By Chad Habel, Dads Group Inc
The Vikings loved their children, and when they weren’t exploring, travelling, farming, raiding or invading faraway shores, they dedicated much of their lives to raising strong children who would do them proud. Although the progress of modern life makes some Viking past-times… inappropriate for our society, there is still a lot to learn from Viking fathers. Let’s just forget the stabbing and slavery, hey?
1. Be courageous
Becoming a Dad is one of the hardest and wildest things a man will ever do: it brings totally unexpected challenges and requires all kinds of strength, endurance and adaptability. The Vikings had this in spades: from facing the bitterly cold winters in their homelands in Scandinavia, to travelling thousands of miles to find new lands, to fighting bravely for the spoils of war or negotiating to settle in those news lands, Vikings were courageous in taking on new challenges. It’s just this kind of courage we need to start out as fathers.
2. Embrace change but remember where you came from
The Viking Age was one of the most dynamic and exciting times in pre-modern history: huge advances in transport, weaponry, agriculture, and socio-political systems occurred to ensure not just survival but thriving societies. For example, conversion to Christianity helped modernise Viking societies hugely. This adaptability meant that Vikings were honoured throughout history as noteworthy warriors, farmers and explorers. At the same time, they remembered where they came from and often worshipped the old gods side by side with the new one.
3. Respect your shieldmaiden
While the details are scarce, we do know that women had a strong role in Viking society. When the men were out raiding, exploring, trading or finding new settlements, women ran the entire homestead. We don’t know whether many historical women actually fought in battle, but the sagas and other reports certainly suggest that they were seen at least as fierce and strong as men – and let’s face it, to go through the pain of birth and keep standing is pretty impressive. The mothers of our children deserve nothing less than our complete respect.
4. Honour your children
Like parents everywhere, the Vikings honoured and loved their children above all else. Some graves (for example in Birka, Sweden) had children of wealthier families buried with all the lavish expense of a feudal lord, with jewellery, weapons, games, and pets included in the grave. Viking families were very close and both parents had a very active and loving role in bringing up their children – after all, who else is going to tell stories of your great deeds after you are gone?
5. Your children should outdo you
As famous, powerful, and honoured as Ragnar Lothbrok was, in the sagas his deeds paled into insignificance compared to his sons. That’s exactly how it should be – if you’re doing your job right your children should be stronger, smarter, better learners and more successful than you are. That’s just natural progress. It doesn’t reflect badly on you – it means you’ve done a great job and contributed to the improvement of the family and tribe.
6. Games are fun
Being a Viking wasn’t all about farming, raiding, and stabbing people in the neck. Archaeological discoveries have found many dice (some imported from as far as China) and boardgames including Hnefatafl, or Viking Chess. It’s similar but has different starting pieces and rules for moving. The game helped to teach the tactics and strategies required to win in battle - so games were also an important part of learning as well as a way to bond as a family and pass the long cold winter nights.
7. Learning is hard
Viking children were taught from a young age the most important skills of life – which often included impaling your enemies on the end of a sword. So early play for children involved playfighting with wooden swords to build the skills, resilience and strength to learn how to fight for real later on. While in the modern world we may frown upon stabby playtimes like this, we also know that growing up needs to involve real challenges, difficulties, and even failure for children to learn resilience and how to overcome adversity. This is how you develop Viking Grit: otherwise you just end up like an English monk at Lindisfarne.
8. Die on your feet
All Vikings knew that the only way to enter Valhalla was to die in battle. Nothing was worse than dying in bed, or as an old man. Now, obviously we don’t fight battles the same way we used to, but Vikings never gave up, were never defeated until the very end. This gave them strength and courage to be the very best they could be, and they passed these values on to their children and the wider society.
9. Join the shield wall
The exceptional military tactic that gave the Vikings so many victories was the shield wall: warriors would band closely together behind interlocked shields that became a wall that was impenetrable to arrows, spears and swords. This is only possible for a group of people who band tightly together into a strong community, so opportunities to bond and look after each other really create the strength of the tribe.
Just like Vikings, dads all across Australia form a shield wall by getting together via Dads Groups Inc. This helps them become loving, involved fathers who aren’t afraid to be the very best they can be. Visit www.dadsgroup.org to find your local group, search for us on Facebook or visit us at stand A08 at the Adelaide Pregnancy, Babies & Children’s Expo.
Chad Habel is the South Australian State Manager of Dads Group Inc and the proud, axe-wielding father of a five-month old shieldmaiden. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more about Dads Group Inc at www.dadsgroup.org