By: Stan John
“He’s YOUR son! You take him for a few hours and see if you can get him to do something… anything!” It was an all too familiar scene as I came home late from another long day at the office. The homeschool utopia we had hoped for seemed to be falling apart, and rapidly.
Like many homeschool dads, I was often heard to say, “We homeschool our kids, and I’m the principal.” What that really meant was I agreed to homeschooling our children, but I was really not engaged. After all, I was working full time in a challenging leadership position, and involved in several other ministry efforts as well. Over the years I had heard several speakers and homeschool leaders say dads needed to be engaged in the home education of their children. But how could I? Unlike them, I did not run my own business nor did I have the luxury to take my son to work with me. I could endorse and encourage the homeschool, but to actually deliver it seemed out of the question.
Eddie was our oldest child and was now at the age of twelve. The tensions at home had begun almost a year earlier, as my frequent absence and preoccupation with other things gave him license to reject mom’s authority. This rebellion continued to escalate, and now things were in a state that needed a dramatic change. I always took pride in my professional ability to solve difficult problems with innovative solutions, but this situation was demanding all of that and much more. It demanded something far beyond just a new plan, it required that I actively take part in delivering what I said I believed in and devoted my professional life to. It was about ‘being there’ as a fully engaged father and husband. It was about sacrifice and total commitment to the most important things in life. It needed to happen NOW!
I knew better. I had been working for Dr. James Dobson over 10 years, managing the response to constituent inquiries. I had reviewed the Where’s Dad film series presentation many times, and fully understood the importance of a father in the life of an adolescent child, especially a son. In his best-selling book, Bringing up Boys, Dr. Dobson says “We now know that there are two critical periods during childhood when boys are particularly vulnerable. The most obvious occurs at the onset of puberty, when members of both sexes experience an emotional and hormonal upheaval. Boys and girls at that time desperately need their father’s supervision, guidance, and love.” In another quote he simply says, “…children of all ages – both male and female – have an innate need for contact with their fathers…” I knew better, and still when asked for her memories of that season, my wife responded, “It started about age 11 and by age 12 it was intolerable. He needed his father active in his life. Dad was not involved in the schooling. He worked a lot, and was involved in numerous ministries…”
Turning to the LORD with a prayer that He would help me to redeem the situation I was facing, He reminded me of something else I believed. Where He guides, He provides. I needed to look to the things He had already given me. As I surveyed the resources available to me, I was reminded of a thought I had months earlier. How could the homeschool experience better prepare students for the workplace? How could our children who are allowed to flourish in an environment that develops skills and delivers assignments at one’s own pace, be transitioned to the time dated, scheduled deliverables of corporate reality? I found my answer! I could take the familiar practices of leading staff in the workplace and apply them to my relationship with my homeschooled son. I was about to engage the mission of a lifetime and I was excited. It came directly from Luke 1:17b “…TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Here I am LORD, use me!
My first order of business was to remind myself of what was required from me. Eddie needed leadership. With all the business books and practices I had reviewed and adopted, the best resource remained to be God’s own revealed character in the scripture. I have a much more detailed discussion of this, but for today’s purpose let me simply say He has shown His leadership in three distinct “faces.” They are the revelation of God we commonly refer to as the Trinity, or the Triune God. That is: 1) the Father – our absolute authority, 2) the Son – Our physical example, and 3) the Spirit – our Coach and Mentor.
As the absolute authority, I needed to articulate the mission (vision) and set down the new rules of order and behavior (law). In this role I also needed to accept full responsibility for the outcomes, judge violations, and reward performance. I began to define the mission – pass 7th grade, and the vision – accomplish a practical education that would launch Eddie into adulthood with the skills and abilities to provide for his future family. I redefined the environment we would operate in as one that had expectations for performance, definitions of acceptable quality, due dates for assignments, security to make sincere mistakes, and encouragement to take risks toward higher goals. I also redefined the “team” and structure, with myself as the Teacher/authority, mom as the helper to assist toward success (more on this later), and Eddie as the Student/worker with a project to deliver.
As the physical example, I needed to be available in person. Like my direct reports at work, we set a weekly 1:1 meeting where I would review his progress and provide input as well as new assignments. Ours was on Monday night. Eddie would come prepared to present to me his work of the past week, and we would review it for standards of quality, accuracy, and delivery of original intent. We began with a meal together, followed by prayer, and then moved into our review and assignment session. When everything was acceptable and on track, we would take the license to “get out,” enjoying the remaining evening hours. When there was an issue or obstacle, we would work it out together, until we had it resolved. Often, I would bring an element of my workday, or ministry activities as the example to work on. When we achieved success I would share that I was going to take “his solution” back and share it with others. Eddie would beam with pride and understanding of the value of his new skill.
As the coach/mentor, I needed to watch over and assist Eddie to his maximum success. My role was to make provision and remove barriers to his progress. I simply made myself available by phone when needed, and provided access to any resources I could make available. I made a point to call once each day to check on attitude and take a few minutes to encourage and spur him on to love and good deeds. Just as God does for us, my heart was to serve Eddie to his success without any ‘fingerprints.’ Our conversations were private and between us alone.
The plan to be accomplished was provided by a ‘Scope and Sequence’ publication from a major curriculum vendor. This document lists the expected skills for mastery by age/grade. Each year became the goal… complete 7th grade requirements, complete 8th grade requirements, and so on until we reached… complete 12th grade requirements by successfully completing SAT/ACT tests and being accepted to the local Junior college.
The tools were the public library, a popular math curriculum, G.A. Henty books, current events, the Internet, and materials collected from vendors at the state homeschool conference. Each semester also included a Bible study and at least one elective course we could pursue from our mutual interests. These included small engine repair, agriculture, outdoor survival, first aid, and many other fun and fascinating subjects that provided hours of father/son time.
Praise to the LORD, the plan came together and the results were good. God had inspired and directed me to go from a ‘where’s dad’ to a ‘here’s dad’ that was involved and engaged with my family. When asked, mom said, “He (dad) took over all the decisions concerning Eddie, not only school decisions, but anything that affected Eddie. In about six months Eddie had realized this program was here to stay and his behavior changed completely. I became his ally who he now sought out for help, wisdom, or comfort while his father taught him what it meant to be a man.” This unplanned consequence of getting a foretaste of the power of a “helpmate” in life was just a special gift from the LORD, but a result worth more than everything else. In addition best friends were forged, good grades were attained, college degrees were accomplished, and a wonderful career was launched. Dads, don’t miss your chance. With God’s leading, you can do this too! It is as simple as getting the roles and relationships right, and school happens!
Stan John is first and foremost the husband to LeAnn, his bride of 27 years, and a homeschooling father of four. In some circles, he is known as the dad who schooled his son through grades 7-12. Stan John has been at Focus on the Family for 24 years, where he currently serves as the Senior Vice President of Global Ministry Development.