This is the fifth in a series of on crafting dads who care. I first heard the ‘burn your ship” concept from a colleague at a conference when he talked about the Vikings and the definitive way they landed in America. As the story goes, when the Vikings landed, they burned their ships.

Most don’t’ understand the significance of that. Burning your ships means a lot of things. Graduation is a form of burning your ship. Getting married is another as is having children. These are definitive ways to say to the world there is a new attitude you have that moved you to burn a lifestyle that will never see again.

Over the past four months I have addressed how it’s vital as fathers we understand that the role of fathers today is different than it was years ago. We are still the provider, protector and priest in our families. We work hard to be sure our families have a roof over their heads and food on the table. We make sure our children know they can rely on us to keep away those things that might harm them as we fight to keep them safe, even if it’s the neighborhood we fight to live in. The priest part is sharing right and wrong and the consequences of a disciplinarian that sometimes a priest may divvy out to them.

Acquainting ourselves with having a way to do this is a new awareness our fathers might not have had, but we do. The roles of a dad who cares might be similar to those of our forefathers, but we create a new reality associated with a new awareness based on how society has pushed up into a new fatherhood model.

Becoming intentional about the concept of the provider, protector and priest from the image we have drawn is the other part of the process dads must ante up to accept. Once the decision is made, once the mountain has come into view, we carve out a path to get there and as men we work our hardest; pursue fervently to get there as we realize what our job is, and work toward that end in a meaningful and measureable manner that is intentional as we groom our sons to take over.

Part of being intentional, is never passing up teachable moments where we can impart what we know to our children and allow them the chance to own their own legacy; create their own dreams and validate themselves by buying into the responsibility of owning their own paths. We let them buy their wants as we fulfill their needs. We let them replace the things we give them that they break because they don’t have an appreciation of understanding ‘money doesn’t grow on trees.’ We groom our children for adulthood by being adults as we let the share in the ownership of who they are by helping them realize that one day all that they have built based on what we taught them they will own.

Much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as dads who care, we should be grooming them to leave home. We listen to them. We encourage them. We let them go as we force ourselves to let them pay for their mistakes. We share with them the consequences of their own decisions and help them understand that no one fails unless they quit. We do less as we encourage a bi-stewardship concept. Helping them realize no one is perfect and only through these gradual steps do they get to define their own mountains and their own routes to get to the top.

The apex of this trip is an equipped person whose life has been built on gradual opportunities to explore, grow and understand that it’s a continual process, but most importantly it’s different for each person. As none of our children are the same, it doesn’t mean we love either more than the other, just differently. It’s just different as each one takes a different course to their ultimate career path. It’s as different for each as their decision to have a family. It’s as similar as the car they choose to drive or the neighborhood they live, but the important point is as they learn to become their own, we also grow into who we were meant to be.

We evolve to understand that at some point we have to burn our ship. Learn to not go back. Learn to not blame; and trust that we have done all we can do because we did the best we could and it’s okay because we are dads who care.

“Mine is to empower, not enable.”

Archie R. Wortham, PhD
Professor of Speech