The Importance of Fathers

With Father’s Day just past, this is a great time to shine the light on the importance of positive male role models in the lives of children.

There are many family structures in America, and many children who grow up to be successful adults without the typical two-parent household. However, more children succeed early on, and throughout their lives, when they have a strong male role model in their lives.

I’ve chosen to devote my life to being a social worker, helping people, which is no small thing. This is not a high-paying profession, and there is a high burn-out rate due to the things we see and the situations we can’t prevent, no matter how hard we try.

But I wouldn’t trade my work for any other profession.

What’s more, I work hard to encourage young men to consider a social work career. An overwhelming majority of social workers in foster care and related fields are women, and I am grateful for these dedicated, selfless individuals in our profession, but it would be nice to have more men who can play that role for kids who so desperately need it.

My brother works in domestic violence and sexual assault prevention in Boston. Part of his work is with college students who have been accused of domestic violence, and it provides general education around domestic violence/sexual assault prevention. He develops curricula for the Marines, the Air Force, professional sports teams and college sports teams, training high-profile, privileged men in the proper way to treat women.

In his work and in our society, we are facing a crisis of how to understand healthy masculinity.

This is a cycle that permeates our entire society. Women experience the negative side effects of men who never really learn what it means to be a man. Rather, such men are aggressive, abusive, emotionally stunted, and women think this is normal, acceptable and the way men – and boys growing up to become men – should behave.

It’s not.

Boys in our society are raised to believe these negative behaviors are pictures of masculinity, not the  distortions of healthy adult behavior that they really are.   When there are few positive male examples, how are they to learn to become men who are emotionally healthy, in healthy relationships?

One of the most important roles of fathers and male role models is to help define healthy masculinity.

In our work with foster care and adoption, we see children who have endured unhealthy home situations. They yearn for healthy homes where they can grow up in a safe and nurturing environment. When their own families cannot provide that, we turn to the kind and caring foster parents and adoptive families to step in and we hope it’s not too late to turn the tide.

There is also room for mentorship, caring men who play a consistent, active role in the life of youth. Just knowing someone is there, someone wants to listen, someone will give you a hug and an understanding nod, is priceless.

We need your help. We need strong men to model for our youth – especially those aging out of the foster care system or in Independent Living situations – what it means to be a healthy, caring adult. The best way men can help us build a healthier society is by modeling these three values:

  1. Give permission to boys and young men to experience the full range of emotions. Yes, you can cry. Yes, you can like the color pink. Yes, you can have a soft-spoken conversation and listen to another person’s worries. We need men who model understanding and being OK feeling all emotions. Most men are taught that it’s OK to show anger and happiness, not sadness, shame or fear. All are OK and necessary to be a healthy adult.
  2. Show a sense of personal responsibility and ownership for how your behavior impacts others. Everything we do has the potential of impacting other people, and we have to take responsibility for how we live in this world, how we treat other people and how our actions have the potential to affect somebody else, negatively or positively.
  3. Treat women and girls with respect and kindness. Not objectifying, but rather acting with respect. As the father of three daughters, I try to be cognizant all the time of how everything I do in front of them, to them or say, creates a template of what they will expect from men in their lives. My behavior sets the bar for what they’ll expect.

This is how we change our world. One word at a time, one action at a time. Stop saying, “You throw like a girl,” or “Man up,” and embrace the feminine and the masculine in everyone.

We need men who can stand up and show what it means to be a man – which is not always tough.

I invite all men reading this to consider becoming mentors to youth who need positive male role models, fostering children who need nurturing homes, or even consider a career in the health care professions. It could mean the future of civilization, it’s that important.

Sean de Four is Vice President, Child & Family, for Samaritas.

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