Teaching Your Sons By Just Flipping The Dog

Jul 22, 2011 by

At some point you have to let go.

For your part, the frustration level is hitting that stage where anger starts to creep in. The original good intention is replaced with phrases like “why won’t you listen,” and “then do it yourself.”

For your son’s part, it’s mounting frustration mixed with embarrassment.

At some point you will hit your wall. You will either continue to get more and more angry or just walk away – and still be angry. What was supposed to be fun will become a nightmare. You are upset, your son is upset and neither of those alternatives resolves the issue.

Yet there is another option. You can just flip the dog.

That idea, just doing something completely different, landed like a slap upside the head this past week. I always knew it deep down, but boy was it ever reinforced.

To put it simply, you can’t teach your sons.

There’s a caveat to all this. Yes we as dads should teach our sons: about life, girls, being a man, and other guy stuff. And we do. But often times all that goes by the wayside when the game plan changes. Those changes include throwing in your son’s peers, mixed with trying to teach some new skills with a sprinkle of fear factor.

And that’s when it’s very, very difficult to teach your own son.

Middle Son of Thunder and I just got back from Cub Scout camp with a handful of other boys in the Pack and their dads. One afternoon was spent at the rock climbing area.

Middle Son gets in the harness and starts climbing up the rock wall. He gets half way, stops and comes down. And does the exact same thing three more times. Halfway up, right back down. I’m getting frustrated and no amount of coaxing is working. Physically he can climb to the top, he just won’t.

I’m upset and frustrated. He’s upset that I’m upset and so on and so forth. We take a break and head for the rappelling wall. He gets up, hooks up, looks over and sees me. And refuses to go down despite my pleas and other exhortations. It’s not going to happen.

He walks down and sits by me. Let’s just say neither of us are very happy with each other or ourselves for that matter. And it was about at this point one of the dads suggests Middle Son try again. This dad is at the top of the rappelling wall. He’s a certified climbing instructor and he hooks Middle Son up and starts demonstrating how to lean back and to trust him and the rope won’t break and he won’t let Middle Son get hurt and …

The next thing I know Middle Son is rappelling down like there’s no tomorrow. And within seconds of landing he’s unhooked and racing back up the stairs to do it again. And again.

And then Middle Son heads back to the climbing wall, straps on the harness and climbs all the way to the top. And then does it again.

And I’m sitting there, feeling somewhat like a failure because some other dad got my son to get way, way out of his comfort zone and convinced him to rappel and climb and …


Next day we’re learning about reading maps and using compasses. And I’m watching the dad who got Middle Son down the rappelling wall trying to teach his son how to use the compass. And it’s not working and the frustration level is getting higher and higher and the dad’s son just pretty much gives up. And the dad gets up and he’s not happy.

And that’s when the clichéd light bulb went off in my head. The exact same thing went on with the Middle Son and myself yesterday. I waited a few minutes, went over to the other dad and asked to let me try with his son. So I go over, sit down with his son and in about two minutes that kid is Mr. Compass.

The dad comes over. He’s upset that he couldn’t get his own son to figure out the compass. And that’s when I pointed out I couldn’t get Middle Son to go down that rappelling wall for all the PlayStation games in China. But he could.

And we both had that “aha” moment.

Later that night us dads are sitting around talking about our sons and the very fact they just don’t, or won’t, “get it” with us. And we all pretty much agree it’s really hard to teach your own son.


I think is has to do with a combination of things. It’s hard when your son’s friends are around. Your son is trying to impress you and his friends. The last thing he wants is for his dad to help him out. He gets embarrassed. Another dad can help your son because your son isn’t trying to impress that other dad.

That’s not easy to take. As dads, we want to be the ones who teach our sons everything. But what’s more important? You getting the credit or your son learning some new skills and beating his fears – like a rock wall – even if it’s from another dad?

I decided to flip the dog. What was most important to me – and Middle Son – was for him to get up that rock wall and down that rappelling wall. I don’t care who got “credit” for making it happen. Middle Son did it, and that is what really matters.

Sometimes we can’t teach our sons, but we can flip the dog and get what needs to be done, done. That’s if we’re willing to ask for help and realize it’s about our sons, not us. And the dads all made a pact that worked out really well. None of us tried to teach our sons. We taught each other’s sons – how to build a fire, cook over a fire, start a fire, use a knife, and yes, climb a wall. And everyone learned, and everyone was happy, and no one got frustrated.

And to borrow yet another cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words.