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How do we transition from boy to man?  By scoring at football?  By scoring with women?  By making a pile of money?  By joining a club (or gang)?  

No – we learn how to become men from our fathers.  

With the increasing incidence of divorce and separation, either a male mentor (a stepfather, teacher or other influential male figure) becomes the role model in our father’s stead.  

In the absence of anyone else, our mother unwittingly becomes the role model thereby creating an inappropriate situation where one of two things can happen: 

  1. either we become angry with our mothers (and sometimes angry or even violent towards women in general) because our mothers never taught us how to become men, or
  2. we emulate our mothers and become gentle, passive and ineffectual as men. 

Both are inappropriate responses. Women find both types difficult to relate to as they are expected to assume the role of the father while being the mother.  But that’s another subject altogether. 

Boys stop listening to their parents at about 12 years old but they will listen to a 20 year old.  So go out and find that 20 year old and connect the two of them. It may be someone in a sports team, an engineering job, an artist. If you don’t find them, your son may hookup with someone you don’t see as a healthy option. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make. 

When did father-son relationships seriously break down? Way back in the years of the industrial revolution, 1760’s and onwards.  Before then, families worked, ate and played together.  Boys got to know their fathers by being with them during the day, whether it was shoeing horses, learning woodcraft, working in the fields or just being by their side as an apprentice.  

Then the economic climate changed and men were lured to the factories. 

What happened to the boys?  Their lives were irreparably changed because they had no alternative but to spend their days with the womenfolk. This changed the delicate family balance because it’s a mother’s job to love and nurture her children, not to teach young boys how to grow into young men.

If you are a man reading this, ask yourself what you learned from your father, because what you learned from your father is what you’ll teach your children.  Ask yourself was it love, was it patience, was it that quality time with you?  Did he tell you in an empowering way about the birds and bees? Did he chastise you for your mistakes or laugh with you as you messed it up despite his laboured explanations?  Did he regularly lose his temper with everyone? Did he hit you, or anyone else? 

Are any of your tendencies listed here as well?  Have the courage to ask your wife, partner or sister what they think and only honest answers are acceptable.

If you’re a woman wondering why I’m dealing with men here and not both sexes it’s because broken men hurt women so let’s start at the root cause.  Save one man; save the generations that follow.  

I’m paraphrasing here but Tony Robbins tells the story of a family in which the father was bank robber who’d spent some time in jail. Of his two sons, one grew up to become the President of a Savings & Loan Bank; the other became a bank robber.  On being asked why they chose their particular path in life, they both gave the same answer – “With a father like mine, what did you expect?’

Where’s the MAN in all this?

One vital ingredient missing from today’s world is the rite of passage that signify a child’s transition into adulthood.  In the Western world this significant event has been allowed to lapse, apart from the Bar Mitzvah, and even that is at the relatively young age of 12 or 13 years old.

Most parents are content with a perfunctory 18th or 21st birthday party at which they are often not even present. We don’t acknowledge the importance of a coming-of-age ceremony for our ‘man-child’. arranging this period of transition is the job of fathers.

You need to talk with your sons about becoming men, telling them of the challenges you faced as a father, the fears; the importance of good relationships, what you could have done differently or better, the ups and downs of fatherhood. They need to see your strength.

If they spend their days on short term entertainment – video games, pornography, social media – they’ll become followers. Your job is to teach them to become leaders.

There’s a short verse by Liverpool poet Roger McGough….

The Leader

I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Promise? Promise?
Yippee I’m the leader
I’m the leader

OK what shall we do?

In past years the bond between father and son was a more distant one based on respect. It wasn’t without its share of love, yet, there was a distance based on a mix of fear and respect giving rise to an emotional gap in the relationship that was often hard to bridge.

Despite the many advances of our civilisation, we are put to shame by the natives of almost any land we deem ‘backward’. Laurens Van Der Post’s “A Story Like the Wind” contains a wonderful example:

“You see, Little Feather,” Bamuthi had started at his evocative best, “I remember when I was your age, sitting in the hut of my father at Osebeni… The words he spoke to me then were the words that his father had spoken to him before; his grandfather before him; and so on back and back to the first man, who had them from Umkulunkulu.  My old father warned me, as I say to you now, that a man-child cannot learn soon enough that life is not possible without a heart that knows no fear.

Without a heart free of fear a man cannot protect either his cattle or his women and children and the life of his tribe, or that of his nation.  He will not know how to speak the truth; how to protect the weak; and overcome beasts of prey and men with black hearts.  Such men are fish-hearted and with their hearts of water are strangers from the truth.  But, as you will have seen recently, some of the youngest of us are learning to find just such a heart.”

It’s never too late to do what we meant to do but just didn’t know how.  Even if your sons are grown up and have their own families, it’s still not too late!  Overcome those fears and take them away for a day and just talk. Tell them about your life.  Not the boring tales they’ve heard before.  The ones they haven’t; the ones deep inside hidden in those scary places…..and make it a brave conversation that they will, in turn, have with their sons. Questions answered truthfully; no exaggerations allowed.

Find out what your sons were afraid of when they were young. Ask them what they’re afraid of now. Let your grandsons tell you what they’re afraid of today. Let them all have their say. Listen to hear what they have to tell you rather than just to reply. If he has passed on, tell them about your father. The good stories as well as the bad.  If he’s still alive, invite him too.

Allow any anger to be expressed without retribution. If you don’t like anger it’s because you were never allowed to express your emotions as a child. There’s a reason for anger. Don’t stop it coming out, find out instead what’s causing it.

On Being A Man
On Being A Man

Your sons will see the man they have long been waiting for; the real man they want to be like, the real you. And it will release your sons to be a great role model to their sons.  

Then watch the amazing changes that happen within everyone, and smile. One of the most important aspects of your life’s work will have been completed. If you don’t heal your own wounds, your sons may take them on.

Graeme Dinnen

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