Good Guys & Bad Guys
My wife’s birthday is coming up, and being the rockstar husband I am (a.k.a. trying to earn my keep), I scheduled a “guy’s night” for me and my son to research the perfect gift for mom (and just hang out a bit too).
I love these nights. The whole family does.
My wife follows suit, booking a “girls night” for her and my two-year-old daughter Mila, to paint their nails, watch Frozen for the millionth time, and (of course) snag some gourmet cupcakes.
But for me and Deacon, it typically consists of the more basic stuff.
We cruise around in the truck finally being able to bask in what he calls “real Rock and Roll” (anything with soul made before 1990).
We stop and get gas; I let him swipe the card, enter the PIN, push the nozzle into the gas tank entry — everything.
He enjoys a few sips of dad's diet soda, maybe we stop for a burger -- whatever.
We shop for the girls, comparing what Mom likes with what Barbie — who’s he’s dead-set on “earning” someday — might enjoy.
Just guy stuff. "Yeah, just the boys," he says as he scurries towards the truck every time.
These are simple nights, but spectacular to him. Throughout the days leading up to them, he checks in to confirm it’s still happening, and when it’s finally the day of, his behavior noticeably changes. He has an impenetrable spirit of excitement about him — as if Christmas morning is finally so close that absolutely nothing could put him down.
We’re talking about just three hours alone with dad, handling pretty basic activities, but it means a great deal to him.
Being a father pounds into your head just how vital our roles as men are, and how deeply entrenched our fathers’ views of us must be.
Being a father pounds into your head just how vital our roles as men are and how deeply entrenched our fathers’ views of us must be.
These long-awaited hangouts aren’t just fun for us; they’re edifying for me, and it’s usually through conversation.
On this trip, as we leaned into some of the last windy turns and headed towards home on a sun-drenched road, I turned down the Van Halen, adjusted my rear-view mirror to place Deax's face in full view, and began really connecting with my son.
With so many distractions swirling around us all day, every day — screens, schedules, and screams from my slightly-less-regulated child — I sometimes feel that I don’t have enough of this uninterrupted time with him.
Time to let him think out loud.
To process life’s questions.
To laugh about life’s weirdness.
To test life's immovable demands.
And so I tell myself to take the time.
Here was our conversation (my son is 4 years old):
Me: “Hey buddy, you’re growing up so fast. It’s so cool to watch you grow up. You’re a big kid now!”
Deacon: “Yeah” (eyes dancing back and forth between mine and the trees waving to him outside).
Me: “You know, I’m really proud of you, right? I love you so much.”
Deacon: “Yeah” (his eyes warming up...).
(When I make these corny comments, Deacon typically has an aura of "yeah, duh," which is totally fine by me)
Me: So, what are you thinkin', man? What do you wanna be when you grow up?!”
(Maybe if I like his answer, I'll finally have mine.)
Deacon: (almost interrupting me...) Dad, I already told you! I wanna be army!”
“You wana be an army man?”
“Alright, alright, got it! I can help you figure that out. Listen ... you can do ANYTHING you want to do in life — you just have to pick what that thing is and work really hard at it."
“Okay. But dad, did you know that there are, like, good army guys and bad army guys? I wanna be a good army guy.”
“You’re right! And what makes a good army guy different from a bad army guy?”
“Umm...I don’t know.”
And then I had to pause for a second.
So much of fatherhood is trying to perfectly package something pure and accurate and trustworthy and helpful into a simple, one-sentence lesson. It's hard.
So much of fatherhood is wanting to perfectly package something pure and accurate and trustworthy and helpful into a simple, one-sentence lesson. It's hard.
I did the best I could under pressure...
“The good guys fight for what’s right. They protect women and children and good people from the bad guys.”
(Be easy on me. I can't use the word "innocent" or "character" with my four-year-old!).
We digressed from there, talking about how cool Poe and Finn are in the latest Star Wars movie (recently watched), after which he said he wanted to be Poe. If you haven’t seen it, they’re good guys — fighters, but good guys.
I’m still wrapping my head around the question that I challenged him with (and then became challenged with myself); “what makes a good guy different from a bad guy?”
Do you have a clear and sturdy answer to that question?
If more men didn't stop until they did, we’d have much better men and a much better world.
After some thought, here is my answer:
Bad guys serve, advance, and protect themselves.
Good guys serve, advance, and protect others.
I didn’t like my first explanation to Deacon. I’m going to circle back on that topic with him— perhaps the next time we’re driving around in the Ranger, or perhaps over granola bars and LEGOs tomorrow morning.
Whatever the setting, my son deserves a better answer, and perhaps something in his spirit will recognize my yearning to optimize my advice. After all, so much of rightful manhood is having the humility to admit shortcomings and earn improvement.
"...so much of rightful manhood is having the humility to admit shortcomings and earn improvement."
I love my son, I love our “guys nights,” and I love the lessons — simple yet hard — that come from our most casual interactions.
Just like I don’t fully grasp how important these nights are to him, he doesn’t grasp that these simple, casual exchanges make me a better man — by forcing me to define what that is.
What about you, man?
Can you answer that question? Don’t just use my answer — what separates good men from bad men?
What do you think our culture teaches us, through word or deed, about successful manhood? Is it accurate or flawed?
Did you have these kinds of exchanges with your dad? If you did, thank him. If you didn’t, forgive him, and seek out mentors — many would be glad to encourage and equip you on your path.