If Robin Williams' "Dead Poets Society" character wrote a book, it would be "10 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son," a fabulous new guide from Australian author Tim Hawkes, who spent decades as a headmaster at several all-boys schools.
Hawkes was inspired to pen the book, he writes, after observing generations of boys stumble over the same hurdles he stumbled over himself, both as a father and as a son.
"As a headmaster," he writes, "I have seen too many parents frustrated by their inability to connect with their sons, and too many sons hobbled by a lack of communication with their parents."
"As a father," he writes, "I have sought far too much significance outside the home and not enough significance within it."
And as a son?
"By any stretch of the imagination, I could hardly have been described as one who had contributed richly to dialogue with my parents."
His book is a different story. Delightfully written and brimming with wisdom, it's the sort of thing I might start bringing to baby showers to sneak in among the onesies and "Goodnight Moons."
Hawkes acknowledges upfront that 10 is a woefully inadequate number of conversations to commit to having with our sons. Ideally, we'll have tens of thousands, he writes. But the 10 he spells out are meant to get at a list of things boys need to know when they grow up.
The ability to give and receive love.
The ability to know yourself and what you believe.
The ability to choose an appropriate moral code.
The ability to accept responsibility.
The ability to live in a community.
The ability to achieve a worthwhile goal.
The ability to handle intimacy and sex.
The ability to manage financial affairs.
The ability to stay well.
The ability to be resilient.
Each chapter is a conversation aimed at teaching these skills: "One: You are loved." "Two: Identity." "Three: Values." "Four: Leadership." "Five: Living together." "Six: Achievement." "Seven: Sex." "Eight: Money." "Nine: Health." "Ten: Coping."
He offers arguments and research for why each topic is valuable, as well as ideas for how to tackle them effectively. The book frequently addresses fathers as the ones leading these conversations, but there's plenty for mothers here too.
In Chapter 2 ("Identity"), he suggests holding a family history evening, during which you share photos and stories about relatives past and present.
"Even if there are no heroes to celebrate," Hawkes writes, "tales from the past can cause a boy to recognize that he has a unique history, that he belongs, that he has a story."
In Chapter 7 ("Sex"), he talks about helping boys understand their own character. He suggests asking a list of 20 questions, all of which start with "Are you the sort of guy who ..."
Pours himself the largest drink?
Sulks when he doesn't get his own way?
Asks people how they are instead of talking about himself?
Leaves the toilet seat up?
Cares well for his pets?
And in my favorite chapter, "You are loved," Hawkes suggests writing your son a letter.
"Imagine you had only one letter to write to your son," he writes. "What would you say? Why not say it now and give him the assurances of love and the words of wisdom you want to be certain he hears?"
It's a book filled with beautiful questions and a road map, at least, to find the answers.
"A son needs at least one adult who adores him - preferably two," Hawkes writes. "A son needs to know that he is a priority in someone's life. A son needs to be loved, and he also needs to know he is loved."
So he, in turn, can love others.
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