Feel Like a Man by Rick Johnson
In nature young mammals must be taught by their parents and other mentors the skills necessary to survive. They teach those skills through modeling behaviors over and over again until the young have assimilated those behaviors. Without that training they perish. A young bear, elk, or cougar dies quickly without a parent around. Our young people are the same way. Without proper training on how to succeed in life they make choices that cause them and their off-spring to perish rather than thrive.
Because males are so visual, boys need to see healthy masculinity modeled in order to learn it. All males need older males to guide them through life. It is the natural order of things. Every man who has succeeded at anything has had a mentor or group of mentors in his life. No man, despite his protests to the contrary, is self-made. We’ve all have help along the way. If we have good help it influences us one direction, if we have bad help it steers us in another.
Children, especially those without healthy models, are often “pre-programmed” to exhibit certain tendencies or make specific choices merely by what was modeled for them when they were growing up. Traumatic events during childhood are especially engrained in a child’s psyche. Old programming, just like old habits, dies hard. This causes certain “generational cycles” such as abandonment, abuse, addictions, and even criminal behavior to get passed from one generation to the next. These “cycles” are often deep in the subconscious and difficult to change.
But direct intervention in their lives by positive male role models can make a difference. Fathers are the best but nearly any man will do in a pinch. Do you know that as men we can heal wounded boys just by spending time with them, by caring about them, by investing ourselves in them, by sharing our masculine “essence” with them? It’s one of the powers that God gave to men—we can fix broken boys just by spending time with them. And usually we don’t even have to do anything special. Often times it is just letting a boy stand next to us and watch what we do and how we do it that heals the tear in their soul.
I have a friend who went on a field trip with his daughter’s third grade class. On the bus ride to their destination a little boy he had never met before came up and sat down in the seat next to him. The boy engaged him in conversation the entire trip. After arriving at the site of the field trip the boy continued to walk and talk with my friend, eventually reaching out and taking hold of his hand while they strolled down the sidewalk. On the bus ride back to school the boy again sat next to my friend. Half way home he laid his little head on my friend’s shoulder and said earnestly, “I wish you were my daddy. Do you wish I was your son?”
My friend related this story to me with tears in his eyes. The yearning and craving this boy had for masculine “essence” was overwhelming. He was like a dry sponge soaking up my friend’s maleness.
Boys and young men also need to be tested as part of the maturation process. Young men who never test themselves against life, never find out what they are made of. They never become confident and secure in their manhood. Trials mature a man in ways that books or lectures never can. If boys are rescued (typically by female mentors) too often growing up they never learn self-reliance and the skills to succeed in life. Most often a boy needs a man to help teach him to navigate his way through the brambles and thorn bushes of manhood. Without that guidance too many young boys and men grow up angry, frustrated, anxious, and scared. Too often they compensate for that by exhibiting a false sense of bravado and self-confidence as a way to cover their insecurities.
Several years ago we began presenting seminars for women on raising boys to become good men. We found a huge segment of our culture where women were being forced to raise sons on their own. Many of these women faced big disadvantages raising boys and understanding what their sons needed not only by not being male themselves but by not having been raised with a father or brothers while growing up. In response to their dilemma of not being able to find positive male role models for their sons we started a program called Standing Tall. Standing Tall is a mentoring program for fatherless boys. It is similar to a faith-based Big Brothers program. It originally started in partnership with a local bible college. There we trained male seminary students to spend a couple of hours a week with fatherless boys identified through our seminars for moms. Almost immediately we started seeing some startling results. Mothers of the boys began reporting that their sons’ entire countenances were changing. They reported that their sons were better behaved, less angry, and doing better in school. Some even credited the presence of the mentors with their sons’ improvement in reading scores (even though they never read together) and behavioral changes such as cessation of bedwetting. Nearly all of the boys experienced more self-confidence and composure during their daily life activities.
Through our work we have observed numerous behavioral obstacles that fatherless boys face, one of which is their unwillingness to accept challenges. Because they have no self-confidence and a hyper-reluctance to experience humiliation through their failures, many of these boys do not receive the valuable lessons and self-esteem provided by failing and persevering until they succeed. They also become frustrated and quit anything the first time it becomes difficult. They tend to cry easier than most boys. Very often they have been feminized by having only female influences in their lives. They come to expect to be “rescued” by mom (or another female) and frequently will not try new things. In fairness to them they don’t know any better—mom has always rescued them. As they become older they get indecisive, passive, docile, and unable to commit to a relationship. They tend to rely on females to make all the decisions that govern their lives and seldom take on natural leadership roles. When they fall down and scrape a knee they will instantly cry and wait for mom to come and rescue them. If a man picks them up and dusts them off they recognize they are not really hurt and stop crying right away. Again a male’s presence helps to guide and encourage them to persevere until they succeed thereby gaining the positive self-image and confidence to accept risk and attempt challenges in other areas of life.
I have another friend, an ex-NBA player, who grew up in the projects of an urban city. He was raised by women—a mother and three sisters. He shared with me that one of the biggest problems he faced as he became a man was that he was never taught healthy coping skills by a man. He only had female influences early in life and so he found himself frustrated and angry in stressful situations. He had learned to make decisions based on his feelings. Because he couldn’t channel his emotions properly he made irrational choices that led to consequences like being kicked off his high school basketball team despite being an All-American and then losing a full ride college scholarship by fighting with his coach. The problem followed him into the NBA because the players are generally only surrounded by “yes” men—no one ever tells them when they are wrong. It was only by finding some strong male mentors and role models to help guide him that he was able to turn his life around. Today he devotes his life to helping young men understand what it takes to be successful by giving them hope and knowledge.
Fatherless boys are also often angry. Frankly they have a right to be angry—they have been deprived of their God-given right to a father to teach them how to make their way in this big, harsh world. They do not have a father to teach, protect, and empathize with their struggles. Frequently though this anger is being used to cover other emotions such as fear, humiliation, anxiety, vulnerability, or even pain. Unless these boys are taught to recognize this they are doomed to believe they can solve any problem in life using anger and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
I am convinced that the greatest, most effective way we help other people is through mentoring. Being mentored or guided by positive role models is also the best way that people, especially boys, learn. Males are extremely visual and so the need to actually see an example is imperative to our learning and development process. If we continue to produce angry young men that kill each other and prey upon others our culture is doomed to collapse.
If you are a man, someone needs you. You won’t have to look far to find a male younger than you are who desperately needs what you’ve already learned. Open yourself to the opportunities to be used. I promise you will not regret it. The satisfaction you will get from seeing how you are helping to change lives with such very little effort on your part will be a magnificent blessing in your life. It will make you feel like a man!
This article is excerpted from bestselling author Rick Johnson’s book, The Power of a Man: Using Your Influence as a Man of Character, by Revell. Find out more about Rick and his work at www.betterdads.net.