Tom Matlack wondered if manhood is still passed down generation to generation by “role models.” Ken Solin responds.
The Question: It used to be that manhood was passed down generation to generation by “role models.” Does that still exist in some different form or was it always a crock?
This is an important topic because it is precisely the absence of role models for men that adversely affects our culture. What is referred to as the rights of passage, fathers passing the lessons of manhood down to their sons, was alive and well until the Industrial Revolution in the 1850’s. When fathers left their fields and went to work in the factories in the cities for higher wages, boys were left at home to be raised by their mothers.
While women gave this task their best and highest energies, they weren’t equipped to raise boys into men because they lacked the first-hand perspective. Only men had that perspective. When fathers took their sons into the fields with them, or apprenticed them in a trade, they taught them the lessons they would need as adult men. How to grow food, interact with other men, make a living, embrace integrity, the value of hard work, and fatherhood, were all lessons boys learned that enabled them to become the best men possible.
It’s been over 150 years since boys stopped learning the important lessons of life at their fathers’ knees. The catastrophic results of those lost lessons abound. Street gangs in the Ghettoes, youthful violence and looting like on the streets of London, men who behave like adolescents with women, misogyny, lack of integrity, men who eschew responsibility for their children, pornography instead of intimacy, and other dysfunctions, are proof that men aren’t receiving the lessons they needed to learn as boys.
Okay, so we know where we it all went wrong, even though mass production was inevitable and necessary to create a modern economic society. But how can men today make up for the lessons they weren’t likely taught by their own fathers? Equally important, how can men teach these lessons to their sons if they don’t really know those lessons?
What’s most important is that fathers first take the time to understand their own behavior. What motivates them as men and how they handle themselves with other men are good places to begin doing the work to prepare for fathering sons. Men have to learn to express what’s in their hearts, not just in their heads, if they hope to reach and teach their sons. A constant litany of advice and rebuke, aren’t substitutes for lessons based on understanding emotions and being able to control them.
Men also have to begin spending a considerable amount of time with their sons. Without a father’s strong, loving influence, a boy will gravitate to whoever or whatever calls to him in his father’s absence. There are no accidents when it comes to raising boys. It’s absolutely all about what a father instills in his son. Sure, good and even great men sometimes come from the most dysfunctional families, but that’s not ever going to be the gold standard for raising boys into men.
Single mothers with sons, who make up half of all boys’ parents, must have the help from their ex-husbands in order to achieve a good result. Fathers of boys who are divorced have even more responsibilities for their sons than fathers who live at home with them, because they generally don’t see them as often.
It’s about sacrifice. Instead of playing ball or golf with your buddies on Saturday morning, spend the time with your son. Teach him how to ride his bike, catch a fly ball, throw a curveball, make breakfast, build his self-confidence and self-esteem, appreciate the value of integrity, and how to behave as a young man.
There are no accidents in life in terms of great men. Most had solid father figures whose lessons helped mold their character. Since manhood is very much about character, a father’s lessons are the best character builders. If you’re involved, stay involved. If you’re not, get over the reasons why not, and become deeply involved. This is your son, and everything he achieves in his life will relate to what you taught him. The opposite is also true. There’s no age limit with fatherhood. My son is in his forties and I still offer my counsel and support, when he asks for it.
The pride I feel about my son and how he’s raising my grandson, is a powerful emotion. Each time I talk with my son, my heart swells with pride in the man he’s become. Every father can feel that pride in his heart. You won’t regret the energy you poured into your son, ever.
photo by Tobyotter / Flickr