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As I write on Sunday afternoon, we’re on our way to Metro Airport to pick up Jack from his first unaccompanied trip. I won’t look at him quite the same because of something I read this week – the cover story from The Atlantic Monthly. In it, Hanna Rosin marshals a wide array of evidence for why she says we’re facing “The End of Men.” Rosin chronicles the economics: men lost three-quarters of the 8 million jobs in the recession, while 12 of the 15 occupations expected to grow in the decade ahead have historically been dominated by women.
Rosin recognizes that the women’s movement is not complete when it comes to wage differences and women in the highest positions of power, but in many respects the balance has more than shifted. Women outcompete when getting into college and come out stronger, now earning almost 60% of all bachelor’s and masters degrees. They make major decisions at home, increasingly choosing to live without men (only 60% of all women 30-44 are married, down from 84% in 1970); and by some significant margin parents who choose the sex of their children are choosing girls. Media images – from the Anchorman to Greenberg to the Miller Lite yo-yo’s – of utterly aimless and clueless young men seem to be both reflecting and creating the lost.
In a gripping book called Guyland sociologist Michael Kimmel, through in-depth interviews with men 16-26 years old, reveals extensive patterns of inner confusion and ongoing behaviors that are adolescent at best and vile at their worst. If your son, nephew, “little brother” is in or heading into this stage, read it! This may seem like a bitter brew on a Monday morning. I know. I felt resistance and disbelief as I read Kimmel’s book and spoke on a panel with him in Chicago a few months ago. But since then I have been testing his observations out with young men and young women. And the response is almost always the same: Not all guys are like that, but generally it’s true. Women, they say do more planning, are more focused and more disciplined. Guys are drifting, unready for commitments to work or relationships, often caught up in groups that bring out their darker sides.
I am perplexed at what’s causing this extraordinary shift. I can see why women are in ascendancy, but why wouldn’t that bring out greatness in us men? I ask you today, as I’ll be asking Kimmel, Heather Boushey (co-editor of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything) and hopefully Hanna Rosin on my radio show on Saturday. Let’s discuss and help our young men to
Take a look at a book called “Bringing up Boys” by Dr. James Dobson. It is important to clearly define manhood for our sons and guide and reaffirm them in their rise to that goal. We have too many fathers who aren’t there or don’t reaffirm their sons. I define real manhood for my sons as a set of responsible behaviors, conformity to the likeness of Christ’s example, etc instead of some false ideals like job titles, money you make, physical strength, etc.
Thanks, Harris. For centuries the Bible was used to support a “superior” position (Ephesians: “wives, obey your husbands”). What do you or Dr. D say about this today. I honestly don’t expect my wife to obey me. Nor, do I obey her. Those teachings feel antiquated, part of a different culture.
I sure don’t argue with following Christ. With such faith, love, and purpose, who could go wrong?! With children who aspire to that, how happy you must be.
Nor do I think those who have such a sense of purpose should be shy about saying, as you have, that God is good and is a heckuva’n antidote to what seems to be ailing men.
Then we have to wonder about our public world – of media, laws, schools, etc. In a pluralistic world how do we begin to address these questions, especially as more and more kids grow up outside both a church and a traditional two-parent household. It’s a steep order to fill!
Dan & Harris–
I think if you read that passage from Ephesians about how wives should be subject to their husbands, you’ll find that a less-quoted followup includes how husbands should treat their wives with the same consideration that they treat their own bodies! Hmmm… I wonder why the admonition typically goes to the women, and not to the men? Hmmm… Without going into exegesis of the translation that comes out “subject to” in English, it seems as if scripture is advising us to be respectful towards each other. That sounds like an ageless idea.
While overgeneralized, is it possible that men simply need to step to the plate? Women, socialized as caretakers, have been doing that forever. Our species has depended on it. There are many strong, responsible men, I’m sure; but perhaps in women’s zeal and quest for equality, we created a responsibility moat that few men will cross? In our world of seemingly flexible accountability, perhaps there’s a need to rethink that it’s not just about who does the dishes or gets the next promotion, but rather what it takes to be a part of a community.
What’s the “plate that you want men to step up to?” I’m curious. When I was about 10 I stepped up to a plate at our local park. Jim Thompson, who was 16 hit me with a fastball just beneath my eye; knocked me down. My dad came and they took me for x-rays. I wasn’t ready to step up to that plate.
I think men want to know from women – and we need a much better dialogue – just what plate do you want us to hit at? Because the rules have changed. I’m not sure the younger set knows what they’re supposed to do. And many of their dads – my counterparts, and me – share that uncertainty. The rules changed on me. I’ve had to learn my way through them, and I consider myself mightily blessed to have done it so far; the “it” in my case: to be the lead parent, to subjugate my public goals and drives, to support and not be diminished by my amazing wife. Is this the plate you’re talking about?
I think people want us to go up to that plate like I walked up to that plate in 1968 at Northwest Park. Only a lot of guys don’t want to get hit by the fastball. At some gut level, they know they’re not ready. They think men (their dads, the guys at the bar) are laughing at them, and often they feel matronized by women as well.
Well, these are the thoughts that are provoked in me.
As I said, I’d love to hear more about your thinking about what you think women expect . . . and what men need to begin to fulfill (or at least negotiate fairly and intelligently) such expectations.
Sad but true. As a mother of a 19 year old, I 1st started noticing the difference in elementary school. Schools are dominated by female employees. Many are partial to female students. Many set lower expectations of male students. Some simply are clueless when it comes to teaching males.
Mr. Kozak my 6th grade teacher was the total bomb! I think many of us boys absorbed him as a great model, an addition to the fathers which we all had (I can think of only one classmate at St Kevin’s in Inkster who did not have a father). Yet back then it was as true or more so that we didn’t have a lot of male teachers. And classrooms were even MORE structured than today. So, though I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach in more boy-suitable ways, I am wondering why it’s suddenly such an issue? Does it intersect with other cultural changes, or pressures on boys? Hmmm.
Did you do anything with your son to compensate for what you were seeing?
This is a which came 1st the chicken or the egg scenario.
As a society 30-50 years ago we noticed a deficit of women and minorities in the workplace.
2 corrective actions occurred.
1. Affirmative action – commonly applied to the real world incorrectly as a quota system.
2. Youth outreach programs targeted at deficit groups (girls, minorities, etc.).
The quota resulted in more appropriate/representative ratios in the work place, great opportunity for some people, and loss of opportunity for others.
Anybody ever heard an outreach in any subject matter that targeted boys. Now have you ever heard of an outreach targeting girls or minorities in science, technology, math, other jobs of power etc (how about professional organization, tax breaks, scholarships, etc.)?
We’ve always assumed Men will always succeed and out compete no matter what.
Maybe this isn’t a correct assumption.
Maybe we need to try to re-reach boys.
Reward excellence with opportunity, regardless of genetics (forget PC just reward excellence when achieved.)
A side bar on this, check out what M-CAT- GPA combination must be achieved based on particular genetics for medical school acceptance. Often the justification is based on socio-economic conditions, but the standard only judges genetics.
Fill out a FAFSA for a majority boy vs. a specialized group.
The message is go ahead and try, but boys, especially Caucasian boys are not in demand (surplus status has been achieved).
It’s hard not to think that we have been incredibly successful in the affirmative and affirming action we have taken towards girls. My wife encourages girls in a special way, every day. But must it be a zero-sum? Clearly, we need to encourage boys as well, as great schools, scouts, coaches, ministers did for centuries – neither boys nor girls to the exclusion of the other. It just feels surprising to me that encouraging the one (females) seemed to really stall out the others.
As to your point on admissions, you might be surprised at what Hanna Rosin reports from elite admissions schools. They are cutting slack for boys – including good old white ones like me and mine – with expressions like, “their brains mature more slowly.” She also reports on community colleges that have been working on the male deficit for years now. So, in some ways our thinking may be lagging.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you’re right that we need to “re-reach boys” as you put it!
No simple answers here. There are, IMHO, a ton of pesticides and other toxins that are affecting our young (and old) people. Just look at the fact that reduced sperm counts are documented. Between 1938 and 1999, sperm counts dropped 1.5% each year for American men and 3.1% per year for European men. Yes women would also be affected but remember it is the men who are often working in the fields and outdoors hence higher concentrations. When people are exposed to neurotoxins they may have reduced coordination and ability to think. These are the short-term effects, while long term exposure can result in reduced IQ and learning disability, associated with permanent brain damage. In spite of wide reporting of adverse symptoms, until recently, few studies could link permanent brain damage to such exposures. Like the autism epidemic this is probably just one of the issues we need to address.
So shop at your local farmer’s market and google how you can protect your family from these toxins plus give them the nutritional support needed to help their bodies deal with this onslaught of chemicals and maybe, just maybe, help them achieve the greatness we want for them.
I have been working this for 10 plus years, having 5 sons and 2 daughters. Boys are set aside in schools, by some teachers, they are not encouraged and generally have some sense of less worth. More scholarship for girls, Afirm Action supports women over men in work place. Men must earn all they are going to get. Knowing that they seem to expect nothing and also to lose some along the way. They know it is not them.
We began an activity that works very well. A Men’s trip that is non-competative, that goes away and we hike or fish on the same boat (pontoon) now with son’s in law and grand sons to provide a bonding and linking and chance to talk and support each other. No excessive drinking or partying…grand sons prevent that. My wife does similar girls trip and we do a family gathering also once a year. All have sense of value and an awareness of the larger family community. All (boys and girls) were raised leaders..”Situation Leadership” model, all are leaders today and they actually have all married leader type spouses. This is an outcome of reverse discrimination.
Sounds like your kids made the most important “decision” anyone can ever make: they chose to be raised by great parents.
Way to go!
I run a precollege program Boys keep telling me they are going to the NBA, NFL, MLB, etc so they don’t see the need to apply themselves. Girls want to be teachers, nurses, vets, doctors, etc. You can see the pattern, We have to find away to get males to look at reality and apply themselves earlier so that are able to be more responsible. Society also enables males they aren’t expected to clean up after themselves and are given a lot of leeway in their responsibilities written off as boys will be boys maybe we need to expect them to man up or their case boy up raise the bar expect more and you probably will get moe expect less and guess what you get.
Like Mark John, you’d enjoy Kimmel. It wouldn’t be too strong to say he detests the expression “boys will be boys.” My son is at camp this week. What I wouldn’t give for a “reality show” type camera on these young teenage boys just to see how they manage the herd and if/how they stand up to it.
Kimmel’s for developing such strength of character. I’m with him on it.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
The changes in the newer generations I think are related to growing self esteem, and if we can say excessive self esteem, narcism, or something close to those ideas, that might be the general direction of young males. In my last trip to college, to get a law degree I noticed the difference in young males and females, from my earlier times at college. This was my 4th college degree, so I was the old guy, but was accepted without a fuss for being more than a decade past most of the other students ( maybe two decades more).
They are more self consious about their appearance, and the females were more likley to make demands on a male’s appearance. Where I had only noticed the excessive sense of self worth in one subgroup of males in the past, it now appeared wider spread. Many act like they are the lead of a major movie and go about their lives as the star. Self image is important, but what results is reduced empathy for others.
Sitting in front of a computer where the world comes to you, might make a person feel superior, or playing computer games against a computer and not humans . . . . although I also noticed that belonging to social groups is important to younger adults, not to organizations, but social groups.
Advertising for a long time sold products based on a person’s inadequacy; even for things like deoderant, shampoo, and of course sex sells; with the message that it is your car, or clothing that gives sex appeal, that a person is not good enough without the latest whatever; But in recent years I notice advertising has shifted to selfishness; “chose the one that is right for you.” Notice how often “My” is used in advertising. “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?” “You deserve it.”
Sounds like a kind of lonely or alienated self esteem that you’re observing. You’d find Guyland interesting as it tracks this idea pretty well.
This is a shocking problem but not entirly surprising.
In the media, men have been reduced to being the idiot of the houshold and portrayed as not being capable to lead thier families.
Women have been told for decades that a man is not needed to raise a healthy child. Single mothers have been elevated to hero status in our culture and a politically protercted class. Unfortunately single motherhood is now generational with a majority of kids thinking that mother only housholds are normal.
Men have been completely shut out of the life issue for thier unborn children and told that they have no rights as to whether thier child should live or die.
The womens lib movement did themselves a big disservice when they assumed “liberation” was to take on the role of men instead of realizing thier own role as being important but only truly powerful when honoring the role of men at the same time.
We truly are going to reap what we have sown.
Yes, a of sea change in relationships is taking place as everyone adjusts to the new reality of women being better educated and in some cases more preferred than men in the workforce. Especially unsettling to some men is their role as second-best earner in the family. As a recent Pew Research Center report documents, 22% of men with “some college” are now outearned by their wives, up from 4% in 1970.
Social scientists agree that the education mismatch these women executives experience with men is a significant player behind the increase in college-educated women choosing single motherhood.
Women are feeling the pinch from years of gender imbalances on college campuses, where today nearly 58% of all bachelor’s degrees and 62% of associate’s degrees are earned by women. Given that women prefer to find a well-educated, reliable earner as a husband, this creates a simple math problem. Well-educated women can’t find enough equally or better-educated men to marry.
Today, more and more well-educated women have to ask themselves: Am I willing to “marry down”?
Source: The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2009
I hear this frustration among many single women in their late 20s up to their 50s. But I don’t think it’s so much a formal education they’re wanting. To some degree it’s drive (which educational attainment can measure). But it’s also a kind of maturity, a willingness to put others first, and a sense of purpose that these women seem to find wanting.
My husband and I are raising four young adults, two boys and two girls (all in college). We have frequently discussed the need for children to experience “rights of passage” (evident in most cultures). Girls are finding MORE opportunities to experience these character building situations, and it appears, boys, fewer. As we become more technologically advanced, more materialistic (with easy availability to everything at an earlier age), more centered on providing every experience possible (for middle and upper class children) we have taken away these benchmark experiences children need in order to mature. Even the lessons learned in free play are not readily available as we over schedule our children. The right of passage of driving a car has little meaning when as a four year old you can drive a 4-wheeler. As unthinking adults, we give our children a box of 64 crayons before they discover the possibilities with a box of 8!
As an educator and a parent, I have come to realize that while both boys and girls deserve equal rights and opportunities, they do have different needs as they develop and mature. Our boys need us to actively offer them opportunities to test themselves in meaningful and challenging ways.
I suspect Kimmel might agree with you – that we have lost some of the clear delineators between childhood and adulthood, and especially boyhood and manhood. Kids driving at 14 and being given cars at 16 is surely a far cry from boys who had to prove themselves in some ritual manner that signified that they had earned the rights – and responsibilities of adulthood.
But help me out with why this is affecting boys in such a profound way. Are there schools (e.g., Kearsley?) where we are offering boys “opportunities to test themselves in meaningful and challenging ways?” I like that idea. I wonder who’s offering it.
Thanks for your insights,
Could it be as simple as this: boys and men have traditionally not been expected or invited to look inward FIRST – to begin by discerning their core values, and then build their lives up from these values. Instead, boys and men have been expected to define who they are by what they have and do. Who, after all, does the mainstream society typically put on pedestals – men who achieve and accomplish and own and conquer.
Invite, guide, coach and counsel boys and young men to begin with an inward exploration, to develop a strong foundation in proven core values, and you will most likley harvest a crop of strong, humble, committed and compassionate men.
Your guidance, like Doris’ and her husband’s below, attracts me. I know the Jesuits offered us such a powerful sense of purpose in our lives – to serve God and others – that despite all manner of existential crises, and societies in flux, many of us fortunate grads always had a point on the horizon, and a centered spot within ourselves. Kimmel’s book makes me really want to be sure my son has such an education.
But two questions remain for me: first, why did the “external” suddenly cease to be effective? Why aren’t boys still inclined to accomplish great things (whether with their hands and/or their minds?). If the powerful external orientation worked (not without bad side effects) for years, why is not inclining a lot of young men to go to school, to compete, to accomplish, but instead to languish and drift?
Second, if the shift is to inward orientation, how do we start to more dramatically make that move? What are the key things? Educating in emotional intelligence? More collaborative focus? I’m honestly not sure, but sure do wonder.
Dan, I so value your genuine inquistiveness!
As I read all the comments and replies, I find myself wishing we could all be in a shared location together, engaged in this beautiful dialogue in person!
If we were, here are a few thoughts I would venture in answer to your questions. They aren’t answers per se, as I don’t know that they’re valid or proven. But in the spirit of open dialogue . . .
First, I don’t know that it was so much the “accomplishing of great things” that initially defined a great man. Looking at our “founding fathers,” and I believe that their core values drove them to address issues and inconsistencies, and that THIS is what lead to accomplisihing great things. Perhaps we (society in general) shifted from taking note of the compelling forces behind accomplishment, and focused instead only on the outcome. The result? Men began believing that accomplisihing in and of itself was the outcome. That’s a house of cards and, like any such house with no foundation, it eventually collapsed. Caught in the rubble of that collapse is the male ego – at least the healthy components of it.
Look at all the negativity aimed at the roles that have traditionally been male-lead. Politicians have little if any respect. Business leaders are better known for their lack of ethic than their successes. Athletes are spotlighted for the failures and inconsistencies . . . unless they’re the super-hero athletes that only a tiny fraction of humanity can become. Dads make the news as dead beats and abusers. Have recent male behaviors brought about this negativity? Sure! Can the healthy male ego thrive in the midst of such negativity? Doubtful.
Your question still stands – why do men no longer seek to accomplish great things with their hands or their minds? Perhaps the answer lies in the second part of your question. There has been a significant shift AWAY from accomplishing greatness with one’s hands and minds – as we specilize,computerize and mechanize these become increasingly the domain of a few (and arguably of the privilleged) – and toward accomplishing things in a quieter and gentler way – through heart and soul and interaction. That’s new territory for many men.
You also ask about why young men are no longer driven toward competition. There is a lot of negative press aimed at competition. In many cases we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water. While some approaches to competition (You must lose so that I can win) are unhealthy, there are many very healthy aspects to competition. In some of my work I’ve encouraged teams to practice “coopetition,” where teams or individuals practice healthy competition – they strive to be their best and to “accomplish,” while still practicing compassion and collaboration.
In response to your second question. I believe that the shift is in motion and is gainig traction. There is research and literature in virtually every sector that points to it, from Daniel Pink to Dan Goleman to Peter Block to Parker Palmer (note – all male authors writing about the kinds of characteristics we are lamenting as missing among men). So the question is how do we get men to pay attention to the shift and to get engaged? Model the behavior. Teach it. Preach it. Publicize it. Encourage it. Celebrate it. Reward it.
Imagine how things might change if at the forefront of every newscast we heard an example of an individual or organization that practiced the kind of behavior we are seeking from them in business, politics or community!
Might you be interested in convening a “summit on healthy manhood in a new era”?
Dan, is it possible you’re viewing this from a typically male either / or communication pattern, not the paradigm shift to a both / and female perspective? (See psycholinguist Deborah Tanner’s landmark work, _You Just Don’t Understand: Men & Women in Conversation.) In this and a later book, Dr. Tannen details the results of her cross-cultural, longitudinal research studies that did content analysis of males in converation at different ages and females in conversation at different ages.
She concluded (as far as I understood it) that typically, males operate from a very competitive stance, looking to find their place in some kind of pecking order while females operate from a more cooperative stance. The male communication pattern leads to lots of competitiveness and feelings of insecurity.
Tannen reminds us that both situations are true of the human condition: we are both unique and part of a cooperative community (if only economically). She advises us all to be more androgynous in our communication patterns so the toxic aspects of female communication patterns (suppression of all uniqueness) doesn’t dominate even as much as the toxic aspects of male communication patterns (power games leading to utter isolation) have dominated.
If females truly are in the ascendancy (and I’m pretty sure there’s little reason to get all paranoid about this because males still dominate the White House, Senate, House of Representatives, state legislatures, and the upper reaches of corporate management), maybe males would get further ahead by trying on some femail communication patterns by collaborating and cooperating rather than seeing every interaction as an opportunity to compete!
If females truly are in the ascendancy, maybe it’s because the human race is evolving and because we’re finally noticing what sociological research has shown: that cooperative societies thrive while competitive societies fail.
…and if anyone thinks that it’s a whole lot of fun raising kids as a single parent, especially when there are boys and no good male role models for the boys to pattern on, I strongly encourage you to THINK AGAIN! Just ask any single mom how much fun it is to manage a household, raise kids, manage a limited budget, maybe work two jobs, keep up with the laundry and shopping and cleaning and school activities and sports and doctors’ appointments and cars and lawn and so on and so forth. NOT FUN! Maybe, in too many cases, easier than managing a grown-up boy who refuses to take care of the car or the house or the lawn because he’s too busy demanding that she provide chips and beers for the guys while they play with the WII or watch their favorite competitive sports.
Is my feminism showing? There ARE good guys out there, guys like you, Dan–good family men. I was married to one of them for 31 years before he passed away. Where are they now? Lots of women would be happy to hook up with one. Maybe the good guys lack self-confidence. The “bad boys” don’t. Seems like they can always find a woman so desperate to have a man that they lower their standards until they get one. Sad!
I’d be more interested in finding out what goes into the making of a good, responsible man than finding fault with all those who don’t achieve success. Maybe we’re pushing boys too hard to grow up and so they make poor decisions before their prefrontal cortex is fully developed and thereby, their ability to control impulsive decision-making wisely. Maybe those poor decisions lead to a criminal record, something that casts a shadow over their entire lives from that point onward.
I don’t know all the answers; I’m just asking questions.
You’ve said so many things here. I too want to know what we’re missing that we’re not turning out more “good, responsible” men, but I lean toward Doris’ prescription below – i.e., more, not less challenge. I know we’re learning a lot about the slow development of the social-reasoning frontal lobe, but are scientists saying that’s different now? Men used to go to war, marry, move across the ocean (like my mom’s and dad’s dads did) while still in their teens, then support and later bring family to this country. How did their brains mature? I imagine necessity mothered that development.
Jennifer and I have watched our protected 18-year old return from a year of service in New Orleans. She left a little girl and came home a woman. I suppose we ran a risk that she couldn’t handle it, but stepping up to it, she did much more than that.
I always enjoy your contributions (even when I can’t make all the connections from Ms. Tannen :-)).
thanks for continuing to give of your ideas and passion,
Maybe the “more challenge” route works better for male brains because males are so inclined to be competitive. Maybe trying to re-wire them from an early age into collaboration and cooperation, while well-intentioned, may be working against nature. It’s a thought, a question, an opinion not currently supported by research as far as I know.
I have to admit some skepticism about the “end of men” buzz that has been circulating since Rosin’s Atlantic article. I read part of Rosin’s piece, but have not read the other works you cite, so I take you at your word that there is some documentation of a decline in the achievement of young men and boys.
But I wonder how much of this is inspired by simple fear of change and a bit of internalized misogyny. Every time women and girls make progress, it seems like society engages in a collective panic attack – OMG, what about the boys/men? Well, what about them? Why does this have to be a zero sum game? Why must the advancement of women spell the doom of men? Women are figuring out how to create their own space for leadership, growth, and achievement. Why can’t men do the same?
I am totally with you on “why does this have to be a zero sum game,” but then the last sentence that “women are figuring out how to create…Why can’t men do the same?” Seems so out of place to me. For two reasons: first, that’s the whole point of this article and discussion is precisely TO help boys and men figure out how to adapt and advance. Second, the women’s movement was profoundly supported by great men (I know the women’s movement in my family 🙂 has been). I don’t think they figured it out on their own, and shame on the men who weren’t part of that incredible movement that will be written about for centuries. So also, we’re in this together now, to help men to become good dads, husbands, sons, and bosses.
It feels like you are holding onto something you may not need any more???? An anger that drags on your strong, proud and lofty ideals.
Please read the book “Why Boys Fail Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind” by Richard Whitmire. The book clearly states that the current emphasis and approaches being used in the educational system are NOT meeting the learning needs of male students, and that the results can be devastating to a boys self image and success in the future. Could it be that pushing all students no matter what their learning needs and style are into college prep classes where they are prepared or not, is not the answer? Maybe you could take on this troubling issue.
I’m pleased I took the time to read all the comments as many of them I feel provide a commentary on most of the points I was going to make. I’m pleased I’m among friends 🙂
The world is full of un-initiated men. ‘Mike’ touched on this in his comments and hats off to you for what you do with your boys. The days of old where boys learnt that becoming a man wasn’t about the poison society throws in their face of being able to sink 12 beers and not chuck, or sleep with many women or be a bratty sports star. The sad thing is that each of these actions is actually imbued somewhat into the psyche of boys/men from the perspective of achievement or ‘danger’. Men are at their very core seeking to know if they are ‘dangerous’, accomplished – can I do this, can I do that… just watch young boys at play, what is the saying most commonly coming out of their mouths “Look at me Mum, watch this Dad” – I want to be seen and for you to know I can DO… and before I get lambasted for claiming ‘well my son doesn’t like that stuff, he just likes to read’ – look deeper and I’m sure you’ll find the heart of a lion who hungers for knowledge or to be the best reader or ‘confident’ in his reading. It’s inbuilt into us.
A lot of the drama lies where, in the days of old, other good men used to guide them through the stage from boyhood to manhood, keeping them in their place until they knew it was time to ‘initiate’ them – helping them understand that ‘life isn’t all about you champ’ and you have to earn your place as a man… you have a role to play in this world and something to contribute and the most important thing to learn as you reach manhood, is what that role might be. That sort of introspective thinking has been wiped away and cast on the scrapheap in place of sexual conquest, sporting achievement, and riches as desirable or ‘accomplished’ thinking. So the uninitiated young boy/man who hasn’t been lead with the right stuff simply drifts towards this thinking it’s the way to prove themselves.
Young boys want to first know they are precious and loved, then to know whether they are ‘dangerous’, capable, what is their mission. If they are never guided to this point, they will gravitate to the next loudest message in line. Many of the wonderful ancient tribal type of people are great examples of such initiation rites and requirements for boys to become men and at the core of much of their message is helping these boys understand their role in life and what I’ve already mentioned – they aren’t the centre of the universe. Contrast that with the message our wonderful boys receive from a mixed up world!
Dan, in what I’ve written, I have basically summarised some of the lessons I’ve learned in this area from some wonderful books on the topic as I have pursued this journey myself for my own four boys. I list the books below if you are interested in reading about this very important topic… it is an epidemic and the world, most of all, the poor women putting up with all these confused men, is relying on those who care to do something about it.
A couple of these are quite faith based but whether you believe in God or not, I challenge anyone to dispute the principles shared in them – and when you do of course, be sure to come up with a better suggestion 😉
The Way of the Wild at Heart
He’ll Be Ok: Growing Gorgeous Boys Into Good Men: Celia Lashlie
Thanks so much for writing about it and raising it as the important topic it is. I would love to know whether you have a look at these books Dan and get your feedback on the topics.
Thanks for adding so very much to this discussion. How fantastic for your four boys that you have taken this anthropological, psychological and spiritual deep-dive to ask what makes good boys become good men. This is one of those “Reading for Leading” columns where I feel like I have gotten back way more than I have given.
As I watch Jack with a mountain bike on Mackinac the danger theme is so obvious, and yet as you say, boys – aka humans – want to know they are precious and loveable.
I would add to your reading list Raising Cain on the emotional lives of boys:
Just one more thing to quickly add Richard:
Could it be as simple as this: boys and men have traditionally not been expected or invited to look inward FIRST – to begin by discerning their core values, and then build their lives up from these values.
>> I see what you’re saying here but partly disagree. At the moment, the tradition appears to be what you have stated but go back far enough and even in some other cultures today, there is evidence that ‘traditionally’ this did happen as part of initiation for boys progressing to manhood… it has stopped.
Invite, guide, coach and counsel boys and young men to begin with an inward exploration, to develop a strong foundation in proven core values, and you will most likley harvest a crop of strong, humble, committed and compassionate men.
>> Amen Brother!
In years of working with young boys in a Montessori preschool setting, I saw boys flourish as beginning learners, thinkers, problem solvers, AND in their empathetic emotional development. the Montessori environment (at least the one intended by its founder) is by its nature a place where individual curiosity and the pursuit of interests is actively fostered. I saw boys (and girls) flourish in this environment, including children from very stressed backgrounds.
Over the years parents and some young adults returned to tell me they never again experienced that kind of passionate, focused, invigorating learning. As I have worked as a teacher over the years, and now as a principal, I keep returning to that model, and believe that something like it should be considered for REAL school reform. Until we envision what a well educated person actually looks like, we will continue to flounder. My belief is that a well educated person is a thinker, a problem solver, a contributor with a sense of community responsibility, no matter their area of focus (NOT just math,science, technology, or literacy).
If we educated with the idea to potentiate each child as a whole person, this issue of boys or girls not developing into contributing members of our society would be a moot point. I also believe that every era puts a new slant on our development and how we fit into changing circumstances, so educators need to keep responding instructionally to meet these changes.
Finally, William Glasser describes human behavior and motivation to operate out of five basic needs: the need for survival (basic physical needs are met), fun (joy and pleasure), love and belonging (a sense of community), power (a sense of self efficacy and creativity), and freedom (the ability to make choices). When you consider misbehavior, you can generally see that one or more of these needs are not being met, and the misbehavior is an attempt to get that need met.
In short, gangs fulfill all of the basic needs. I maintain the notion that our boys are seeking to get their needs met. For young men, power and freedom may be their strongest need. That brings us back to rights of passage. Dan, your daughter’s work in New Orleans is just such an example that caused her to feel freedom and power , and probably a strong sense of belonging. As a country, maybe we need to consider service opportunities and developmentally connected meaningful projects that extend across the school years. This could be integrated into parent education as well, so that parents learn how important it is for children to engage in meaningful work.
Finally (I know this is long!) I will never forget observing a seven-year old Amish boy helping the men put the hay up into the barn after the cutting. He had the very important job of leading the draft horse correctly so that the mechanism grabbing the hay out of the wagon and swinging it to the loft worked properly. A big job for a man…the pride in that litttle boy was evident in the set of his shoulders and the look on his face. He was helping his dad do meaningful work. We are not Amish working on farms, but we can find meaningful opportunities for our boys.
Thanks for this wonderful contribution. Our son Jack had 8 years of Montessori, and it did wonderful things to teach him about day-to-day responsible human interaction. It developed his emotional intelligence profoundly. I’m finishing an autobiography of a rich, heralded, turnaround king, and he learns “great lessons” in his 50s, that Jack learned before 5th grade. The possibilities are powerful for our boys and our girls alike. Schools like Montessori do amazing things to prepare them.
Love the Glasser stuff – and the connection to gangs.
Thanks for what you’ve written and for all you do!
I see your point however in the space of two lines you seem to make a contradiction. You first ask why it has to be a zero sum game, seemingly stating that you feel that balance in this area isn’t entirely necessary. However you finish with the comment ‘why can’t men do the same’.
To me it seems many have pointed out how much focus has been put on women and their advancement and the ‘acceptance’ of the terrible things that happened to women in history and resultant attempts to correct – so much support – yet now it appears this is lacking for men.
Men need strong, well formed women, just as much as women need it in men. Why shouldn’t the support of both getting to this point be exactly as you put it – a zero sum game. For me, our boys of today greatly lack the initiation they need and crave as they become men and it only feeds what Dan’s article is about that they lose focus and drift. Goodness knows I was on that path but feel I ‘struck it lucky’ because somehow my path crossed, completely unplanned, with some other good men.
Thanks for your response Dan. What I was trying to express – perhaps inartfully – is the frustration I feel when women’s achievement is viewed as detrimental to men. The Atlantic article, with its ridiculous title and sensationalist focus, smacks of backlash. Do we really need to panic about the fate of men and boys? Last I checked, men are still dominating the leadership of our governments, our corporations, and our religious institutions. Are there aimless young men? Sure there are. But there are aimless young women too. Our popular culture rewards indolence and stupidity. Maybe if we encourage boys AND girls to develop their minds, invest in education, and commit themselves to a higher purpose than 24-7 texting, then we will all prosper. Bottom line is that I think it is a bit early to be rolling out the affirmative action programs for boys.