Raising Men

Raising men in today's dynamic and challenging environment.

A “troubled loner” shoots people in a church, a young girl is kidnapped in broad daylight on her way home, raped and murdered. A young man rapes a granny in the rural areas where traditions of respect and solid values are supposed to be highest.

Rape, deliberately absentee fathers, violence; society’s social ills are well documented. Can some of them be prevented? It is argued, isn’t it that man is responsible for all that is bad on earth. For the purposes of this discussion, I refer to man, the male representative of mankind rather than man, the singular contradictory representation of all men and women who have ever walked this planet.

Right across the world we have increasing problems as a direct result of man’s misbehaviour. For starters, I would hazard to guess that a major reason for this phenomenon is the absent father.

No, I am not a psychiatrist but I think I know that every person craves to know who his father was. It is a deeply natural itch that every human being is forced to scratch and it goes a long way to help answering the question, who am I? For what is man without his father and mother? Since we are talking men, let’s focus on the man.

Men who have grown up without a father tend to mirror the behaviour of said father and do the same to their children. Procreate with their mothers and vanish, sometimes as a result of a divorce but more often than not simply because they can. The result is children who carry a burden that is often not expressed but certainly manifest in more ways than one, often negative. How do we change this state of affairs?

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AFFIRM FOR HEALING

Mothers and other adults such as teachers around these fatherless children must make every effort possible to affirm these males. Catching a male child doing something right is preferable to catching him doing something wrong. Praise loudly, criticise quietly is one such approach. The idea that one has self-worth is steadily developed and reinforced as one’s elders, mentors and others continuously send the message that one is on the right track on life’s journey. Praise is due for chores completed, for a helping hand offered and encouraging school work. Constantly and regularly affirm your son. It helps to build their self-esteem and confidence.

SOCIALISATION

Allow your son to speak his mind, to participate in Sunday lunch debate and to have an opinion on news items, however wrong. It does not have to be the news. A male child might volunteer information on a debate at school or in the street. It is their way of asking for your opinion. Ask them what they said, why they thought that way. Get your son or male dependant in to the habit of arguing his point, with reasons and logical thought. The regularly voiced interaction with adults and peers makes for a better adjusted child who is better able to integrate in to society. Integration does not necessarily becoming a conformist. It simply means being able to act as a fully functioning self in a society agreeing to disagree without resorting to violence against peers, future spouse or partner. Respect for women, for instance, is a learned behaviour. In societies where women are repressed, young boys are likely to grow up assuming that is normal behaviour. It is the same in the home. The best way to socialise respect for a partner is to lead by example, every single day including the manner in which you disagree and reconcile with your partner.

FAMILY

Not everyone has a family in the conventional sense of the word and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We must mention here that we are aware of and fully support all the different types of families that are in evidence everywhere from single parent, child headed, same sex parents, legal guardians and parents with adopted children. Whatever the case, a male child must have the sense of belonging that helps him identify with people who love and accept him and who he, in turn, loves and accepts. It is an environment where he knows he can safely be silly, ask the wrong questions, laugh and be laughed at without any major consequences. It is the idea of belonging here that is key. In this modern work driven society, families are scattered in different towns but modernity has also given us social media tools that “compensate” for distance. Family whatsapp groups for instance are a great place of refuge and comfort. Belonging means stability and stability is a good foundation on which to build a young man.

DREAMS

Otis Redding famously sang about having dreams, dreams to remember. Everyone has the ability to dream. Enhance your son’s ability to dream by talking to him about the future and his aspirations for it. There is a difference between idling at the street corner with other teenagers and watching life passing you by and actively dreaming about what your future should look like. A young man without a dream to pursue might easily fall in to roads that offer shortcuts to a full meal and money in the wallet. More often than not, that road does not exist and when it does, it usually leads the traveller to the principal’s office or worse as a guest of the state’s penal system. Having a dream helps give your son, nephew or protégé a sense of direction and something to work towards. With this comes a modicum of responsibility which develops with age.

RESPONSIBILITY

A boy will have his heart broken by a girl. It is good for him. He will break a girl’s heart. It is life. He will also get a bloody nose in the paly ground, punishment from the teacher and perhaps even a few more scrapes beyond high school. Whatever skirmishes he gets in to, whether of the heart or body, the important thing is that you teach him to account for them. What happened? What was your role in the matter? How could you have prevented it? How will you possibly avoid a recurrence of the same? These are very simple questions that help him approach elementary problem solving that will be a foundation for complex problem solving in later life. Is life not a journey? Does training not make that walk slightly easier and clearer? We all know that spaced repetition is the best teacher and that there is no substitute for experience. The issue, therefore, is not the broken heart or bruised knee. It is what you help your young man learn from it.

MAKE TIME FOR HIM

Boys crave to talk but they will not necessarily admit it. One way to start a conversation, and control it, is to ask questions. At a certain age, you are met with frustrating responses like, “fine” and “ok” but eventually they all open up. It is important that there are no secrets and that your child can come to you. Of course, there will always be those codes between brothers where siblings will not say that their brother was listening to music instead of doing his homework but there should not be any secrets from outside your home. The best way to avoid this is to get them to talk to you from a young age. It makes it far easier for them to naturally open up about bigger and more complex issues that affect a young man’s life. A lot of men find it easier to punish a son instead of talking to him. Older men must work to consciously overcome their aversion to “opening up” and start to give younger men a different point of view, an experience from yester year or a timely word of advice for tomorrow.

Raising men is not government’s responsibility nor is it a duty to be solely delegated to school teachers. It is all our responsibility. What you want is a well-adjusted young man who leaves your home to start his family and honours the family name. What we all want are fully functioning citizens who take up their chosen place in society while helping Africa move forward. We both want the same thing. When our men are solid as a rock, our society is the better for it.

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