Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Trouble with Boys ... or Should it be: The Crisis of the Absentee Father

One of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school rests on a single question: does he have a man in his life to look up to? Too often, the answer is no. High rates of divorce and single motherhood have created a generation of fatherless boys. In every kind of neighborhood, rich or poor, an increasing number of boys, now a startling 40 percent, are being raised without their biological dads.

Psychologists say that grandfathers and uncles can help, but emphasize that an adolescent boy without a father figure is like an explorer without a map. And that is especially true for poor boys and boys who are struggling in school. Older males, says Gurian, model self-restraint and solid work habits for younger ones. And whether they're breathing down their necks about grades or admonishing them to show up for school on time, "an older man reminds a boy in a million different ways that school is crucial to their mission in life." p. 4 The Trouble with Boys on Newsweek Online
I am a fatherless boy. My father abandoned my mother, my sister, and me when I was six years old. I grew up watching other sons with their fathers and having this huge pain in my heart. I too wanted a father. I wanted someone who would play ball with me, go fishing with, spend time teaching me how to tear things apart, fix things, and build things. I wanted to have a father who would teach me what it means to be a man. I had to learn to do these things on my own, up until just after my conversion.

Here are some observations based on my own experiences growing up without a father:
  • When a boy grows up without a father in his life, he essentially does not get taught how to direct the boundless energies that flow in him. There is a tendency for his mother to have a doctor proscribe him to receive some sort of drug, like ritalin or talwin, to keep his energies in check. ADHD is a common diagnosis.
  • When a boy grows up without a father in his life, he does not receive the necessary imprinting and guidance to grow into malehood, manhood, and masculinity that he already has within him.
  • When a boy does not grow up with a father in his life, he is not taught how to use the tools he already has as a male to establish his just place within his peer group and the world.
  • When a boy does not grow up with a father in his life, he does not learn how to protect a woman's virtue. Instead he can learn how to see her as an object.
  • When a boy does not grow up with a father in his life, he is incapable of understanding and relating to God the Father.
  • When a boy has no father growing up, he cannot understand the devotion and obedience of Jesus Christ to His Father.

There are so many aspects of the male psyche that cannot develop properly without a father's presence in the boy child's life. I am glad to see that there are studies happening now that will demonstrate what most of us already know, boys and girls are different, and boys absolutely require a strong male influence in their life!

The last two points in my list are vitally important to the Catholic Christian male. Without a loving father in a boy's life, it will be difficult for him to discover God the Father and just who God the Father is. God the Father clearly demonstrates to us what fatherhood truly means to the child.

When we look at the relationship between the Jesus and His Father we can discover the depths of parenthood and especially fatherhood.

God the Father encourages His Son, teaches Him, guides Him, disciplines Him, and grows Him into the adult man that was willing to accept the Father's will to offer His life up for all of us in Jesus' Passion and Death.

God the Father allows His Son to take risks, to grow in His ability to make decisions, and to grow in trust that the decisions that He is making are the right ones. So too it is with our fathers, they teach us how to take measured risks, evaluating the consequences of those risks, and trusting our instincts to make the right decision with regards to the risks and consequences.

For myself, it was in the basement of the main house at Madonna House during my first extended stay there - about a year after my conversion - that I met the man that I would eventually ask to adopt me. Yes, I was already in my twenties, but one thing that I knew in my heart that year after my conversion, was that I would not be able to understand and get to know God the Father if I did not have a good father figure in my own life. The fatherhood wounds were very deep and needed to be healed.

This man became a good friend, and after about five years of friendship, he accepted my request to adopt me. I was so very pleased with his yes, and believe me, after a life filled with so much rejection and abandonment, I was still half expecting to hear a no!

There are so very many blessings to Dad's presence in my life and to his faithfulness to the promises he made to me in the adoption letter. His uprightness of heart, clarity of vision when it came to my brokenness and patterns of dysfunction, his steadfast love and patience during the many years of my resisting his presence in my life due to my fear of abandonment and distrust of all males, his resolute firmness with me when I went through my self-destructive cycles, his constant and patient waiting when I would run away, and the list goes on and on.

God the Father has truly given the both of us, Dad and me, a great gift in understanding what His relationship with Jesus was like.

And, it is by virtue of Dad's presence in my life that I am able to be a good father to my own children.

Dad, I know that you read these posts, so thank you very much for the gift of your presence in my life, for your love and discipline, and for helping me to grow up.

Prayer: Thank You Jesus for bringing to us the love of the Father. Thank You for showing us His face in Yours! Thank You Jesus for drawing us men into a deep relationship with Your Father! Thank you for showing us how to be good sons.

Thank you God the Father for giving us your Son. Thank You for showing us what it means to be a good father. Teach us men to come to a deeper understanding of fatherhood, and help us to take responsibility for our families. Help us men, especially us fathers, to be the men we need to be for our children. Help us to bring our children up in relationship with You and Your Son. Help us to teach our children to open themselves completely to the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit.

St. Joseph, pray for us!

Pax vobis,


The Trouble With Boys Newsweek article online.

Biology's Revenge article on the National Review Online.

The drug Talwin and its effects.

The drug Ritalin and its effects.

Update: Added the article title.

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