New Dad Diaries – Week 16: The Father Hood – Stephen Mansfield (Part 1)




Chronicling life as a new father to his beautiful firstborn child – daughter Thea – Chris Kerr’s goal is to provide all men experiencing fatherhood for the first time with some invaluable tips and tricks as they are learned – the hard way.  Acknowledging he needs help too(!), Chris has called on a group of dads he calls, ‘The Father Hood’ to ask them for their tips and wisdom.  In this edition, Chris sits down with Stephen Mansfield, a New York Times bestselling author, and a husband and father. 

Last week I told you about the moment someone turned up the pressure gauge on me when they said this: “How you treat your daughter, and how you treat your wife, will ultimately determine whether Thea grows up to marry a good man or a bad one. You are the standard by which she will judge any man – so be a great one, for her sake.”   

Those words were ringing in my ear when I looked at two-day-old Thea tucked up asleep in her Moses basket. She was so tiny. So vulnerable. So dependent on me and my wife. It was an overwhelming moment to be honest. Her complete reliance on me plus the love I feel for her, which cannot be articulated, led to an immensely powerful moment. One in which I decided to leave no stone unturned in order to be a great man and, hopefully, a great father too.  

That night I decided to go back to a book which has already had a profound impact on me: Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men. If you haven’t read it, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.  Stephen is also the Founder of Great Man, an organisation that teaches men worldwide the philosophy, art and skills of manly excellence, equipping them to combat toxic masculinity along the way.  So, as all of us continue our journey to being great men and great fathers, I thought I would chat to the man himself.  Here’s Part 1 of the interview:  

Stephen, you run the Great Man organisation and produce a podcast of the same name, all to help men become great men. What, in your opinion and experience, makes a great father?  

I use a definition that means a lot to me. It’s that great fathering is assuring the conditions that allow for the fulfilment of destiny. When my children were born, I saw them as a gift from God. They were entrusted to me. And they had gifts. They had abilities, they had callings. They were this bundle of potential, so to speak, which I use the overarching word ‘destiny’ to describe.  

There’s a great deal of fun and joy and rowdiness in being a father, and I embrace all of that. Nobody wrestled more, nobody threw more food or snowballs at their children than I did with mine.    

But I also had a responsibility in the serious aspects of fathering. Let me say it in the negative. If my son doesn’t have a foundation of faith, he can’t fulfil his destiny. If he’s not confident, he cannot fulfil his destiny. If he doesn’t know how to deal with adversity, if he doesn’t know how to deal with being hurt by other human beings, if he doesn’t know how to treat women, if he doesn’t know how to dig himself out of a dark night of a soul, that kind of thing – then he cannot fulfil his destiny.    

For me, most important aspects of fathering are solidified in my mind when I think of my responsibility. That is, in addition to all the joys and fun, I have a responsibility to ensure that conditions that allow for the fulfilment of destiny are in place.  It was that principle that really made me a better father.   

In Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men, you talk about an important maxim that all men should live by, namely that a man fully owns and takes responsibility of the field assigned to them. Could you tell our readers what you mean by this and how it applies to fathers? 

Well, I believe that for every phase of a man’s life, there is a divinely ordained field assigned to him. Now, this language comes from the ancient world, specifically it comes from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6. In its original Greek translation, the word was ‘Metatron’, which is a clearly defined space.   

A great man fully owns and takes responsibility for that defined space which is to say the total body of things for which he is responsible and accountable to God for. He needs to be tending that field, just like a farmer.   

So, the 16-year-old boy’s field might be half a bedroom and a job at the local pizza place. He may also have some homework to do, and a girlfriend. Maybe his parents require him to mow the lawn once a week. That is his clearly defined space and, as small as it may seem, he will tend to it, if we teach him to take care of those responsibilities as part of his obligation in the world, and his budding role in manhood.   

The man in his 40s may have a house and five children, a job and political connections or obligations that he’s got to fulfil. He may have an ailing mother-in-law, and then of course, he has his own body and needs to take care of himself. There is fun stuff in there too like making sure he has time with his friends. God isn’t an evil taskmaster; our fields aren’t all hard work, heavy duties and exhausting. 

One of the great arts of noble manhood is knowing the field assigned to us for any stage of our lives and tending to it well. I believe that increase comes from tending your field right up to its boundaries, in other words, right, right up to its edges. If you tend less than what’s assigned to you, you’re not going to have growth. If you do more than what’s assigned to you, you’re going to have burnout stress.  

So, the idea is to try to find as best you can, the actual Metatron, so to speak, the actual measured space of the field assigned to you. And that has really helped me It’s kept me from burnout. It’s made me more productive in business. And of course, your children are in that. So, no man who’s thinking about the field assigned to him, would be neglecting his children and thinking he’s fulfilling God’s purpose for the season of his life.  In that regard, being a great man means being a fully present, loving father to your children.   

I guess one of the difficulties men have is balancing all their responsibilities. One of the biggest conflicts is trying to be successful at work whilst being a really present husband and father. What advice do you have for men that are earnestly trying to balance these? 

I believe that one of the things men are really good at doing, when they choose to, is to narrate their work lives for their children. This makes a massive difference when it comes to this chasm between family and work. These men bring their children into connection with their work life. No matter your work, it should not be some other competing world that your children don’t understand.   

What does bridging that gap look like?  Tell them what you do. Tell them that, if you work hard, “We’ll be able to take this vacation” or “We can get this new house we are dreaming of”. Whatever it means for all of you as a family. You need to make sure that your work isn’t the enemy.   

I believe that men have an obligation to narrate the world for their children. That’s part of their growth and development. So, narrate work for them. I am a big believer in daddy days at work, where you bring your children into work with you. So then, for example, Jackie your Executive Assistant at work, is Aunt Jackie, she’s a buddy to your kids. She’s not some person who is pulling your attention away every time she calls or emails you with a problem. Your kids see her and she keeps candy in her drawer for them. 

For you, Chris, and your daughter – as soon as she is old enough, she should understand what you do with Sorted magazine. She should understand that you do it for good reasons, that you are admired and people read your work and their lives are changed. She should be able to say that she has met your boss, colleagues and friends.  She may, if you get paid for this work, be able to see that this role is bringing in finances for the family and so on.  

Then there are some practical tactics. I worked with a very highly ranked US politician who had two cell phones. One cell phone was for everyone, and his other cell phone was just for his daughter. That daughter could call that phone anytime she wanted to and he would always answer it. He even stepped out of meetings with President’s to take that call. 

The funny part of the story is that when he first set that arrangement up, his daughter called him all the time for a week. He always answered and so she got to a point where she felt assured that she could reach him. She then stopped calling him as much. She just needed to know that her dad was connected to her and that he loved her and prioritised her. That kind of tactic can have an enormous impact on your children.   

I didn’t know about that tactic when I was raising my kids. If I had, I would have done it. I would have given my children direct access to me. Now that I do know, I am always committed to taking calls from my wife, children and grandchildren no matter where I am in the world, even on planes.  That really makes a difference, even now when my kids are in there 30s and nearing 40.  

I think the challenge for men, to summarise, is to close that gap between the unknown world of work and their children and family. Bridge it. Let your child see your work for what it is – an ally, even this gift from God for the family, as opposed to this dark thing that is always stealing dad away.   

Thea trying out Dad’s laptop. Should I be concerned by what she (genuinely) typed? 

Stephen really struck a chord with me.  I recently took a ten-month old Thea into the office to meet my law-firm colleagues.  She even had a go on my computer.  Zoom in and look what she typed.  Should I be concerned?! 

“Sass sass sass sass sass” – yes I think I should be concerned. Very concerned

Join us next week for more from Stephen, as we discuss fatherlessness, maintaining and improving your marriage in busy seasons of parenting, nailing the ‘dad look’ and more. 

Chris Kerr

Chris is a husband to Alicia and father to Thea, who is the subject of his columns on Fatherhood for Sorted.  In his spare time he works for a national law firm in an executive capacity and provides crisis leadership consultancy support for non-profits across the UK.  He attends Urban Crofters Church in Cardiff.  A keen weekend adventurer, Chris is regularly spotted in the sea or on mountains.

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