I am a merit badge counselor for Boy Scouts. One of the badges I cover is Family Life. It's an Eagle required merit badge. I have about 15 boys in our troop working on this badge, all in various stages of completion.
One of the things I like to do is have group meetings to go over some of the requirements, which you can see here. The boys are sometimes required to "discuss with your merit badge counselor..." and I find that in a group, the discussion is a bit more engaging instead of the boy writing a paragraph and handing it to me and saying "uh, this uh, this is what I was thinking maybe."
Requirement 7 covers parenting, what makes a good parent... and do you think you'd make a good father.
The handbook published by BSA contains a whole section of discussion for this topic outlining things like the benefits of abstinence, respecting your girlfriend (I change the language to "partner" on purpose) and other topics.
I'm not super comfortable going over these things with kids that aren't mine.
Heck I'm barely comfortable going over stuff like that with kids that ARE mine.
This past week I met with 7 boys and we went over what they were doing with their family project, solo project (requirements 4 and 5) and their family meeting (requirement 6a). We had about 20 minutes to kill so I asked them if they wanted to cover requirement 7. I had one of them read the topic out loud and they all sat there quietly for a minute.
I wasn't sure how to open the discussion. So I asked "Do you know the difference between a father and a baby daddy?"
They all kind of laughed, one kid said he knew what baby daddy was because he saw it on Jerry Springer and the baby daddy had a chair thrown at him by the baby momma. A bit of Jerry Springer conversation followed and I said, "Okay, so he is a baby daddy, which means he made a baby. With a baby momma. But it isn't just language and culture here, what makes that guy not a FATHER to his baby when it comes down to it? What is the baby's mother insinuating he's not doing or capable of doing to be an actual FATHER to this child?"
The boys started talking about involvement, enrollment in presence in the child's life. Active presence. Participation. I felt that they were on to something.
I asked "does a lot of money make someone a better father than someone without money?" One boy said that celebrities have a lot of money, but they hire a staff to take care of the kids and cook for them and clean the house and nanny them while they're off being movie or rock stars. They may not love their kids less than someone who is home with the family, but it certainly seems like they have a different priority in life than caring for the kids.
Another boy said that he feels like in foreign nations or poorer areas of the country that families are closer, and that parents seem to take care of their kids better maybe because they're together all the time. They make sure the kids are fed before themselves. And another boy said that in other cultures, the kids have to grow up and take care of the parents in their elderly years, so of course parents are going to want to take care of the kids so they will love and respect and take care of them when they're old.
We talked about nannies taking care of babies, and nursing homes taking care of the elderly, and how that seems to be wrong in a lot of ways. That maybe modern America has some priority issues.
We talked about a baseball player (I am not sure what team he plays for) who took a lot of heat for missing the first couple games of the season because his wife had a baby. I asked if they thought he made the right decision. They weighed the options. On the one hand, baseball pays his salary and makes it so his wife and baby can have a good life. On the other hand, it's the beginning of the season, not the playoffs.
"Men who are in business can take time off, why can't this guy?" asked one of the boys. In the end, they thought he made the right decision. And they also said they thought that if it was a playoff situation that the wife might understand if he had to be at the game... it's a world of difference between the start and end of the season.
The final part of the discussion came up and we talked about whether or not they'd be good fathers. Most of them are 14 and 15 years old. So they made faces. "I'm really selfish and immature. So no. Not yet." Geoff pointed out there were a couple girls in his grade who were pregnant. The younger guys were astonished.
That's when I said that a moment can change a lifetime. I encouraged them to keep that in mind no matter what age they are and not just with sex but with a lot of other decisions they may have to make at a moment's notice.
Since the overall discussion was really about sex though, we had to circle back to that. I wasn't going to tell them to BE ABSTINENT OR ELSE! or anything ridiculous. Some of the best advice I ever heard was from a college professor at our Christian college.
"We are biological creatures, and sometimes our biology outweighs our common sense. So just be aware of that when certain moments cross your path."
They all kind of laughed. "So the best way to make sure your life doesn't change and her life doesn't change is to protect yourself. If that means you don't do it, that's your choice. If that means you take protective measures, that's your choice." I also said that it is incredibly brave to make a decision to not have an abortion, but to have a baby, when you're 17 or 18.
"She probably thought she'd go to a four year college, maybe be in a sorority, live in a dorm... have that typical American college experience and now her path has changed forever. Now she may be working and taking night classes at the community college instead. Her life isn't ruined, it's just different."
And it all came back full circle to the "father vs. baby daddy" concept. What is the guy's role now? He has a choice too. He can be a father or he can be a baby daddy. He can maybe once every few weekends take the kid off her hands so she can do something. Or he can be actively involved, his college path can change, they can work together. If they get married fine, if they don't... find some sort of partnership that works for everyone.
It was really weird to have the seven boys sitting there listening to every word I said, and really thinking about it. I ended the meeting by asking them to tell me something they really loved about their fathers. Sense of humor, active involvement, shared interests like canoeing or shooting sports or cooking. It sounded to me like everyone had great role models and maybe they're kids now but they'll learn from their dads how to be a decent father.
We left the meeting laughing. For as worried as I was in touching on these topics, these guys had some hugely great suggestions and thoughts and deeper and more mature understanding than I expected walking into requirement 7.