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Children Looking for their Father

Some time ago a good friend of mine sent me an article by Mic Dover called, ‘Once Were Toddlers’ from a monthly magazine ‘Sydney’s Child’, www.sydneyschild.com.au

The article was all about the New Zealand based Good Man Project. The idea for the project grew out of a conversation between a college headmaster and ex-prison manager. The manager, Celia Lashlie, had been working with at-risk young children when she was shocked to see recognisable preschool versions of familiar prison characters. She is now famous in New Zealand for a speech she gave in 2001 in which she stated,

“There is a blond angelic-faced five year old sitting in a classroom in New Zealand and he is coming to prison . . . on his way, he will probably kill someone.”

Shock headlines hit the TV, radio and newspapers and Lashlie became a household name for a few weeks, but she has survived it all to write a best selling book on the topic. Here is an extract from Sydney’s Child about the Good Man Project.

‘One of the main project activities has been informal conversations with boys. The information gathered has provided a feast of food for thought. For instance, says Lashlie, it soon became clear that

“of all the adult males in an adolescent boy’s life, his father is the least likely to be his chosen role model”.

Yet, digging deeper, the same evidence found that,

“No matter what he is saying or how he is behaving on the surface, your son is hanging on [his father’s] every word, he is looking to see how a man should act . . . it doesn’t matter what you actually do together, there is just one thing he wants – dedicated moments of your time”.

Central to the project’s findings is the concept of the ‘Bridge of Adolescence’. Parents are asked to visualise their son’s journey from childhood to manhood over a bridge. Who is on the bridge is the crucial point – traditionally it has been the mums. However, the Good Man Project suggested,

“the key finding of the project could be the importance of getting the mothers of adolescent boys to withdraw and fathers to come forward – physically and emotionally”.

But it doesn’t have to be a father – male mentors can be uncles, elder brothers, mates’ elder brothers, coaches, teachers or even trusted friends of the family. All they have to be is male and prepared to give their time in order to help the boys cross that bridge safely.

Of course, for many men, this is easier said than done, whether for practical or psychological reasons – and in the case of absent fathers, there’s not always a handy male hanging around who a mother would trust to be a good role model.

How the young men interviewed saw role models was illuminating. There was a definite split between men they admired (sportsmen, musicians) and men they wanted to be like (men they know personally such as grandfathers, uncles, elder brothers, teachers, coaches). There also seemed to be a third category – men who possessed the things they wanted (wealth, cars, power). But chillingly, more than 66 per cent said they did not want to be the sort of man their dad was. But this figure changed enormously if dad “could get back his sense of humour”.

So the project then asked the kids to come up with definitions of a ‘good’ man, as opposed to a ‘hard’ man or a ‘real’ man. The three most common answers involved the words trust, loyalty and humour. Close behind were laid-back, motivated, honest, has dreams and goals, hardworking, generous, compassionate, humble, self-reliant, respected and has respect for others.

The project also considers ‘emotional literacy’, a phrase that can put many men off from the word go – just what does it mean? Lashlie prefers ‘emotional confidence’ and defines it as the ability to ask (and answer) reflective questions without feeling that this is something males don’t do – in other words, a ‘female’ activity.

“To be honest”,

says Lashlie,

“some of the dads find this much harder than the sons.”

Hand in hand with this skill is a word or language bank that contains vocabulary other than ‘yeah, nah, maybe, gay, cool, yeah right, oh man, whatever’.

But how do we get teenage boys (and their dads) to feel comfortable using words such as safe, relaxed, satisfied, optimistic, resentful, connected, empty, trapped, infuriated, peaceful, puzzled, gullible, hesitant, lonely, forgiven, guilty, fantastic, energised?

One starting point could be discussions about dad’s childhood, which can naturally lead on to a son’s thoughts about his own. We are not talking here about those ‘kids have got it easy these days compared to when I was a boy” -type lectures, but about thoughts on how families have changed – gender roles for instance – and asking good questions. What was good, what was bad, what was the best or worst thing that happened today? Anything that may cause your boy to pause, reflect and summon up words to describe feelings.’

The usual reaction you get from your teenage children is that you as a father are not needed any more and yet the reverse is the case. Celia Lashlie’s words are indeed a powerful description of the true feelings of your teenage children.

Lovework

You are important to your children’s future.

To quote Lashlie,

“No matter what he is saying or how he is behaving on the surface your son is hanging on [his father’s] every word, he is looking to see how a man should act.

Just make sure that you are there for them.

Warwick Marsh

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Mark Rauch April 27, 2013, 10:28 am

    Dear Warwick,
    I’d like to post a record of my father’s death.
    In my family I was the first child and only boy among 4 children. We lived a good life in a Catholic home in Canberra with Dad as the only income working in the Dept of Housing and Construction. I was going to Marist and about to enter Yr 12 in 1986. My results were pretty good and Dad had helped me quite a bit- especially in Maths and Physics throughout my school. Dad always looked after me and was my guide in many aspects of my life. My love for him grew as I did: his late night watching of the English premier league and in my soccer years, always investing in teaching me, introducing new means for me to learn how to become more mature in my attitude. He gave 100%, and with my mum created a great family atmosphere where we always “felt at home”, always very close nit.
    Dad was an only child, growing up in Orange with his parents having both passed away before he met mum in 1967 in Papua New Guinea. He was in the Army and really helped, with his engineering degree, create a better physical platform for the country to be. Mum on the other hand was the eldest of 11 and her parents were strong and healthy(they celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary last year before Grandma passed away in January at 93 years of age!). So we visited them quite a lot and Grandfather always had a lot of respect for Dad(Dad was 37 when he met mum and he had already had quite a history behind him).
    Owing to fact that Mum had so many brothers and sisters, I had an abundance of cousins to play with, and learn from- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse! In December ’85, we had the first marriage for one of them in Wollongong and I had already grown old enough to enjoy myself quite a bit! By this stage I was pretty much Dad’s height and we were much closer in our understanding of things. I had gained more respect and was feeling more able to look after myself- Dad had started to teach me to drive in our good old ’66 Beetle. He was, though, starting to look a bit “worn out”, so to speak. He was quite strong and a solid build, but that can not always be maintained in good health. In late January, he told Mum he was feeling some pain in his chest and she, being a trained nurse, immediately booked him in to see a doctor. I think it was the 23rd of January when we were about to go to Sydney, then up to Guyra, that we visited a doctor in Civic on our way out. I remember this clearly: when Mum and Dad were returning to the car, they stopped and hugged each other and then continued to the car. It was a pretty quiet trip, even though Dad had just visited the doctor, us children didn’t really fathom the implications that might, and did, occur. Mum, though, she was certainly concerned.
    We got to Guyra for the second wedding, pulled into a hotel, and, while we all were getting ready, Dad had slipped out and gone to to the church for a prayer. The wedding was enjoyable and we all posed for our own family portrait outside. We all got into a coach and started out to their property for the reception. I was sitting by myself in front of Mum and Dad and was talking to him about trivial things, generally in a pretty good mood. While I was looking out the window at the passing scenery, I suddenly heard this “Norm, Norm!!”. Quickly I turned around watched Dad having a heart attack.
    Us younger children and the people at the front half of the coach were quickly evacuated outside and the 2 doctors and many nurses on board among my relatives, got to see to him straight away. We were all sent in various vehicles that were also travelling with us to the property. I didn’t know what to think- was Dad well? What if? The atmosphere there was pretty sombre and the guests and relatives that were there were all scattered around. I was by myself having a drink when one of my closest cousins came over to me with a pretty serious and sad look on her face. “Mark, are you alright? I’m really sorry about your Dad…” She didn’t need to say much more before I broke down and wept. I can’t remember how long I stayed but one of my Uncles drove me back to the coach where I could rejoin Mum and my sisters. The tears and pain on their faces really struck and, suddenly, we were a very different family, the anchor of us had gone. All of Mum’s sisters and brothers were extraordinarily helpful and looked after us on our way back to Canberra. It had been the 25th January 1986 that Dad went upstairs. I started Yr 12 three days later and the grief of this brought me down- certainly in my first term, but we all now really had to start again. Mum especially, she had been thinking about moving back closer to her family for a couple of months, but because I was in Yr 12, and we had really established ourselves in Canberra, we resolved to say put.
    New responsibility- now I am the man of the family, what could I do for my mother and sisters? Well my goal was certainly success in my last year and I did accomplish a good result in a number of areas. On the other hand, for the immediate future my goals became unconsciously selfish. Work brought money, and as a 17/18 year old the prospects of enjoying myself while living at home took precedence. Looking after mum really didn’t place itself as a high priority until I could finally look after myself in a more responsible way. She was remarkable in her capacity to manage her household and the public service- since WWII I think had, introduced superannuation for employees and this gave us a leeway to be able to afford a good standard of living complements of Dad, even though he wasn’t with us.
    Now that I write this it really has a lot of what ifs about it. Would I have been a more mature adult? Would I have been able to invest in my studies instead of “saving” cash for that extra year? My life certainly has taken many ups and downs since he passed away, but now that I can spill it out and reflect on how valuable he was/is, it really helps me to appreciate my father, and what he did for me.
    Yours sincerely,
    Mark Rauch

    • Warwick Marsh July 25, 2013, 11:29 am

      Dear Mark
      You are an extremely brave man and this post is a deeply moving story of both tragedy and triumph. Congratulations.
      Much Love
      Warwick Marsh

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