|Close Up: Dennis Mansfield|
|Written by Leslie Santamaria|
|Wednesday, 06 February 2013 04:38 PM EST|
Latest project: Beautiful Nate (978-1-451-67851-2, $21.99, Howard Books, March).
Why did you choose to write your family’s story of losing your son Nate when he was 27? My goal in writing Beautiful Nate is to encourage families and individuals that even when we do everything right in raising our children, things can often turn out very wrong. Having been so close to the child-rearing 1-2-3s of evangelical Christianity for a decade, my bride and I ended up ultimately realizing that much of what we did was done as child-centered, fear-based parents—and these behaviors did not work. In an ironic twist we may have ultimately succeeded in our unintended goal: raising children—when what was needed was to raise adults.
You fought for traditional family values for many years. What did you do in that regard and with whom did you work? Having been involved in California politics since 1978, I have experience as a lobbyist, campaign manager, candidate, businessman and legislative chief of staff. In 1990 I was honored to become the founder and executive director of Focus on the Family’s Family Policy Council (FPC) in Boise, Idaho…FPCs are located in state capitols across the United States. It was my duty to develop a two-pronged approach to influencing pro-family public policy: 1. Develop legislation and 2. Influence public opinion.
How did your experience as Nate’s father change your view of parenting? Nate was an explorer as a little boy. I was unendingly cautious of his explorations. As a young, cocky father who had intentionally studied many of the Christian child-rearing books, I thought I had all the strong and safe answers. In time, as Nate grappled and grew into adolescence, I was worn thin and began to wonder if I even knew the questions! By his 20s, Nate helped me learn that he was going to do what he wanted to do—legal or otherwise—and it was fully his decision to do so. Hard as that was to experience, it more accurately reflected the freedom that the Lord allows us to have as His kids. How Nate chose to act as an adult no longer reflected on my value and self worth.
Could you explain what you mean by “child-centeredness” and “fear-based parenting”? Being “child-centered” focuses parents’ attention on their kids in an unhealthy way. We treat our children as though their wants and needs trump the collective needs and desires of the family. The child becomes the center of the family, receiving undue attention with an ongoing overblown sense of self-importance. Child-centered parenting often creates selfish teenagers—and a world of hurt on the horizon.
“Fear-based parenting” acts in opposition to faith. Parents who are fear-based construct scenarios of deep distress and pain before anything could ever even happen to their children. Parents create fear within their children by trying to overly protect them from the difficult things of life. This childhood fear can often manifest itself as an unusual interest by the child in the underbelly of life—things they were told to stay away from. In the end, the opposite is often achieved.
What do you mean by “performance-based faith”? Since the early 1970s, evangelical Christianity has inadvertently created a competitive environment of parenting within the body of Christ. Our Christian subculture has created a series of opportunities which feed into this competitiveness: memorization programs, Christian schools and homeschooling end up pitting kids against one another, allowing status-craving parents the false sense of security that their child is growing in their faith simply because they may be scoring well on scriptural tests.
Why is the question, “Do you really want to raise children?” important to consider? A friend asked me an important question at a key time in my raising of Nate: “Do you really want to raise a good child?” Of course I was surprised by his question, the girth of which involved more than I suspected. “Yes” was my Sunday school answer. He ripped into me. “No, we shouldn’t want to raise good children or bad children, for that matter. We should want to raise adults.” Balance is the key to everything.
You write about several things you’ve learned since Nate’s death. What is one of the most important lessons you’d like our readers to grasp? One of the most important lessons I’d like readers to embrace is this: If there is breath, there is hope. I prayed for Nate, I walked with Nate, my family and I hoped for Nate when he had almost given up hope on himself. We lived with a son (and brother) who tested us at every turn. And as long as he was alive, we never gave up hope for him and in him. At the point of his death, we looked to the Lord, saw breath inside ourselves and realized that hope was still alive for us, though Nate was now in heaven.
What should Christian retailers know about Beautiful Nate? This is a book about hope, even though the source of the book stems from a very painful set of personal experiences. The story line involves the death of my precious son and yet it more accurately reflects the losses endured by others in their own lives—and provides hope for them to navigate through the troubled waters of their own lives.