No One Could Have Ever Prepared Me For My 'Better Dads' Interview
In the midst of conducting this interview, I received word that a friend of mine’s son took his own life the night before. No, I would not kid about something like that. It happened...and the irony of the timing on my receipt of this news was not lost on me. My immediate reaction was to bow my head out of respect and frustration; then ask the question, “What do we need to do to save our sons?” Even the best of families are struggling to find an answer, something the gentleman on the other end of my phone interview was well aware of -- Rick Johnson.
Rick reinvented his entire career in 2001 to help solve this problem. Exchanging a successful business for a budding idea, called Better Dads, Rick began supporting fathers who were eager to improve their parenting skills. He began helping single mothers understand and raise happy and healthy sons. And he began filling in the gaps for boys remiss of any truly positive male roles models or beneficial male connections. As the U.S. Census bureau estimates that there are 24 million children growing up without their biological fathers living at home and that the average dad spends seven minutes a day talking with his children, concentrating on supporting fathers and sons became central to Rick Johnson and Better Dads work in the onset. Today, he supports the entire family.
Thousands have been helped but the struggle for both fathers and sons continues to escalate. One prong of an even larger national issue that impacts everyone, it behooves us, all, to learn about Better Dads and lend a hand.
Share your personal mantra.
I want to be a better person today than I was yesterday.
Share a bit about your background leading up to today.
I was raised in a less than ideal environment. Both my mom and stepfather were alcoholics, which led me to make some bad choices while growing up. Then I had kids. Doing so “woke me up” and sent me on a personal quest to learn all I could about becoming a “good” dad. I began reading books on “fatherhood” and went into therapy. All of this would, eventually, inspire me to launch Better Dads so that I might share what I learned with other fathers.
Define the word, “Father” in your opinion.
It has changed over the years. Where “father” use to mean “provide and protect”, the definition now includes “nurture and involvement”. In addition, I don’t think a man has to be a biological father to a child to be a father. Many stepfathers are incredible fathers, in their own right. They are just as nurturing and protective as biological fathers are with less credit, unfortunately.
How does fatherhood compare today to that of say, forty years ago?
Fathers, today, are more emotionally open and demonstrative with their sons than ever before. I believe, men of my age suffered from not hearing their fathers tell them that they loved them. It just wasn’t something that they did back then and it left a hole in many a son’s heart. There were other damaging results of this too, but this one stands out the most.
When do you believe that things change for fathers?
It wasn’t at any one particular point. Society has opened men’s eyes up to certain things, over time, including how men missed out on “caring” and “comforting” our children.
Explain what Better Dads is all about.
It began as a “fathering” skills program. It has evolved to encompass all aspects of ‘the family’, although we remain dad-centric. In many cases, “How dad goes, the family goes as well”. We’ve seen the impact on families when the father is not involved -- poverty, stress, depressed grades at school and higher 'drop out' rates are just some of the ramifications. The more we support fathers, the better, because the entire family benefits, including mothers.
What’s the biggest challenge to raising a boy into a respectable man and father today? Where lies the biggest opportunity?
There are many. To begin with, boys are really struggling with our current education system. The number of boys dropping out of school and not attending college is skyrocketing. It’s a terrible trend that needs to be reversed. In addition, the amount of time boys are spending with electronics is very unhealthy, particularly with regards to social interaction and even more, pornography. Those two things are huge challenges. Then, there is the lack of time dads are spending with their children on a daily basis.
The biggest opportunity is how quickly and dramatically boys can be imprinted upon by positive time spent with dad or a male role model. Whether through an activity or an adventure, boys retain these memories, which helps to keep them on the right path. Most boys show quick turnarounds under the age of eleven. It’s a bit harder later in life, but intervention at any age is beneficial.
Have you ever been questioned with regards to your credibility?
Never. I do have a Masters Degree in Education and have spent sixteen years involved in research. I speak from a more ‘humanistic’ perspective, rather than a cultural one.
What is your most popular book?
That’s My Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys To Become Men Of Character. It has sold 150,000 copies, but I’ve had 4-5 bestsellers, overall.
Share a social cause or cause-based organization close to your heart.
I’ve become quite sensitized to the foster care dilemma this nation is facing and foster kids, in general, due to personal circumstances .
When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
That I made a difference in somebody’s life. I’m a firm believer that “if you change one person’s life, you change thousands of lives”.
Needless-to-say, if you are raising boys or are a father, yourself, Better Dads is your site and Rick Johnson, your author/speaker. You can never be too prepared or too equipt as a parent. One right word can make all the difference. I have no doubt, my friend, only wishes that he would have had the opportunity to say “such a word” to his son before it was too late. The young man might still be alive today.
Many thanks to Rick Johnson for making this interview possible