Mentoring —Saving The World (Part 2)

From Compass Point,

As we continue on our series on mentoring, let’s look at the needs of fatherless boys. I stated last month that I am convinced that the greatest, most effective way we help other people is through mentoring. At Better Dads we believe that by helping boys become good men we can make an effective change in our country in future years.  So what happens when boys don’t have positive male role models in their lives?
I have a friend who went on a field trip with his daughter’s third grade class.  On the bus ride to their destination a little boy he had never met before came up and sat down in the seat next to him.  The boy engaged him in conversation the entire trip.  After arriving at the site of the field trip the boy continued to walk and talk with my friend, eventually reaching out and taking hold of his hand while they strolled down the sidewalk.  On the bus ride back to school the boy again sat next to my friend.  Half way home he laid his little head on my friend’s shoulder and said earnestly, “I wish you were my daddy.  Do you wish I was your son?”
My friend related this story to me with tears in his eyes.  The yearning and craving this boy had for masculine “essence” was overwhelming.  He was like a dry sponge soaking up my friend’s maleness.
This need for a man to teach a boy how to face life carries through even into adulthood.  I was speaking at a prison once and one of the inmates told me a powerful testament of how this affects males even after they have grown into adulthood.  He told me that his cell mate was a very large, angry, and frightening man with a full beard.  One morning he awoke to the sound of someone sobbing.  He opened his eyes to see his cell mate attempting to dry shave his full beard with a disposable razor.  He very cautiously asked his cell mate what was wrong.  His cell mate turned towards him and he saw that he had cut his cheek very deeply attempting to shave.  He was bleeding profusely down his front and on the sink.

“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m shaving!” the cell mate said angrily.
Very tentatively the man asked, “Why are you shaving that way?”
“Because I never had a father and no one ever taught me how to shave!” the cell mate shouted in frustration.

Here was man who had never been shown the most basic of masculine hygiene.  He tried to cover it by not shaving and growing a beard.  When he did attempt to learn a new skill he failed at it and was humiliated.  The man told me that he offered to show his cell mate how to shave.  The cell mate was so grateful that he nearly started crying.

Several years ago we began presenting seminars for women on raising boys to become good men.  We found a huge segment of our culture where women were being forced to raise sons on their own.  Many of these women faced big disadvantages raising and understanding what their sons needed not only by not being male themselves but by never having been raised with a father or brothers while growing up.  In response to their dilemma of not having positive male role models for their sons we started a program called Standing Tall.  Standing Tall is a mentoring program for fatherless boys.  It is similar to a faith-based Big Brothers program.  It originally started in partnership with a local bible college.  There we trained the male seminary students to spend a couple of hours a week with the fatherless boys identified through our seminars for moms.  Almost immediately we started seeing some startling results.  Mothers of the boys began reporting that their sons’ entire countenances were changing.  They reported that their sons were better behaved, less angry, and doing better in school.  Some even credited the presence of the mentors with their sons’ improvement in reading scores (even though they never read together) and behavioral changes such as cessation of bedwetting.  Nearly all of the boys experienced more self-confidence and composure during their daily life activities.

We encourage the mentors to intentionally teach the boys character traits such as self-discipline, perseverance (not quitting), honesty, courage, respect for women (mother) and others.  Many of these boys do not learn these character traits, not because the mother doesn’t value them, but because they are more readily learned and accepted coming from another older male.

Other issues that we observe in fatherless boys are the unwillingness to accept challenges.  Because they have no confidence and a reluctance to experience humiliation by their failures, many of these boys do not receive the valuable lessons and self-esteem of failing and persevering until they succeed.  They also become frustrated and quit anything the first time it becomes difficult.  They tend to cry easier than most boys.  Very often they have been feminized by having only female influences in their lives.  They expect to be “rescued” by mom (or another female) and frequently will not try new things.  As they become older they get indecisive, passive, docile, and unable to commit to a relationship.  They tend to rely on females to make all the decisions that govern their lives and seldom take on natural leadership roles.  Again a male’s presence helps to guide and encourage them to persevere until they succeed thereby gaining the positive self-image and confidence to accept risk and attempt challenges in other areas of life.

These boys are also often angry.  Sometimes their anger is externalized and apparent in social and educational venues and other times it is internalized in passive-aggressive behavior.  Frankly they have a right to be angry—they have been deprived of their God-given right to a father to teach them how to make their way in this big, harsh world.  They do not have a father to teach, protect, and empathize with their struggles.  Frequently though this anger is being used to cover other emotions such as fear, humiliation, anxiety, vulnerability, or even pain.  Unless these boys are taught to recognize this they are doomed to believe they can solve any problem in life using anger and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Another observation we make in fatherless boys is the propensity they all have to be somewhat “affected.”  I don’t use that term in a disparaging manner but many (if not most) of them seem to have some sort of disadvantage associated with them.  It might consist of behavioral problems, speech impediments, emotional struggles, or even learning disabilities (frequently ADHD); but they generally have some sort of physical or emotional “issue” that sets them apart from their peers.  Often these differences cause them to be isolated and more comfortable in female company.

These observations are purely anecdotal but various studies appear to support the emotional struggles boys have without a father.  The trauma and stress of losing their father possibly combined with having only female influences in their life manifests itself through a variety of problems.

In a study described in the book, Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm, by Rogers Wright and Nicholas Cummings, kids with ADHD were paired with male therapists due to a noted absence of father involvement in the children’s lives. The kids were given behavioral treatment with the therapists and special attention was paid to developing a positive attachment to the male figure. At the end of the treatment, only 11% of the boys and 2% of the girls had to remain on medication. The authors of this study suggested that social forces may be major contributors to ADHD. Among these social forces are: “the absence of positive father role models; the presence of a revolving door for negative male role models brought into the home; poor parenting; the need for order in the classroom when teachers are severely curtailed in meting out discipline; and a declining appreciation in our culture of what constitutes normal boy behavior.”1

I frequently receive emails from mothers or relatives of boys who struggle mightily with no male role models in their life.  These boys have any number of problems but it’s pretty obvious that all of their troubles begin and end with the loss of their father.  They do not appear to have any chance of successfully living a healthy life from the path they are headed.  We have found the best, perhaps only, way to break this destructive cycle is to educate the mother and then instill a positive male role model in the boy’s life.

If you are a man someone needs you.  You won’t have to look far to find a male younger than you are in desperate need of what you’ve already learned.  Open yourself up to the opportunities to be used.  I promise you will not regret it.  The satisfaction you will get from seeing how you are helping to change lives with such very little effort on your part will be a magnificent blessing in your life.  It will make you feel like a man!

This article is excerpted from a book on authentic masculinity Rick wrote titled, “The Power of a Man–Using Your Influence as a Man of Character.”  This book is due for release January 2009.

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