Celebrate boys’ boyness – and work with it

Celebrate boys’ boyness – and work with it writes Margaret Wente in Canada’s Globe and Mail.

I sat down with several people who think about this question every day – Jim Power, the principal of Upper Canada College; his colleagues Scott Cowie and Mary Gauthier; and Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.

Our culture is deeply uncertain about the value of masculinity, says Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.

For a boy, the two most important life questions are: Will I find work that’s significant? And will I be worthy of my parents? When boys themselves are asked what they need, they say: I need purpose. I need to make a difference. I need to know I measure up. I need challenge. Above all, I need a meaningful vocation.

No wonder so many boys are so miserable. The modern world of extended years in school and delayed adulthood cuts them off from what they need most.

Boys also need to imagine themselves as heroes, says Jim Power, the principal of Upper Canada College. To girls, Vimy Ridge is a “horrific” place where many Canadian soldiers died in World War I.  When boys are asked about Vimy Ridge,  they imagine themselves there. “Every boy is thinking to himself: How would I have measured up?”

These days, “boys are often treated as a problem,” Wente writes.

The dominant narrative around difficult boys – at least in the public school system – is that they’re unteachable, unreachable, disruptive and threatening. Many commentators – men as well as women – blame male culture itself for the problems with boys. In their view, what we need to do is destroy the death star of masculinity and all the evil that goes with it. What we need to do is put boys in touch with their emotions and teach them to behave more like girls.

Boys’ schools take another track, celebrating “boyness,” Wente writes.

Several public school systems have launched all-boys’ schools for failing boys. In New York, the Eagle Academy for Young Men is achieving impressive results for minority boys in a tough neighbourhood. These schools demand a lot. Their ethos is: We’ll help you succeed, but we’ll be tough on you, and you must claim responsibility. (By contrast, the attitude of Ontario’s public schools toward difficult boys is: We’ll let you pass if you leave us alone.)

But schools can’t give boys what they really need, Wente writes. They need “men who will guide, instruct, esteem, respect and understand them,” that is, fathers.

Single with children = poverty

A growing class of single mothers is raising kids in poverty, while women who put college and marriage before childbirth have time and money to invest in their children. That’s not really news, but the New York Times puts faces on the problem in Two Classes in America, Divided by ‘I Do’.

Jessica Schairer dropped out of college to have three children with a man who rejected marriage and eventually abandoned her. She earns $25,000 working at a child care center run by Chris Faulkner, a college graduate with a husband and two children.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Unwed motherhood “is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class,” among women with some college but no degree. Meanwhile, married couples are having children later,  divorcing less and spending more time on parenting.

“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” (Princeton sociologist Sara) McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”

She said, “I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”

Jessica Schairer wanted a husband and  ”the house and the white picket fence,” and still does. She can’t explain why she stayed with an irresponsible man. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.

While the Faulkner boys go on a Boy Scout camping trip with their father, Schairer’s son is watching TV in his bedroom while his exhausted mother collapses on the couch.

Single moms, poor babies

More than half of births to women under 30 are out of wedlock, reports the New York Times, trumpeting the “new normal” in middle America. Including older mothers, 59 percent of babies are born to a married couple.

One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.

Marriage is becoming a “luxury good,” says a sociologist.

More Single Moms. So What, responds Katie Rophie in Slate, accusing the Times of condescending to “independent-minded, apparently hard-working women (who) are making decisions and forging families, after thinking clearly about their situation.”

Actually, the story portrays hard-working women who didn’t think clearly about how to avoid their situation.

Family breakdown has high costs for children, writes Heather Mac Donald. It is not merely “refresh[ing] our ideas of family.”

Roiphe concludes that there are no (annoyingly retrograde) studies on “what it will be like for . . . children to live in” the coming world without marriage. Actually, we know already. It’s called the ghetto.

Indeed.

Some 73 percent of black children, 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites are born out of wedlock. While    92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, that drops to 62 percent of women with “some college” and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less, according to Child Trends.

Many unwed parents live together, but two-thirds will split up by the time their child turns 10, researchers estimate. And never-married fathers are much less likely to support their children — financially or emotionally — than divorced dads.

Ten worst fictional fathers

In honor of Father’s Day, Time lists the 10 worst fictional fathers of all time: Darth Vader is only #3.

Father's Day without fathers

It’s Father’s Day. It’s also the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. And it’s my brother David’s birthday. As it happens, June 20 fell on Father’s Day the year he was born.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my father because of my father-in-law’s death last month, also from congestive heart failure.  My husband stayed a few extra days after the funeral to help out the family. When he got home, I asked how things were in Chicago. “Fine, except for the lack of a father,” he said.

Too many kids now lack a father every day. John and I were lucky.

Non-fathers get child-support bills

As paternity testing has soared, more men have learned they’re not the fathers of the kids they’ve been raising. But non-dads may be stuck paying child support for other men’s children, reports the New York Times Magazine.

In most states, judges put the interest of the child above that of the genetic stranger who unwittingly became her father — and that means requiring him to pay child support. Some judges have even rebuked nonbiological fathers for trying to weasel out of their financial obligations. “The laws should discourage adults from treating children they have parented as expendable when their adult relationships fall apart,” Florida’s top court held in a 2007 paternity decision, quoting a law professor. “It is the adults who can and should absorb the pain of betrayal rather than inflict additional betrayal on the involved children.”

That seems unfair to me.

Devoted dads, less risky teen sex

Devoted dads can reduce risky teen sex, concludes a Boston College study published in Child Development. “Risky” means sex without condoms or contraception.

The more attentive the dad — and the more he knows about his teenage child’s friends — the bigger the impact on the teen’s sexual behavior, the researchers found. While an involved mother can also help stave off a teen’s sexual activity, dads have twice the influence.

. . . Parental knowledge of a teen’s friends and activities was rated on a five point scale. When it came to the dads, each point higher in parental knowledge translated into a 7 percent lower rate of sexual activity in the teen. For the moms, one point higher in knowledge translated to a 3 percent lower rate of teen sexual activity.

The impact of family time overall was even more striking. One additional family activity per week predicted a 9 percent drop in sexual activity.

A young father who’d grown up fatherless once told me he took his little girl to McDonald’s every week for a daddy-daughter meal. He wanted her to feel special long before teen-age boys asked her out and expected something in return.