A deluge of recent studies makes it clear that boys are vulnerable. They are falling behind in many key areas: SAT scores, reading proficiency and college attendance; and moving ahead in some undesirable statistics: emotional disturbance, school dropout and suicide rate.
Several authors—Pollack, Gurian and Sommers—have declared that, without intervention, boys will be caught in a web of social change which devalues their uniqueness and their future role in society.
To combat this trend, dads must provide a supportive and protective environment that aids young men in making good decisions as they move toward adulthood.
Writing about the Second World War, Historian Stephen Ambrose identified two essential qualities that helped soldiers band together and have successful missions. I think his insights are useful for the “band of brothers” that includes fathers and sons:
First, unit cohesion. There was a concern for each soldier’s safety and well-being. Every man had a battle buddy who supported and cared for him, and if necessary, carried him off the battlefield.
Second, an understanding of the moral dimensions of the battle. Ambrose writes, “At the core, the soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed.” Applied to young men, fathers provide essential moral reference points for their sons. Dads become their sons’ first “battle buddies” in the face of life’s battles. Young men need to be challenged to exercise their masculine drive in positive and healthy ways.
One summer, my son Micah and I watched all ten episodes of “Band of Brothers,” an HBO series focusing on a paratrooper unit in WWII. It’s a very graphic portrayal of the good, bad and ugly sides of men in battle. (I would not recommend the show for children under the age of 15, and ideally they should watch these shows with an older male who can help them process what’s going on.)
As we watched the episodes over several nights, I could tell Micah was challenged by the responses of men under life-and-death pressure as he envisioned how he would respond in similar situations. The positive virtues that were portrayed—like commitment, honor, duty, self-discipline and sacrifice—gave him reference points for masculinity that are not often affirmed in his everyday life.
When we discussed how these important qualities are often missing in our culture today, the “lights went on” for him. He wants to be part of the solution and play a role in helping to make the world safe and secure.
- Share with your son or another young man three virtues that you admire in responsible men.
- Do some roughhousing with your child this weekend. Be safe but press the limits.
- Consider reaching out to a young boy in your neighborhood or extended family who doesn’t have a dad. Encourage him to be a “protector” for his family by expressing his strength in a healthy way.
- Bone up on some of the ways young boys are falling behind in academics. Make sure your son has the needed support to succeed or expand his horizons in those areas.