Perhaps if I were to title my life I would tag it with ‘As the pendulum swings’. It is no secret that I have a become involved in the discussion regarding the challenges young men face in today’s world especially if they are fatherless. Involved to the point where I penned a book called
‘A Man’s Work Is Never Done…A Novel About Mentoring Our Sons’. Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 2-3 generations you would know that many young men are struggling mightily with the changes that are happening all around them. In short there is no lack of research that tells us many of our young men are just not able to keep up with the ever changing expectations that society now has placed on them. Traditional roles are being re-defined with little discussion about what that means to all those affected. This is due, I believe, to an inflated importance defined by political correctness. Peer pressure and bullying are climbing the list very quickly and the list goes on. As a consequence to all of this there is a co-incidental or perhaps not so co-incidental rise regarding many social indicators which suggest that we, as parents and guardians, teachers and mentors have lost touch with what it is our young men desperately need from us right now. We seem to be at a loss as to how to help them or where to go from here. We create harsher penalties for some things but mete out a slap on the hand for others creating a sense of confusion and a lack of boundaries, responsibility or accountability for decisions that are being made. We build bigger penal institutions, we employ ‘tough love’ approaches, we try to be their best friends, we make excuses for their horrible behavior and we have instilled a sense of entitlement in them that will surely lead, more often than not, to their demise whether that ends in death (suicides) or a complete breakdown of our social fabric. In any case the point to be made here is that none of this works.
I recently read, with great interest, a report tabled by two female social scientists/researchers. The essence of their report was that fathers are just not all that important in the scheme of things when talking about what and how a young man learns what he needs to know to be successful. I’m not sure what ‘successful’ means in this case. How do we define ‘success’ anyway? What are the criteria? Success, to me as a man in the world, is about helping a young man understand how to use and how to live the characteristics that define us as men each day. As mentors we need to help him become more aware of them as he moves from boyhood to manhood. These ingrained character traits are simple. They are also basic and they are intrinsic in men. Try to alter them, downplay or dismiss their importance is simply a large part of the problem we find ourselves faced with today. They also allow us to respond with freedom to the needs of family and the community we live in. Math and history can be learned but one cannot teach what seems to come to us naturally. We can explain, model and clarify what they are and what they mean. There are some things that haven’t changed in the last several hundred years if not longer. I am referring to our basic needs as human beings. We still need clothing, water, air, shelter, food and I’d like to add love and affection. Most kids learn and respond to what they see going on around them. To a young man-‘pa’ is everything. He is a teacher and a role model, a protector and provider, a mentor and a warrior.
My question,then, is do the social scientists really understand what a young man is truly thinking about when they ask the questions and surmise what the answers mean? Can anyone explain clearly what another is thinking and feeling at any given time? I doubt it. Who among us can describe what a cherry tastes like when you pick it fresh from the tree. Or what chocolate tastes like as it melts in your mouth.
After twenty plus years of hearing the stories from many fathers and sons about this very topic. I have put together a list of basic things that most sons need from their fathers or a strong and trusted role model that are necessary in order for a young man to engage in the process of transitioning from boyhood to manhood. I have been asked to share this list with anyone who is interested in learning more about this. Many who asked were single moms, single dads and grandparents. So I will try to add another ‘basic’ from the list in following blogs.
This first ‘thing’ that fathers need to give their sons is a must. As dads, role models or as mentors we need to give our sons our undivided TIME. If we say that we are going to do something with our sons then nothing short of an emergency or crisis should come between that promise and our time with our sons. He learns to trust what you say. By doing this first it establishes the footings upon which credibility is built. It also says that you see him as important and that he matters–that he is relevant. At this point we are planting seeds anticipating the growth that will follow.
That’s the way I see it anyway, Jim