Cyma Shapiro Chats with Gregory Slayton, author, forthcoming book BE A BETTER DAD TODAY!
This is actually my second book; the first was one I wrote with my wife that became a surprise best seller in its home market of Bermuda, where I was stationed as the US Chief of Mission. Like this book, we gave 100% of our royalty proceeds to charities, so it was very fulfilling.
I wrote Be a Better Dad Today because I grew up myself without much of a father. My dad was an alcoholic, an absentee dad and then he left the family entirely, 25 years prior to his death, and we never heard from him again. But one thing I learned is that no matter where you come from, good home or bad, you can become a better dad if you try. That fact motivated me to study best practices of fatherhood, which I have collected over the past 20 years, from research spanning across 5 continents. I wanted to share my findings with other dads, who, like me, might not have had a good example to follow growing up.
Q: Despite extensive service to our government, it appears as if your own family is (by far) your greatest achievement and accomplishment. Can you tell us more?
Absolutely, first of all let me express that Fatherhood and Motherhood are the two pillars of a stable family, so it is very important for a man to talk with his wife so they can help grow their family together. To survive the ups and downs of the journey of life together, it helps to have a good map. In my book I call this map a Nobel Family Vision. You have to have goals to know where you want to take your family. I have done this with my family, and outline how others can do the same in theirs. My family, as you say, fulfills me far more then my contributions as a professional.
Q: What message do you hope to convey to fathers which is different from the messages offered through other books written by and for this group?
Well first let me say, there are a lot of great books on this subject from men and women I truly respect. With that said, one thing I think is unique about what Be a Better Dad offers to men, is the step-by-step guide on how to put the principles I write about into practice. I also try to make sure I speak to men at all levels, not targeting a particular age or income bracket, because the truth is, it is never too late to be a better dad! And each and every one of us needs help in that quest.
Q: Many older men have opted to become first-time or second-time fathers at a later age. Can you speak about new older fathers and what wisdom they might bring in these new circumstances?
Children are such a wonderful blessing at any age, I think it’s fantastic whenever a man decides to be a real father. Like you mention, older dads bring wisdom and life experience to the table. But that does not always ensure you are prepared for the task of fatherhood. That is why I thought it would be helpful to go into detail on the ten tools of fatherhood, tools that can help any dad at any age.
Q: What are the three or four attributes/philosophies which you have conveyed to your own children?
Sons need someone to show them how to be a man, regardless of the society they come from; young men need role models to show them how to be men. This message of mentorship and leadership to young men is something I have taught to my own sons to value and demonstrate. Also, I make sure to tell my children that the fatherhood journey is a life long journey, no one is perfect, least of all me, but we can all work every day to become better. For daughters, it is important for dads to affirm them, letting them know they are valued, special and respected. I try to do this with my daughter, and also teach my sons to do this for theirs some day.
Q: Midlife Mothers are often grappling with issues germane to their age-group: peri- and/or menopause, aging grandparents, blended stepfamilies, etc. How can a father, of any age, help support women through this often difficult time?
Good communication is really the key to reducing the stress of the women in your life. With my wife, I make sure to ask her how she is doing, and to really listen to what she tells me. I also work to include her on all my career decisions, letting her know I value her wisdom and seek her support. I may not always understand her reasoning, but it seems that simply being available to listen is often the best thing to supporting her, regardless of her emotional state. And most of the time she gives me fabulous advice, because she knows me better than anyone and always has my best interests at heart.
Q: Men straddling Baby Boomers and/or Gen X or Y are often faced with an ever-changing world ripe with confusing societal expectations and mores. In many instances, a more traditional approach doesn’t work with women who are now, themselves, breaking with many norms. What can you say to these fathers?
Being a good father can come in many forms. In our electronic age, dads can send an all-family email, requesting feedback on an upcoming family decision like where to go on vacation. Or guys can post encouraging comments to their spouse on facebook during the week. The important key is to make every effort to reach your family members where they are at; but I don’t think anything is ever going to replace good old fashioned face to face conversations around the dinner table.
Q: Many men still find it difficult to share their feelings, their dreams, expectations, and hopes for the future. What advice can you offer?
It’s true that many of us guys aren’t the best communicators in the world. And that’s okay. There are very real, although sometimes subtle, differences between men and women. And it’s important for us guys to recognize and accept those differences (just as we hope our wives will accept them). In my book, I take time to outline different ways us guys can ask to help get the ball rolling with their family when discussing life goals and plans for the future. Men often need a bit of help in the communication front, but once you’ve established a deeper level of communication with your wife and kids you will know that it was worth it.
Q: In your book you outline many life passages including the “Journey” and “Special Situations” that fathers face. However, it is your “10 Tools of Fatherhood” – including Family Fun, True Moral Compass, Heartfelt Love, and Heaven’s Help which clearly explains your personal philosophy. Please tell us how you created this, and which “tool” speaks most personally to you?
The tool that speaks most personally to me is Heaven’s Help. Coming from a pretty bleak family life as a child, I really wasn’t sure I could ever be a good father. But as a young man I read a verse in the Bible that has to this day shaped my perspective on all I do. That is Proverbs 16:3 “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” With the Lord’s help, we can succeed
Q: How would you rate yourself as a new father? What grade would you give yourself, today?
I think for this question it would be better to ask my wife and our kids!
Q: Finally, what is the one message you would like to convey to other fathers, on Father’s Day?
No matter where you are on the fatherhood journey, and no matter where you’ve come from, it’s not too late to be a better father, starting today. We all need help, we all need encouragement, and we all need the right tools to get any job done right. Fatherhood is the most important job any of us are ever going to have. From the president of the United States to the CEO of the biggest company in the world to the guy taking out the trash, there is no job more important than being a good dad to your children. It’s the only job that will last a lifetime, and beyond. And in the long-term, it’s the most rewarding job in the world, by far.
The Honorable Gregory Winston Slayton is an American father, professor, diplomat, author, businessman, and philanthropist. He has served as US Chief of Mission to Bermuda, appointed by President George W. Bush and extended by President Obama. He currently manages Slayton Capitol and is a visiting professor at Harvard, Dartmouth and Stanford. He resides in New Hampshire with his wife of 23 years and their four children. Visit http://www.beabetterdadtoday.com/.