Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: All Pro Dad by Mark Merrill

I blog about fatherhood under the tag Dad U, not because I think I've much to teach, but because I have a nervous suspicion of just how much more I have to learn. Four kids, yet still an undergrad, so to speak. Reading between the lines of his new book, "All Pro Dad", father of five Mark Merrill makes a similar point. The book is crammed with key pointers and observations, but with enough tales of road rash on the journey of fatherhood to appreciate his underlying humility. Kids are both mirrors and sponges and will blindside you with cutting perception of your "job performance" when you least expect. Some of the best "feedback" he has received include: "Dad, haven't you ever noticed that when you and Mom get along, we all get along?", and "Why do you go and teach other dads, when you haven't worked it out yourself?" (I couldn't find the direct quote, but that was the essence of it, and it's just too good to leave out!). When similar sentiments escape from the lips of your child (raises hand sheepishly), don't miss it,  but rather grasp the core of what that child is expressing: "Dad: You have not been listening, paying attention or being patient. You have been drifting into selfishness and away from us. We are here, not out there. Sharpen up, dad, we need you!".

"All Pro Dad" is not Mark's personal story, but rather a description of how different spheres of a guy's life can impact his ability to lead his family and raise his children effectively. His topics spring from 20 years of running Family First, friendships with like-minded leaders such as Tony Dungy, and a series of interviews with influential business, music and sports figures. Family First is a Tampa-based organization with a mission to "...strengthen the family by establishing family as a top priority in people's lives and by promoting principles for building marriages and raising children." 

"All Pro Dad" outlines seven themes for fatherhood: Makeup Mindset, Motive, Method, Model, Message and Master. Using a chapter for each, the book walks through subjects that are important for dads to understand if they want to build a lasting foundation for their children. Spotted throughout are other practical pointers, such as "Marriage truths", "Truths for parenting", "Essentials for the head of the family", and "4 C's of the CEO". 

The book really hits its stride when discussing the impact of fatherhood failure, and the power of redeeming sacrifice. Mark and his wife Susan are qualified "extra-milers" themselves, having adopted abandoned siblings from Russia. The impact of such first hand experience obviously provided much of the groundwork for a series of simple and very practical suggestions for how to build up your children: how to validate them, how to teach them the difference between image and identity, and how to build memories together, among numerous other pointers. Some of the best features of the book can be found at the end of every chapter. The "Huddle Up" questions are for dads to take a quiet moment with each of their kids, to prompt deep conversation and a tool to connect on a foundational level, such as:
"How do you know I love you?"
"What are three words that describe you?"
"What is one thing I can do to be more patient?"
"Have you ever seen me act selfishly? When?"
"When I am wrong about something, do I apologize?"
"How do you know I love Mom?"
Being raised in a culture that portrays manhood as coming with an emotionless granite-fascade and fatherhood as one-way ticket to Doofusville, it can take some REAL courage to ask for that kind of performance review.

There are a couple more elements that, if applied, could really add to the lasting impact of the book. 
(A) "All Pro Dad" is referenced in a way that other books should be, and much of the primary material is easily available, making a ready-made reading/watching list for those dads interested in delving deeper. 
(B) An appendix gives a step-by-step game plan for utilizing the content of each chapter. Here is a short example for "Makeup": 
Game plan: Help your child grow in his or her gifts.
  • Observe what your child is attracted to. What does your child do well? 
  • Ask your child "What are you really good at?"
  • Tell your child what you see as their greatest gifts.
  • Regularly affirm your child's gifts.
  • Grow your child's gifts: if they are musical, go to see a concert pianist; if curious of nature, take a hike and watch animals; if sporting, watch a game together.

As you can tell from the title, "All Pro Dad" is for dads who want to take their "game" to the next level. I recommend it as a very practical and applicable guide, particularly for dads who have not yet considered deeply the implications of their role as a father. 

Dad U
-making it up as you go along only works for a while....

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