Dear Old Dads & the Need for Secular Parenting Resources

Recently three separate hosts of podcasts I follow (Eli Bosnik, Thomas Smith, & Tom Curry) started a show titled ‘Dear Old Dads’. Essentially it’s a podcast where the three of them discuss their own fathers and their struggles/experiences of raising their own kids. At first, I started listening as an entertaining escape from the serious issues most podcasts I listen to deal with, but as the weeks progressed and I kept listening to new episodes, I realized just how much this kind of resource had been sorely missing from my life.

When I first became a dad back in July 2020, I knew there were things I needed to do differently in parenting. I don’t mean to throw shade at my parents; they both did the best with what they had. My dad especially went above and beyond to shelter me from some of the mental abuse he went through as a child. Still, as a secular parent, I knew there were aspects of parenting that I wanted to keep out of my parenting approach. The question was, what was I going to replace the standard model of parenting with?

As a child, I was taught two important truths. The first being “parents know best” and the second was not to show the slightest disrespect to elders and other authority figures. For many years I held fast to these doctrines. I believed that once I became a parent I would continue this legacy of authoritative parenting with my kids. 

Still, there were aspects of my parents’ style that never sat right with me, especially spanking. This was of course always justified with the old adage of “spare the rod, spoil the child” which although not in the Bible, sounds oddly Biblical and many parents treat it as gospel. I recall one story in a children’s book where a boy in the story realized that his parents spanking him to get him to obey was the same as him hitting his dog so he’d come when he was called and not run into the road.

As I got older, this parallel didn’t make much sense to me. After all, dogs wanted to obey naturally. There was no need to hit a dog if they weren’t being aggressive already in which case you’re just employing self-defense. People who beat their dogs end up with skittish animals afraid every time a human comes around. The fact that people still accept this method of discipline for dogs or children is something that continues to astound me.

On top of this, there’s a lot of standard parenting ideology that had to go out the window with gender roles, how we approach tantrums, and every other struggle of raising a child. But what then was I going to replace these traditional ideas with? The most I could find was a book on gentle parenting aptly titled “The Gentle Parenting Book” and a book by Dale McGowan and others titled “Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide to Parenting Beyond Belief”.

As a young father-to-be, this was my first introduction to what it would mean to be a nonreligious parent. Aside from the more empathetic approach to discipline, there were also many aspects I hadn’t considered. For instance, how did I want him to learn about religion? I certainly want my kids to be fluent in the Bible as it’s a major piece of literature, but how do I present it to my children in a way that seems unbiased in spite of the millions of Americans who treat it as the ultimate authority? How should I best introduce the concept of religions around the world? What do I do when one of my kids inevitably tells me about a belief or idea that I view to be faulty?

These are all issues that, although they didn’t have easy answers, gave me the opportunity to consider them from my new perspective. Many mothers and fathers end up forced into parenthood unexpectedly without time to prepare or consider what type of parents they want to be. My wife and I were no exception, but throughout these last few years, we’ve been able to work together to figure things out as a couple, but having places to turn to like the aforementioned books or the gang from ‘Dear Old Dads’ has been incredibly insightful in looking forward to the difficult decisions that lie ahead in this journey of parenthood.

Christian parenting resources are everywhere. A simple search on Apple Podcasts will return all kinds of shows for Christian parents of all denominations with tips and tricks for keeping your kids Christian, keeping your gay son closeted, or instilling a healthy dose of Stockholm Syndrome into your offspring. But for a growing majority of parents in America and the rest of the world, this kind of advice is growing less and less relevant. 

We need shows like ‘Dear Old Dads’ and books like “Raising Freethinkers” for the parents who aren’t trying to raise children to keep the faith but still need a little help along the way. We need more secular and nonreligious parents speaking out about issues that matter to them, getting involved in school boards, or writing about their experiences online. Parenting isn’t an easy job, and we could all use guidance regardless of our religious affiliations or lack thereof.

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