Feeling the Pain of a Fatherless Generation: Angry Boys
A few months ago, a friend of mine bought me a copy of Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story, by John Sowers. In Allendale, where 70% of households do not include a married couple, this book is particularly relevant.
I recently finished the first part of the book, which Sowers wants to help the reader “connect with the story. . . . that you will feel the emotion — the rejection, the raw anger, and the haunting shame, the themes so deeply woven into this story.” He accomplished this goal in me. Parts of the book left me shaking my head in near-disbelief, and parts just left me disturbed and troubled.
Even more, this book provided great answers and support to a couple of topics that I wrote about last year, that of Angry Kids and 3 Basic Problems in Allendale. In the former post, I knew that kids were angry, but I couldn’t figure out why. In the latter, I supposed that teenage pregnancy was related to disconnected dads.
In his book, Sowers makes a great case that being fatherless has a strong and direct connection with anger (especially in boys) and teenage pregnancy.
A Fatherless Rage
While we see that many children and teenagers exhibit extreme anger, we particularly notice it in boys. Boys, more than girls, miss out on learning to control their emotions. All children have to be taught emotional self-control, but when you couple that with the rejection and abandonment from your own father, these feelings become nearly uncontrollable. And science indicates that many times, these boys just can’t help it.
Like a runaway nuclear reaction, a long-term meltdown ensues. Sometimes the ensuing damage is on the boy himself; and, unfortunately, most of the time the damage (physical or emotional) is inflicted on others.
The fall-out is not temporary or intermittent. A pattern of pain results from the child’s feelings of rejection. “Distrustful of authority, fatherless boys leave behind a wake of failed jobs and failed relationships.” The pattern goes on and on.
As an extreme — but not uncommon — example, fatherless boys turn to gangs for acceptance, support, and unity. As a former gang members says, “The common thread throughout all of these conversations, throughout our communities, seems to be, for the most part, the absence of a father, a male figure, a father figure in the home.”
More to This Story
Some boys, in the face of fatherlessness, are filled with anger, leading to self- or others-directed destruction. But I think there is an opposite end to the same spectrum. Instead of becoming an angry bully, a boy may turn to passive withdrawal.
Men are created to be leaders, and to have responsibility. I’m not saying that girls cannot be leaders or should not have responsibility, but the core of manhood — all men — involves being a leader in their families, in their careers, and in their communities. A society that doesn’t have men bearing responsibilities is a society that is on the path to devastation, or it has already arrived there.
Without a father, who is going to teach a boy what it means to provide for his family? Who is going to model what it means to protect others, instead of ignoring (at best) or abusing (at worst)? Who is going to challenge a boy to “man up” and be a blessing to others, instead of being a consumer?
In the absence of men and male mentors, moms and grandmothers and aunts have stepped up to do this. But I am convinced that no one can teach and model true masculinity like another man.
What Is Needed?
We need to reach young boys, and teach them about what it means to be a real man. Yes, there is a pain of fatherlessness for girls as well, the pain of Forgotten Fairy Tales. We need to help girls, too. But I think if we can get more boys on the right track, the girls will follow.
Here are 3 things that I think can help us address the fatherlessness we see in Allendale:
- Male Mentors. We need male mentors in the schools. I’d love to see 20 men in each elementary school (and then more in the middle and high schools), coming in a couple of times per month. They could have lunch with a specific child or a specific class, or they could help during reading and math times. Want to learn more? Read about this Gameplan for Poverty.
- A Language for Manhood. I am thinking about how we can introduce the material from Men’s Roundtable in Allendale. If we want to give boys a vision for authentic manhood, we need to have a language for where we are going. Perhaps this will be a ministry that we could run through some churches.
- Activities. This past week we ran a soccer camp for boys and girls, over spring break. Due to the limited number of volunteers, we had to limit the number of students who could attend. But kids (especially boys, andboys with issues of emotional self-control) need an outlet. There are some activities for boys, but these are limited in number and in availability (including transportation and fees). Is there a way to encourage more activities, which also would require more male coaches and leaders?