How to Raise a Perfect Boy to be an Imperfect Man

My boys, L-R: Simms, Ellis and Vance. Photo: Hannah Davis.

I’m nearly four years into fatherhood and still have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

I still use Google almost as frequently now as I did when I became a new father. “What to do about a kid that won’t eat” — tell me Google, do I just shove the food down their throat like my instincts tell me or is there a more humane way to get this pint-sized male version of my wife to comply with basic life-sustaining actions such as EATING FOOD? I mean, seriously, if you would have told me four years ago that one of my greatest challenges as a father would be getting my children to eat, I would have laughed straight at your face. Have you seen this dad bod? There is not a strand of my DNA that turns down good food.

A couple nights ago, my oldest son told one of our twins that if he didn’t give his toy back, his eyes were going to fall out.

Our boys fight all the time. I mean constantly. Our oldest son is only 13 months older than our twins, so the age gap is as close as you can get at our house. My role as a Dad is basically to play police officer. Fighting will happen until the crying reaches fever pitch…someone will run to me for help…I’ll question all parties involved…and finally I will render my verdict. Which is usually something along the lines of “tell your brother you’re sorry and share your toys” — this series of actions and reactions happens probably 5–6 times an evening.

But between playing cop and dietitian, I truly hope that I am raising my boys to be great men. I hope that somewhere along the way I’m programming them right. It’s the same goal all fathers have, but how often do we actually think about it? How often do we look closely at how we are raising our boys and how we are impacting their future? How do we know if we’re doing it right?

I like to think of my boys as having started as blank canvases. A perfect clean slate. It’s the same perfect blank canvas every parent gets when they have a child. It just so happens that every canvas is different. Every canvas comes with its own dimensions, colors, textures and ingredients. You can’t control any of that. But you can control what goes onto that canvas, at least for a while.

So how do you turn a perfect blank canvas into a work of art?

Simms looking at a Lego display in New York. Photo: Hannah Davis.

My parents divorced when I was young and my brother and I would spend summers and holidays at my Dad’s, just outside of Savannah, GA. Summers in Savannah are HOT. You alternate between stifling and roasting, depending on the time of day. Step foot into your driveway at 7 in the morning and just start sweating standing there. Choking heat, every day. And lots of thunderstorms.

Dad would take us out fishing in his center console Mako. I don’t remember how long that thing is but I always felt like we were taking on bigger challenges than a boat that size is equipped for. He would wake us up at 3 or 3:30 in the morning, drag our asses down to the marina and let us lie in the floor of the bow while we plugged through 50 miles of rocking Georgia ocean to the J-Buoy.

We’d hit a wave and go airborne — our tan, skinny bodies floating free for a few salty seconds before crashing back down onto the fiberglass.

My Dad and the Mako on the Georgia ocean.

Our fishing trips were hard. My Dad is a workaholic and this does not exclude fishing. We weren’t out there to have a good time; we were out there to catch some damn fish. After you catch some damn fish, then you can have a good time. I’d bitch and moan from the time I got up to the time we got back to the dock. It was hot. It was boring. And it was downright scary at times — riding through thunderstorms, being tossed around the ocean like a rag-doll and rolling up and down waves twice my size. But we always made it back with a story to tell.

Eventually, I quit joining my Dad on most of his fishing trips, choosing to sleep in rather than risking my life for a few slimy wiggles of a mahi or a Spanish mackerel. When I did go, I would spend most of the time with my headphones on full blast, drowning out my surroundings instead of sitting with my Dad while he navigated. I caught my fair share of fish and we had some amazing days out on that boat but I never appreciated it as much as I should have. I think most everyone regrets their teenage self but I regret my missed opportunities from our fishing trips more than almost anything else.

Because it has occurred to me that nearly every lesson in life, love, faith and fatherhood was right there in front of me on that boat.

Fishing is such a beautiful metaphor for life. You plan, you prepare, you practice and then you throw a hook into a big body of water hoping that something out there wants it. And for every fish you hook and bring in, there’s a dozen that never make it to the net. Such is life. And love.

And fatherhood? There’s a reason that proverb on “teaching a man to fish” is so lasting. Because it’s so true — the same can be applied to almost anything you teach your son. So teach them. And faith?

My Dad was never vocal about his faith. And to me, that’s perfectly fine. I didn’t need him to be.

He wears a St. Christopher pendant around his neck. The Patron Saint of Travelers. Eventually ousted by the Catholic Church, St. Christopher is a complicated character. But for those who believe, St. Christopher offers unyielding love, service and grace. Protection, safety and comfort. Lord knows we needed extra protection, safety and comfort out there in that ocean.

Me and My Dad, Disneyworld.

I was raised Episcopalian. I always tell people its “Catholic Lite” or “Catholicism without all the guilt”. My mother taught us The Lord’s Prayer at a young age and I remember praying with her every night before bed. We served as acolytes. We went to church every week. We went to bible study after church. But outside of church, we didn’t discuss our faith. So when it comes to discussing my faith now as an adult, it’s uncomfortable. I don’t like it. To me, it’s a personal relationship that I don’t need to include others in. It’s my relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s my quiet prayers.

But as a parent, how do you instill those values into your children without being vocal? I’m learning now, I can’t.

My wife Hannah is the opposite end of the spectrum. She was raised Presbyterian by a mother who would (and does) share her beliefs with a total stranger. A preacher for a father. For Hannah, vocalizing her faith, sharing her relationship with Christ with others — it’s ingrained in her. She can’t imagine life any other way.

So the two of us often butt heads when it comes to our faith. We’re both Aries, so actually the two of us often butt heads on everything. But as parents to 3 children, it is important for us to be on the same page when it comes to how we share our religion with our boys — How we choose to make Christianity the foundation of our home and raise our children under that set of values.

John 7:16 My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Show compassion — always, especially to the poor, the despised and the outcast. Have faith; it is enough. Be sincere. Love your enemies, do not hate. Forgive.

Even outside of organized religion, aren’t these things I should strive for as a human being? Aren’t these things I should teach my boys to strive for? In a world full of hatred, I would rather choose love. I would rather choose for my boys to feel love, to give love to others and to be a bright light. To not judge. To raise my perfect boys to be imperfect men, I teach of the One who was perfect.

Simms & Ellis. Photo: Hannah Davis.

So I’m learning to be vocal. I’m learning to share the little bit I do know. And I’m opening my eyes and ears to learn more. So that I can be a great teacher. Great teachers don’t write lessons, they write lesson plans. They find the best way to pass the most important information on to their students. They find a way to reach others, in a meaningful way.

Being a father means being a teacher. It means being a painter. It means taking a blank canvas and being bold in your strokes. Being confident that your arm and your brush will be propelled by something more significant than yourself. Being confident that you have the tools you need to make beautiful art.

No man is perfect. Striving for perfection is futile. So we strive for imperfection. We strive to be ourselves. And in that, we find the perfect version of our imperfect selves.

Call to action: what are you striving for? How are you raising your children? Whatever you believe, whatever you teach — be vocal. Be authentic. Be a good teacher in all that you teach. Paint in earnest. And never cease in your efforts.

My wife, Hannah, myself, and our 3 boys; Simms, Ellis and Vance.