for your consideration the lessons I teach my sons to help them become men. Please add your own input into the comments section below, as I am sure there are many more lessons worth teaching.
1. Take care of your siblings. This is rule one. If you cannot stand up for your brothers and sisters, you have failed. There is no way around this fact. You should die fighting for your family, if it is so required. It would scarcely be worth living with the shame of failing in this duty. Your friends will come and go, but your family remains forever.
2. Do not hit a woman. Unless she is threatening your life in an immediate manner (i.e., she is about to kill you), striking a woman can never be justified. Treat women with respect. Open doors, be polite, and always remember, they have fathers.
3. Do not ever be a bully. You will always be bigger and stronger and faster and better than someone else, at something. Guess what? Someone else will always be bigger and stronger and faster and better than you, too. Do not ever pick on those weaker than you. Stand up for them. Protect them. There is no honor in wielding your strength against a weaker person. The honor comes in helping those who need your help.
4. Stand up for yourself. Do not ever let yourself be bullied. Be brave. Defend yourself and your family name. Even if you are beat down for doing so, you will wake up the next day proud and honored that you did not cower before someone who threatened you. Accept defeat if you must, but take pride in the struggle you put up. The pain is temporary, but the guilt of backing down will last a very long time.
5. Respect your parents, teachers, and authority figures. Say “yes, sir” and “yes ma’am.” Give those adults the deference they deserve as your caregivers, educators, and protectors. Similarly, use good manners at all times, but especially when you are representing yourself or your family at a formal or public function. People should be impressed with your demeanor, the politeness you exhibit, and with your overall comportment. Cleaning up after yourself goes along with this. Take pride in yourself and how you come across to others. This shows respect for yourself and those around you.
6. Don’t be afraid to fail. This goes for virtually all life’s endeavors. It is a cliche, but one that nonetheless bears repeating. I cannot even remember how many times I thought I would fail BUD/S training after doing horribly at one evolution or another. I remember thinking during CIA training at the Farm, “Man, I suck at this.” I remember trying to wrap my head around international economics in college, and thinking, “I should not even be at this university; everyone here is smarter than me by a mile.” Guess what, though? I kept on. I did not quit. All three of those institutions could have failed me, but I was not going to quit any of them. If I were to fail, so be it. I was prepared to give my best effort, and that is all that matters. I would have walked away proud.
7. Play an instrument and a team sport. Learning to read music and playing a guitar, piano, or whichever instrument you choose, will make you well-rounded and appreciative of those who create art. There is no reason you should not be literate in one of humanity’s great forms of expression. Hell, maybe you will be adept enough to be an artist yourself. Also, play a sport. Be a part of a team. You will learn to appreciate sacrifice for the greater (team) effort. You will learn to appreciate physical fitness. You will learn what it means to play a supporting role, because most people are not the star.
8. Take pride and put effort into your education. There is no better way to advance yourself in this world than through education. You simply cannot account adequately enough for the power of knowledge in life. It will allow you to make your way in the world, to know when others are bullshitting you, to realize your aspirations, and to make a positive impact on society. The power of one’s intellect truly surpasses any other attribute, be it money, looks, or social status. Fiercely pursue knowledge, and use it for good in your life.
9. Tend to your faith. Go to church. Exercise your spirituality. Get to know God and your religion. You might choose one day to be an atheist, an agnostic, or a humanist, but it should only be after you have fully explored your own faith and religion. Make a spiritually educated decision when it comes to your personal faith. Immerse yourself in its study, and explore it so that you can formulate your own relationship with God, whatever the nature of that relationship might be.
10. Finally, live your life to the fullest. Explore, dream, create, experience, and own your world and your life. You only get one, and it will go quickly. Never let other people tell you no, if you know the answer can be yes. Be limited only by yourself and your choices. Work hard to get what you want, and fight for what you believe in. Go to sleep every night knowing that you either did your best that day, or if you did not, that you will tomorrow. Regroup and charge forward, always.
There are undoubtedly many more lessons worth teaching your sons to help them become men. These are only 10, but they are a good place to start.
Author Frumentarius is a former Navy SEAL and a former Clandestine Service officer with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center. He has a Bachelor’s degree in International Politics and a Masters in History. He is currently a professional firefighter. Follow him on Twitter @SOFFru1