Monday, September 08, 2008

What Little Boys Learn About Fathering

It’s a sad fact that few boys in our culture get hands-on training in child-rearing.

Our society doesn’t invest nearly as much time and attention preparing boys to become fathers as it does preparing girls to become mothers. To illustrate, let’s look at two esteemed organizations dedicated to developing kids into well rounded adults: the Boy Scouts of America and the Girls Scout of the USA. Since they began, both groups have offered badges in outdoor, craft, and industrial skills.

But what badges teach a Scout about parenting and family life?

In the Girls Scouts of the USA, young women have earned badges in child care, cooking, and home health since 1913. In ensuing years, GSUSA created badges in Family Living Skills, Food Power, Healthy Relationships, Consumer Power, Sew Simple, Toymaker, Fabric Arts, and "Food, Fibers, and Farming.”

In the Boy Scouts of America, the only parenting-preparation merit badges a young man can earn are: Family Life, Cooking, and Textiles. The number of Boy Scouts earning a Family Life merit badge is less than half the number earning Woodworking, Archery, Fingerprinting, and any of 35 other merit badges.

My goal is not to bash the Boy Scouts; indeed, the thousands of Boy Scouts with Family Life badges are better off than most young men. The point is this: we dads need to consciously seek guidance because of the way many people (ourselves included) perceive fathers and the role of fatherhood.

For example, what does it mean to “mother” a child? Terms like nurturing, feeding, and comforting readily spring to mind. But when someone talks about “fathering a child,” we’re more likely to think he did no more than deposit some sperm--slam, bam, thank you ma’am.

Here’s another example: When you were a boy, did you learn to change diapers? If you did, the odds are slim that your father was the one who taught you.

Think about what you learned from your father and/or stepfather about parenting. You probably learned a lot from his example, even if it was a bad one. But how much did he ever say to you about how to be a father, or about how his life was enriched by having you as his son?

This lack of words--father silence, if you will--is important for dads to acknowledge. Because we tend to start out with less training and information in fathering than our partners have in mothering, we have to recognize our need to actively reach out for knowledge.

It is also important to break this generational cycle of father silence. Our own parenting will be better and easier if we start talking about fathering, asking questions, and sharing our experience. But we’re not the only ones who will benefit. The other fathers we talk with will also be ahead of the game. More important, our open discussion of fathering gives our own children words and wisdom they’ll need when they take their turn as fathers and mothers.

Share what you're doing to break father silence!