Photo: Eagle Rock Boys Home Founder Scott Hilton signs a copy of his book, ‘Raising My Brother’s Child’ during the book launch event. (Courtesy of Colin Edwards/That’s My Dad Project)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
The founder of Eagle Rock Boys Home shares his life story and personal guide to parenting in his book “Raising My Brother’s Child.”
After 32 years of raising boys through Eagle Rock, Scott Hilton retired and has dedicated himself to sharing his experiences and hard-won wisdom with the world.
The book’s subtitle summarizes its purpose: “99 Real-Life Stories + 290 Practical Insights to inspire those raising children they didn’t bring into the world.”
“It’s a labor of love for me,” Hilton said. “My motivation in writing a book was that the house parents, the foster parents, the adoptive parents could learn from our 32 years of experience and perhaps make life a little better for the kids that they’re taking care of.”
When Hilton and his wife Diana founded Eagle Rock Boys Ranch in 1994, there was “no guidebook” available to them.
“We didn’t know how to deal with kids who had severe trauma,” Hilton said. “We didn’t know about attachment disorders. We didn’t know about genetics and the impact it has on a child’s behavior. We didn’t know about transgenerational genetic curses, I guess you would say. We didn’t know about all that, and we had to learn a lot of that the hard way.”
Learn they did, raising their two biological children and about 350 children through the boys home along the way.
“It’s all about a kind of duplicating,” Hilton said. “People talk about delegating, and I think we have to duplicate. We have to find other people with our same passion.”
The book is just one part of a multifaceted campaign called the That’s My Dad Project.
“The mission of the project is that we are breaking cycles of generational fatherlessness and inspiring fathers to become great dads,” explained Colin Edwards, marketing and publishing manager of the That’s My Dad Project and podcast producer for “That’s My Dad Podcast.”
The podcast, like Hilton’s book, is primarily focused on telling stories to inspire.
“Scott likes to say that the podcast is 85 percent inspiration and 15 percent instruction,” Edwards said. “His premise is that for decades now, people have (been giving) a lot of advice — and it’s good advice — but in the end, these fathers who were raised with no dad of their own and these fathers who are not on the right track, they’re not going to change and become the dad they need to be unless there’s actually some inspiration. A lot of what we do on the podcast is tell stories. We think stories are powerful.”
Many stories shared on the podcast are what Edwards refers to as “script-flippers,” which are the stories of abused or otherwise disadvantaged boys who have since become a “healthy father leading a healthy home even though they were raised in an adverse situation.”
These are punctuated, however, by feel-good, “chicken-soup stories.” Hilton explained that it is important to share positive fatherhood stories to create role models for their audience.
No matter the kind of story, the That’s My Dad Project aims to tell it in as accessibly as possible and in as many mediums as possible. Edwards films and publishes each podcast episode on YouTube to add a visual element. He pulls short clips from the episode to share on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, and once the podcast’s first season is completed, he plans to create a commemorative video documentary and print “coffee-table book.”
According to Edwards, audiences can expect several more books from Hilton in the near future, as well as a four-part seminar that will be used to educate groups of young men, new or expecting fathers. His passion for sharing impactful stories seems nearly as boundless as his compassion for the target audience. The That’s My Dad Project plans to expand its curriculum into church groups, school settings and into prisons, where Hilton said it is needed most.
“My vision is to [make these stories available] for young men who will one day be fathers so that they can see that, ‘Hey, I may not have a dad, but I can be a good dad,’” Hilton said.
He encouraged many of his own boys to connect with individuals in their community for that positive influence. He knew he needed to “duplicate instead of delegate,” even as a house parent.
“Every one of the script-flippers that we’ve interviewed have said somebody invested in them,” Hilton said. “The other thing that they all said was at some point in their life, they remember making a decision — ‘I’m going to do better. My kids aren’t going to have to go through what I went through.’”
Hilton admitted that he had experienced years of vicarious trauma, a phenomenon defined by the American Counseling Association as “the emotional residue of exposure to traumatic stories and experiences of others through work.” Vicarious trauma is one of several “difficult” topics covered in “Raising My Brother’s Child.”
“I went through a period of depression and just (was) at the end of my rope,” Hilton said. “And what I found is that a lot of people who work with kids do that, and they never admit it.”
Hilton said his goal is to help parents work through trauma with their kids in a way that is productive while minimizing the emotional toll. According to Hilton, being honest and open about his own struggles is a big part of how he helps others going through the same things.
Hilton has weathered traumatic experiences of his own, which he details in his life story in the book. At the end of the day, he finds himself asking, “Is it worth it?” To paraphrase a poem included on the last page of his book, Hilton said, “If you have no scars, you’ve not lived.”
“There’s a price to pay, but if you really want fulfillment in your life and to have purpose and meaning, you have to pay the price,” he said. “In my case, I paid a heavy price emotionally, financially and otherwise, but the fact that I now get to see the children of the children that I raised, to get to see those little kids having the kind of family that their dads didn’t have, what more do I need?”