I just went on a “daddy and me” ski trip.  Three fathers, 6 children under 10.  There were three girls (8, 6, and 5) and three boys (10, 9, and 7).  It was awesome.  We skied hard for 4 days straight and added some super fun tubing on the third afternoon.  I’m writing this in the airplane heading home with them and I’m thoroughly exhausted.

The whole trip I was surrounded by masculine fathering models.  Not just in my group, but also on the slopes and in the chair lifts.  After the first day and one video incident I won’t likely forget, it was pretty clear to me that giving encouragement may be one of the most important masculine skills for a father to learn.  It might literally be the defining factor in the father child relationship.

I’m calling encouragement a masculine skill in contrast to nurturing being a feminine skill.  Encouragement is an expression that when received by another has them project themselves boldly, with courage, in to the world.  Encouragement is a gentle (or aggressive) pushing out into the world. Nurturing is the very feminine quality of bringing the child into a safe, loving, nourishing environment.  Nurturing brings you into comfort.

Like throwing a spear is masculine, throwing someone out into the world with your encouraging words is as well.

An equally balanced father or mother will nurture and encourage at the same level. More masculine parents (nearly always fathers) will encourage more than nurture.  It is very helpful to figure out where you sit on this and develop both skills knowing that you’ll naturally be better at one of them.

As a prior Navy SEAL, you can guess where I sit on the masculine/feminine scale.

Three distinct scenes from the trip show different aspects of the same issue.

  1. Father yells at his tween daughter as they ski down the slopes by me “JUST KEEP SKIING”.  Her shoulders are slumped down and her gaze is lowered and she slowly skis by him.
  2. Around the dinner table, 8 year old daughter says she wants to be a professional skier.  Her father immediately tells her everything that she will have to do to make that dream a reality.
  3. I catch myself “coaching” my younger son on ski form by yelling at him over and over again to lift his uphill ski going into the turn.  He wasn’t listening and by this time had completely tuned me out. This happens while I am taking a video and in a moment of reflection I realize that I’m not going to like this part of the video at all and consider what music I’d put over it.

All of these scenes include well-meaning fathers whose primary purpose was something hidden and by not being encouraging didn’t get what they wanted and lost connection with their children.

In the first scene the father was clearly super frustrated by the situation and wanted to get somewhere fast. What he didn’t realized was that he was actually slowing his daughter down with a discouraging tone that said way more than his words.

I talked to my friend about the second scene after the fact.  I asked him why it was so important to tell say how hard it would be to become a professional skier.  His tone was pretty clear that “she couldn’t do it”. He expressed regret about how it went and said that sometimes he thinks it is important to give her “a dose of reality”.

In the third scene I realized that my tone was discouraging and my approach was annoying. In the moment, his skiing was more important than being encouraging and I didn’t get him to ski any better.

In all of these, the father’s purpose is misaligned with what he truly wants, a close, connected, and encouraging relationship.

A relationship that “throws” our children like a well-aimed spears into their world mentally ready and knowing that we “have their backs”.

The secret is to keep it as your primary purpose in the relationship with your child.

If you don’t do it, there are only a few people {teachers, coaches , brothers, or uncles} that might fill in the gap you are leaving. The rest of the world is pretty much hell bent on being discouraging.

You want to leave that to chance as a Dad? I know I don’t.

There is a post script to the story.  A friend from high school joined us for skiing.  He has no children but is an uncle to three.  He skied with us a few days and even took my older son out on the harder runs our last day. Both my boys loved him.  they thought that he was very encouraging.  I agreed.  There were other positive models during the trip but his was the most clearly effective in being encouraging.