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What active fatherhood looks like

iStock/Andrii Lysenko
iStock/Andrii Lysenko

In a world where time is a scarce resource, fathers grapple with the perpetual challenge of spending meaningful moments with their children.

Recent surveys indicate that a staggering 63% of dads feel they fall short in providing ample time for their kids, with only 39% believing they excel in the vital task of raising them. Too many fathers feel left on the sidelines as coaches, teachers, and church leaders engage with their kids. Statistics show that fathers desire to be active but struggle with competition for their kids’ time. Amidst this struggle, the pursuit of meaningful connections with our sons reveals two crucial elements: the imperative need for quality time and the significance of a supportive community.

Dads are longing for opportunities beyond the traditional roles dictated by sports, school, or societal expectations. In Trail Life, I weekly witness a remnant of men who are stepping out of the shadows of spectatorship and into a more engaged, intentional role. This call to active fatherhood isn’t about a specific program or community; it’s about redefining our roles. It’s about stepping up as a dad or a dad-like and making the time we spend with our sons and the boys in our lives truly count.

With Super Bowl LVIII just around the corner, boys and men across the country will virtually live out victory or defeat with friends and family as armchair quarterbacks, wishing they could be a part of the big game. It seems that sports are often the modern-day communal connection for fathers and sons. While sports undoubtedly provide valuable lessons in discipline, teamwork, and competition dynamics, they are often one more arena that consigns fathers to the role of distant observers. Practices and games become arenas where fathers cheer from a distance, separated from their sons by the boundaries of the playing field.

In side-by-side experiences like Trail Life, the narrative shifts. Fathers are not passive spectators; they serve shoulder-to-shoulder with other men. They form a band of brothers who become co-pilots in their sons’ journeys, facing challenges together, and growing side by side.

Take, for instance, the Trail Life Yukon adventure where boys and dads worked together to create klondike sleds. Side-by-side, they built sleds, practiced fire-building, and prepared for cold-weather camping. They spent a weekend camping in the snow, competing with other Troops in a race using the sleds they built and the skills they mastered to compete for the Yukon Trophy. Examples of this unique interaction abound. Unlike sports, where instruction is one-directional from coach to player, active fatherhood takes a different approach. It’s about involvement, shared experiences, and fostering holistic development. It’s not just about physical prowess, team development, or skill mastery; it’s about navigating life's challenges together, instilling resilience, developing character, and cultivating a sense of responsibility and leadership.

Engagement in meaningful activities becomes the cornerstone of active fatherhood. Hiking, camping, community service, and leadership development are the adventures that are crucial to supplement the narrow focus of sports. The intentional inclusion of spiritual growth further deepens the bond between fathers and sons, making every moment count in the journey of life.

The need for a quality tribe isn't about joining a specific community; it’s about forging connections within our existing circles. We can create our support systems, spaces where fathers learn from each other, share experiences, and collectively contribute to nurturing the next generation of men. Active fatherhood is about being present, sharing stories, and making the most of the time we have.

Being truly engaged as a dad or a dad-like is about making choices that prioritize quality time over passive observation. It's about replacing separation with shared challenges, creating not only stronger relationships, but a culture of active engagement within our families.

Engaging and making a difference doesn't require a specific program or community; it's a mindset, a commitment to being present and engaged. It's a call to break away from traditional molds and embrace the adventure of fatherhood — a journey of enriching relationships and creating lasting memories.

This is a call to rewrite the narrative, making time for meaningful connections and experiencing the true adventure of active fatherhood.

Mark Hancock is the CEO of Trail Life USA, a character, leadership, and adventure organization that is both Christ-centered and boy-focused. Trail Life USA partners with churches and parents across America as the premier national character development organization for young men which produces generations of godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens. In over 1,100 churches in all 50 states, fathers and sons are connecting, relationships are deepening, and legacies are beginning as a new generation of godly leaders rises.

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