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Dads and Mentors, Part III: Teaching Kids to Fish

If a kid asks for a fish, you should give him a fish!

A Patch Parent (agreeing that fathers’ involvement is crucial to children’s
healthy emotional development) posed this question: “with all the absent
fathers, where do these kids go for that missing piece?”

Her question inspired this series.  

It’s a concern for all of us, because fatherless kids lead to an unstable society. We all feel the repercussions.

A famous saying asks: “What father among you, if his son asks for bread, would give him a stone, or if he asks for a fish would give him a snake instead?”

Unfortunately, there are parents who (perhaps unknowingly) hand their kids “snakes” every day. It could be because their parents gave them "snakes" (even disguised as fish — no one in their family knew the difference).  

The question remains: What do we do for kids whose dads are not involved? (Or whose involvement is not beneficial?) Furthermore: How do we help dads who don’t know how to give their kids the good gifts kids long for and need?

As I mentor teen girls, I organize father-daughter activities, as well as
mother-daughter events. My leaders and I are prepared to deal with parental absence; no two situations are the same. Sometimes a parent is not “in the picture” because of custody issues or mistakes in his past. Other times it’s a present choice. Some parents can’t be involved in a particular event because of a work commitment, an illness/injury or military service.

Leaders find ways to deal with these situations, affirming teens, making
them feel a part of the group. If possible, a mother asks someone to stand in: grandfather or a youth pastor attends. If a man can’t be there, women are there.

Sometimes all we can do is affirm one another as women and acknowledge the “missing piece.”

Once, I said to a girl: “It stinks that your dad is not here. I know you're
sad about it and I am too. I know I don't look anything like him, but guess
what? I'm your dad for tonight!” We were at taking a swing dance lesson, so I learned the guys’ part. We laughed as we danced together. We didn’t gloss over what was missing. We acknowledged it and dealt with it.  

Children (even adult “children”) whose fathers have been “absent” will cope, but it’s a matter of what coping mechanisms we choose (or resort to — positive or negative). Mentors need to help young people deal with the “missing piece" (as my reader so appropriately labeled it). We are better equipped to handle reality when we do not sweep it under the rug.

The absence of “Dad” is so much a part of some kids’ lives that it doesn’t
even feel sad for them. Still, there’s a gap, and men and women in the community can and should stand in that gap. Sometimes we find ourselves mentoring for a day; other times for the long haul.

We ought to reach out to the “missing” parent as well, because somewhere in that person’s past lives a hurting child.    

Even kids who have two parents (with both genders represented, who are
active and involved in their lives) need mentors who are not their parents.

Kids need a community of adults to support them.

As much as I hate the necessity to do so, I must qualify that statement.

On the heels of the arrest of a Summit County area drama coach/student
teacher who was found in a car with a fourteen-year-old girl who was partially dressed, it feels particularly gut-wrenching to heed this caution. God only knows what led to that scenario. Incidents like that don’t just “happen.” There’s a road that leads there.  

If you are a single mother, while you may want someone to have a
mentoring/father-figure role in your child’s life, you must be discerning about who is stepping into that role, and how it happens. While it’s appropriate for a coach, teacher, youth pastor or a friend’s parent to include your daughter and come alongside her in significant ways at group activities (and you should welcome that) it’s not appropriate for her to spend time with that man without you or other adults present.

If you are a mentor, you need to be careful about how and when you spend time with kids. Spend one-to-one time in group settings. This is as much for your protection and for the “appearance of what is” as for “what is” (or what could be—God forbid—or we could be accused of — without proper precaution.)     

You can’t be too careful in protecting your children. This is not merely a
present-day issue. As the writer of Ecclesiastes put it: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

To some degree, the world has always been screwy. Even in the past when our world felt more safe, it wasn’t. The world is not safe, but I believe we have the opportunity to make it a good place. 

We need to be cautious, and we need to teach our sons and daughters to be cautious.

That said, what are the criteria for determining if a mentor is trustworthy?

In the next two weeks, I’ll share some guidelines with you.

Oh, and I can’t wait to tell you the story of a mentor in my life: a teacher who, even in his unorthodox way, gave me bread when I didn’t know how hungry I was. He not only gave me a fish, he showed me how to survive rough seas. 

Next week, I’ll tell you about his act of compassion.

In the meantime, now that we’ve baited the hook, we might as well take some kids fishing.  

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