Of all the things I don’t want my son to inherit from me, the biggest is my fear of confrontation. So when I found out I was having a boy, I realized I was finally going to have to learn how to fight. My own father – who boxed at college, has scars on his knuckles from boyhood knife fights in the Bronx, and nearly got court-martialed for punching his sergeant – tried to teach me a bunch of times, but I always refused. When he insisted, putting my fists up by my face, I giggled. No one wants to teach a boy to punch while he’s giggling.
So I asked UFC President Dana White if he’d train me so I could try to overcome my fears by getting in the chain-link octagon for one round with fighter Randy Couture. As part of the training, Dana had a muay thai black belt kick me in the leg. Then he had a jiu-jitsu black belt choke me out. Dana seemed less into teaching me how to fight, then in teaching me how to get beat up. Which was actually way more practical for my fight with Randy Couture.
All of this – and much more – is chronicled in a book about my many man adventures called Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity, which you can conveniently buy here.
After all this, I truly believe I should sign my son up for mixed martial arts classes. Which I’m sure he’ll giggle about when I suggest it. To figure out how to get around that, I asked Dana for some more advice about fatherhood:
Q: Why do you think it’s important to enroll my son in a mixed martial arts class?
A: Obviously, obesity is a huge thing right now. People are always talking about how their kids just sit around and play video games all day. Another big problem is bullying in school. He has to learn to defend himself. Also, marital arts play a huge part in one’s self esteem and confidence.
Q: What age should I start him?
A: I started my kids in boxing at three, then I got them into Muay Thai and wrestling. I’ll get them into Jiu-Jitsu when they are in high school. There is no age that is too young to get them involved. As long as you keep it fun.
Q: Why not karate?
A: You don’t want to waste your kid’s time. If you put them in a martial art, you want them to actually learn to fight.
Q: My three-year-old son avoids fighting at all costs – he lets other kids take his stuff and just stands there. What do I do?
A: Your kid’s personality is what it is. I have a son like that. One of my sons will let people cut in front of him, but you should see this kid fight – he can really fight. The younger one won’t let anyone do anything to him. You can’t cut in front of him – you can’t say anything to him. They are built differently. I don’t teach my kids to be one way or the other, but what I have done is armed them with the tools that if anything bad happens and they get into a confrontation, they can protect themselves.
Q: So is male aggression mostly genetic or does nurture have a lot to do with it?
A: It’s both. Some kids live in neighborhoods where they eventually have to stick up for themselves. Then there are kids that are just born aggressive.
Q: What was the average UFC competitor like as a kid?
A: Most of the guys aren’t what you would expect. A lot of them are quiet, humble and polite. Most of them don’t look like fighters. If you ever saw Rory MacDonald in a bar, you would absolutely start a fight with that guy. And then when you woke up from your coma eight months later, everyone would be telling you that your facial reconstruction went really well and you kind of look like you used to.
Q: How old should a boy be before he sees his first UFC fight?
A: My kids were watching it when they were very young. I don’t think there is anything wrong with letting your kids watch it. It’s a sport. It’s a sport where two athletes train their whole life to become the best and then compete against others to prove that they are the best.
Q: Which UFC fighter do you think is the best dad?
A: There are so many of them. The UFC is just like life: There are some that are great dads and some that aren’t very good dads at all. Being a UFC fighter doesn’t make you a better father or a worse father.
Q: What are today’s men not teaching or telling their sons that they should?
A: As a father, it’s your duty to send your boys off into the world knowing how to defend themselves. The world is a scary place. He should be prepared to fight before he heads out to the world. I don’t think the first place your son should be punched in the face is on the playground.