Rather than try to change the basic nature of boys, why not work with who they are? Consider the all-too-typical case of Justin, a Southern California boy who loved science fiction, pirates and battles. An alarmed teacher summoned his parents to school to discuss a picture the 8-year-old had drawn of a sword fight — which included several decapitated heads. Justin was a well-behaved, normal little boy, but the teacher expressed grave concern about Justin’s values. The boy’s father was astonished, not by his son’s drawing — typical boy stuff — but by the teachers lack of sympathy for his son’s imagination. If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind.
I know what you’re thinking. Many dads still have not earned the “involved” adjective. Perhaps they’re emotionally distant, focused on the traditional breadwinner role. Or worse, far too many are absent entirely, leaving their children without a father and the mothers to fend for themselves as sole parent and provider. (Of course, women who’ve chosen to raise their children without a male partner or spouse are a different story!)
So what’s the problem with the phrase “involved dad?”
For one thing, it lets the uninvolved off the hook, as if those of us who are present in our kids’ lives are the exceptions, or exceptional, doing something different, unusual, special. No, we’re not; we’re just dads. Let the rest of them be labeled “uninvolved dads,” with the assumption being that a father by definition is one who does more than inseminate a woman.
Recently the oafish dad characterization has changed. After the complaints to a Lowes paint commercial in 2014, advertising agencies changed how they potrayed dads, and the public encouraged it. This is an ongoing collection of positive dad commercials.
Also, if there is any truth at all to evolutionary psychology, which tells us that women prefer mates who are achievers, what will it mean to Grant’s daughters and the daughters of others, when their pool of eligible men diminishes due to this still not well-known gender gap?
I cannot think of any time when a group that was stagnating in their achievements was being asked to support the aspirations of a group that is outdoing them.
What human trafficking looks like for young men by Ian Urbina in the New York Times.
Mr. Andrade, who died in February 2011, and nearly a dozen other men in his village had been recruited by an illegal “manning agency,” tricked with false promises of double the actual wages and then sent to an apartment in Singapore, where they were locked up for weeks, according to interviews and affidavits taken by local prosecutors. While they waited to be deployed to Taiwanese tuna ships, several said, a gatekeeper demanded sex from them for assignments at sea.
Once aboard, the men endured 20-hour workdays and brutal beatings, only to return home unpaid and deeply in debt from thousands of dollars in upfront costs, prosecutors say….
“It’s lies and cheating on land, then beatings and death at sea, then shame and debt when these men get home,” said Shelley Thio, a board member of Transient Workers Count Too, a migrant workers’ advocacy group in Singapore. “And the manning agencies are what make it all possible.”
“You go with pride, you come back with shame.” Read the whole thing here.
The decline of manliness is not a new observation. We have discouraged men from acting like men for decades now….now that the little danger, and the three-quarters of a century without a world war is questionable, or should be, did we defame manliness when we did not think we needed it, only to find it rare, now that we obviously do?…We have discouraged boys from becoming men. And now we will likely berate them for not defending us from terrorism today.
From Karen Woodall in Huffington Post UK’s Building Modern Men series:
I work in the field of family separation and I meet disposable dads every day. These men, who appear at times to me to be nothing more than the ghostly imprint of what a father is, are suffering. Not that you would know it, so unpopular is their plight. Gaslighted by the system which surrounds the family as it separates, these dads, who were pregnant with their partners (in that most modern approach to sharing all of the experience of bringing forth life), now find themselves routinely cast out of the family after separation. Dads are not welcome in post-separation family life, especially if they are going to cause trouble by wanting to actually parent their children. For those modern men who gave their all to fatherhood, the injustice of such a swift eviction from the lives of their children after separation, is a bewildering attack on their very sense of self….
Dads after separation were once described by the CEO of Gingerbread (the single parenting charity) as ‘secondary resources, most effective when strategically employed.’ Translated this means, dads are useful to mums after separation because they can babysit and be included on the rota for the school run. Dads as helpers, are acceptable so long as they are doing as they are told. Dads as hands on active parents, sharing the care, the chores, the long nights of tummy aches and sickness are not routinely acceptable. In fact as a practitioner working with dads who have been evicted from their children’s lives after separation, I have witnessed dads being told that their desire to care for their children is ‘aggressive and upsetting’ to their children’s mother.
On October 14, Princeton University and Brookings released a new issue of The Future of Children, focused on marriage and child well-being. After reviewing family research over the last decade, the issue’s big takeaway, co-authored by Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan and Brookings economist Isabel Sawhill, was this: Whereas most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide range of outcomes, there is less consensus about why. Is it the quality of parenting? Is it the availability of additional resources (time and money)? Or is it just that married parents have different attributes than those who aren’t married? Thus a major theme we address in this issue is why marriage matters for child wellbeing. Although definitive answers to these questions continue to elude the research community, we’ve seen a growing appreciation of how these factors interact, and all of them appear to be involved. In other words, although scholars are not exactly sure why marriage matters for children, they know that marriage does matter for them….
Yesterday, the news was even worse for the family-structure denialists, after the New York Times highlighted a major new study from MIT economist David Autor and his colleagues showing that less-advantaged boys are floundering in school and society — and more so than their less-advantaged female peers — in part because, compared with more-advantaged boys, they are less likely to grow up in a married home with their father. In particular, compared with their sisters, less-advantaged boys “have a higher incidence of truancy and behavioral problems throughout elementary and middle school, exhibit higher rates of behavioral and cognitive disability, perform worse on standardized tests, are less likely to graduate high school, and are more likely to commit serious crimes as juveniles.”
A review of “Fatherless America” by Chester E. Finn in Commentary:
And as for the now-absent biological father, even when he provides financial support and regularly visits his progeny, Blankenhorn is brutally candid: “The end of co-residency and the rupture of the parental alliance mean nothing less than the collapse of paternal authority. Visiting fatherhood almost always becomes disempowered fatherhood, a simulacrum of paternal capacity. . . . [O]nly wishful thinking permits us to continue viewing him as a parent at all. At bottom, he is no longer a father. A second reason for the low visibility of the type of fatherlessness arising from family breakup has to do with social class. Whereas illegitimacy happens mostly among people who live on the other side of the tracks, much divorce and separation take place in “our” own neighborhoods, indeed among our friends and relations, and sometimes even ourselves. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that this makes it harder to condemn the practice, or even to depict it as a pressing social problem. We are engaged, in Senator Daniel P. Moynihan’s evocative phrase, in “defining deviancy down.”
The entire review is here. Please note that the book is not new. Fatherless America and this review were written in 1994.
Roughly 40 percent of the victims of severe physical violence were men. The CDC repeated the survey in 2011, the results of which were published in 2014, and found almost identical numbers — with the percentage of male severe physical violence victims slightly rising.
“Reports are also showing a decline of the number of women and an increase in the number of men reporting” abuse, says counselor and psychologist Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield.
Ivankovich says there isn’t much buzz about these numbers or their implications, because we don’t know how to handle intimate partner violence against men. “Society supports that men should not hit women, by virtue — but the same is not true for the reverse,” she explains. “The fact is, it’s simply not acceptable to hit anyone.”
From The Art of Manliness blog comes “Why Are We So Conflicted About Manhood in the Modern Age?”
Here in the West we live in the most resource-rich period in all human history. Even the poverty of today is far less harsh than the poverty of a century ago. The strength of the government’s safety net is debated, but its very existence is a distinctly modern phenomena. Food is so plentiful we have an obesity problem. There hasn’t been a world war in three-quarters of a century. There is very little danger; a man can go his entire life without ever getting into a fistfight. The job of defending the perimeter has been outsourced to a tiny fraction of the population. Not only does most labor not require any physical strength, we have to remind ourselves to even stand up sometimes — to take a break from sitting in front a screen around the clock. Given this positively luxurious environment, it should come as no surprise that an emphasis on manhood is currently very weak. Society doesn’t need most men to perform dirty, strenuous, dangerous jobs for which their propensity for risk-taking and their physical strength make them uniquely suited. Men are so seemingly unnecessary that we even have the luxury of denigrating them – of speculating whether we might have reached “the end of men.”
Boys are falling behind. They graduate from high school and attend college at lower rates than girls and are more likely to get in trouble, which can hurt them when they enter the job market. This gender gap exists across the United States, but it is far bigger for poor people and for black people. As society becomes more unequal, it seems, it hurts boys more.
New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys — particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.
But as the researchers note, many of the studies in this sphere focus on mothers rather than fathers; there is a “notable void in the literature” when it comes to fathers and bullying. And given what we know about how fathers influence kids’ behavior and social skills, that’s a major problem. For instance, a slew of studies underline that kids with absent fathers engage in more externalizing behaviors, meaning they are more aggressive and more apt to fight or break rules than kids whose fathers are present. Sara McLanahan, Laura Tach, and Daniel Schneider have shown that this difference is not just due to selection.
In the U.S., at least a third of the 30 million people suffering from eating disorders are boys or men, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). That’s 10 million people, most of whom won’t ever get the help they desperately need because they have a Y chromosome. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a real–and sometimes quite deadly–tragedy.
[T]he hospital, which hosts the largest emergency care unit in the Nordic region, is opening its doors to men and boys who are victims of rape and sex attacks.
“We are happy that we now can finally open the first rape clinic for men following the rape clinic for women,” Rasmus Jonlund, a press spokesperson for the Liberal Party, which led the campaign for the department in the Swedish capital, told The Local just ahead of the launch.
“It is the first in Sweden (…) We think it is the first in the world. We haven’t found another from our research on the world wide web,” he added….
In 2014, some 370 cases of sexual assault on men or boys were reported across Sweden, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, although experts believe that the actual figure is much higher.
“We don’t know how many people will use it (…) but we know that there are many who experience these kinds of assaults but don’t currently seek care,” said Jonlund.
“Our hope now is that many more of these hidden victims will also be able to get help now.”
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, when I worked as a psychotherapist with many traumatized men and women, it was clear that society’s focus was to help women suffering from emotional trauma. Matters became a lot more fuzzy where it concerned men’s pain. I found out very quickly that a man’s emotional pain was taboo. No one wants to hear it, people want to run away.
Honestly and compassionately addressing men’s pain usually triggers an instinctive fear that in doing so those men will no longer be available to provide and protect. They become, at least in our unconscious minds, a liability that we cannot afford.
It took me some time to understand that this fear created an empathy gap that is still rampant in the field. Even in what is supposed to be an enlightened field of work, we are operating on some level as though compassion for men will bring us to ruin. This detachment, indifference to and even hostility toward men’s pain and hardship will be made quite visible to you in the remainder of this article.
Our war dead are nearly all males. If that were any other group it would not be tolerated but since it is males, many in their teens, the response is silence. They are disposable. Our workplace deaths are 93% males. Child custody after divorce almost always means the virtual removal of one parent, more often the father. Rather than our courts seeking to restructure families through sensible plans of shared parenting, they opt for profitably ugly battles and persecution.
No one suffers more from this than the children of divorce. Fatherless children are clearly and negatively impacted by every psychosocial measure we can make of their lives. Truancy, delinquency, teen pregnancy, drug use, academic failure, violence and mental illness all skyrocket in homes where the father is largely absent.
Rather than point to the discrimination in courts and how it is ultimately damaging children, many, some social workers included, are generally more likely to sloganize the problem in terms of “deadbeat dads” and other shallow and misleading buzzwords.
Photo from Golden’s article, a playground mural illustrating the whimsy of violence against men.
Commissioner Molly K. Olsen on Up & At ‘Em Twin Cities News Talk on the new Affirmative Consent policy at the University of Minnesota. Molly speaks on due process issues and our commission starting around the 14 minute mark.
The gender gap doesn’t bring out the best in journalists. With important exceptions, articles on the subject are padded with overly broad statistics, cherry picked research, a myopic view of men and women as lone economic actors, over-credulous references to Sweden, and most insidious of all, an implicit, never-argued assumption that in a just world (i.e. Sweden) women and men would reveal almost exactly the same preferences. A piece that appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Upshot section “The Motherhood Penalty and the Fatherhood Bonus” by Claire Cain Miller, is a fine example of the genre.
We’ve heard the story of declining wages over and over. We’ve repeatedly heard the political talking points about the threat of offshoring. We want our children to have better lives than we did.
But if parents want their children to enjoy successful, fulfilling lives, it may be time to broaden our vision of what that entails. It’s telling that, in today’s America, more parents would be likely to accept their five-year-old son’s declaration that he identifies as a girl than would accept their 18-year-old’s proclamation that he wants to be an underwater welder, even though the pay for that particular vocation ranges from $54,000 to well over $100,000.
To upend this narrative that has so many of us looking down our noses at some of the best emerging job opportunities, we need to shift our attitude about the fundamental purpose of education and redefine what success looks like. We need a cultural change of heart, which starts with parents. Not every boy needs to grow up to be a welder, but neither should every boy grow up to be a lawyer.