Everyone needs a vision and the means to fulfill it. By “vision” I mean something in life bigger than you, more important than you. If a family is going to bond, they must be working together to fulfill a commonly shared vision. It can be a homestead vision to build a log cabin. Or it can be planting a garden or remodeling an old house. It can be a science project. Or it can be all of you taking music lessons and becoming the Mini-Van­Troop Gospel Singers.

It can be any field of study or discipline, maybe getting a telescope and observing the stars and planets. It can be anything the family does together where there are positive, fruitful results. If you don’t provide a vision, the children will find their own and it might not be the proper kind.

They should be able to stand up on the bow of the family ship and imagine the new world to which they are sailing. They should see that the family they are in is taking them some place important; otherwise they will jump ship. If you keep your kids on the cutting edge of experience, they will feel sorry for those that don’t have their captain and are not on their ship. If you can win your boys’ hearts, if you can keep them interested in life, they’ll stick with you.

My daddy gave me a vision. When I was 7 or 8 years old, he was a house painter. He would bring home buckets of paint and old lumber and pile it up out back. He provided nails and a hammer, allowing me complete liberty to build anything I wanted. Before I was 11 years old, I constructed a hog shed for our new piglets. I would build all kinds of things and paint them with all the leftover paint. He also brought home old wagon wheels and wheelbarrow wheels, and with the lumber and other assorted junk I would make push cars out of them. Then we would ride them down the steep hills, racing for first place. I usually won, I think because of the bright red paint.

When I got a little older, he bought a set of brass stencils to letter mailboxes and three cans of oil paint—white, black, and red. He said, “Now you can go out and paint mailboxes.” I fixed my bicycle up with a big basket to haul my material, and with that eight dollars’ worth of stuff, I went out and painted mailboxes. I made as much money in a day as a common adult laborer.

Later my daddy painted a few pictures, and he got me started painting as well. I had hope of being a great artist one day. I did go on to make a good living painting landscapes and wildlife after I became an adult.

So my daddy was constantly giving me vision. Every day for about two weeks he brought home a truckload of old stones and started building a stone fence in the backyard. Once I had the hang of it, he quit and left it to me. I spent the entire summer vacation when I was about 15 years old building a stone fence the length of the property. I griped until it was clear he didn’t understand that kind of language and I just laid rock—after rock—after rock. But do you know what I’m doing right now at home fifty years later? I’m laying rock. I love to lay rock. My daddy kept me in visions, and possibly out of trouble. When the other guys were hanging out, my tongue was hanging out from the heat and exhaustion.

If you just set your boys aside, leave them at home watching cartoons and playing video games, don’t be surprised and whine when they jump ship and join some wicked, sinful, drug-crazed crowd and go off into sexual immorality, impurity, or just end up lazy bums on the welfare program, voting Democrat.

If you don’t give them a vision, teach them to work, and get them involved in creative projects when they’re 8 or 9 years old, what makes you think they’re going to be different when they’re 18 or 19 years old?

Actually, you need to start sooner than that. I’m teaching my 3-year-old grandson to work right now, and my granddaughter Gracie is working. Kids will wear themselves out for you when they can see and enjoy the success of their labors.

Don’t just give them nasty jobs and treat them as slave labor; they’ll file the chains off their ankles and jump ship. In other words, don’t just make them work for you; work with them in fellowship. Make your kids crew members, not passengers. Give them a job that makes them feel they are making a vital contribution to the family.

The problems most of you have with your kids don’t exist in a Mennonite community where everyone is needed to cut firewood, haul and stack it, milk cows, churn butter, collect eggs, take care of the animals, construct a barn, put a roof on, cut the sorghum and cook it, pull in the hay, etc. Everybody’s working, everybody’s busy, everybody’s needed, and there’s no such thing as a lack of self-worth. No such thing as self-loathing. Everyone knows they’re important to the community and that they have a place in it.

It is this city lifestyle where all of your needs are conveniently met, all the appliances doing your work for you, that robs the children of accomplishing a vision. Daddy does all the work and the kids are not needed, not useful. So they develop a sense of being worthless. Why? Because they are worthless. They’re not needed to do anything. So you need to create a lifestyle where your children are needed.

When a kid feels good about himself because he’s triumphed, and you’re the one who made it possible, the one who stood by him, who encouraged him, who applauded his successes, who looked past his failures, who bragged when he took another step, who brought your friends in and celebrated when he finally succeeded . . . you do that and he won’t get off your ship. He’ll stay on your ship until it’s time for him to be the master of his own. When a kid feels good about himself and you’re the one who made it possible, he will always want to be on the ship you’re on. My book Jumping Ship explores this subject very thoroughly.