Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gary Palmer: Dads help boys become men

  Summertime is kid time. In my case, it was more specifically "boy time."  When school let out for the summer, I entered an all-male classroom because my dad was a logger and my younger brother and I went to the woods with him. Instead of lazy days spent at the pool, on the playground or sitting in front of a television set-there were no video games-we learned how to work. More importantly, we learned how to be men.

  Before you conjure up visions of two little boys handling a chain saw or driving a log truck, let me set the record straight... we had a lot of fun. We had to work, but we got to be boys in an environment that gave full flight to everything that it means to be a boy. We explored, we climbed, we played in creeks - we even dammed one up. We learned how to shift gears in the truck and later, how to drive one. So while we were learning something about hard work and manhood, we got to be boys, too, in a way that many boys are missing out on today.

  And that is what worries me about boys growing up in our current culture. Over the years, it seems that an increasing number of guys haven't learned how to transition from boyhood to manhood. A growing number of males in America today are growing up in an environment that stifles boyhood, and to a degree, manhood.

  Part of the problem facing boys is that the education system creates an environment that is tough on boy behaviors. According to psychologist Michael Thompson, the modern classroom is a hostile environment for many, if not most, boys because it suppresses their natural urges and instincts. He said, "Boys feel like school is a game rigged against them. The things at which they excel - gross motor skills, visual and spatial skills, their exuberance - do not find as good a reception in school."

  In other words, boys are captives to an educational environment that suppresses their natural tendencies to run, jump, climb, wrestle or throw something. Years ago, recess provided an outlet for boys to do these things, but over the years, the amount of time allocated for recess has dramatically decreased and changed.

  Despite its faults, the education system is not to blame for what many boys are missing today. The real culprit is the breakdown of the family and the absence of fathers in the lives of their sons. Fathers are absent like never before and not just absent in the sense of not being physically present in the home, but also absent in that many dads are uninvolved in their sons' lives.

  The simultaneous explosions of divorce and out-of-wedlock births have left millions of boys without a man in their lives. Obviously, many boys will have male figures in their lives such as teachers, coaches and other family members. But every boy needs a significant man and there is no man more significant in a boy's life than his dad.

  This is not to imply in the least that dads don't need to be involved in the lives of their daughters. They certainly do. But despite what the feminists try to brainwash us into believing, the father-daughter relationship is a dynamic that is very different than the one with sons.

  It is tough being a boy in this day and age. Boys are desperate for more time with their dads and their dads need more time with their boys - more time to wrestle and rough house, to play ball, build or fix something, to fish and hunt, to listen to corny jokes and do all the things that boys want to do with their dads. And they need more time with their dads to learn the characteristics of a good man - dependability, perseverance, integrity, courage, compassion, faith and self-control.

  Summer is a good time for boys to be boys while their dads can be the men they need them to be. So you dads take this as an encouragement to take another day off and give it to your sons. In fact, take one off to give to your daughters, too.

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

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