This is the latest from our new column, ‘Dear Danni’, where Dannielle Miller shares tips on parenting kids aged 10+.
My teen son doesn’t have any positive male role models in his life. How do I go about finding him one?
I love that you’ve acknowledged the importance of lighthouse figures in your son’s life; guides who can shine a light on how he can grow up to be a good man are invaluable.
I was listening to a podcast the other day and the host, Michael Lewis, talked about the baseball coach he had had in high school, a man he considered his lighthouse.
During this broadcast, Lewis shared an anecdote that had me tearing up.
He recalled that when in high school, during a particularly important baseball game, his team’s pitcher was away and he was called up to the mound. The other team were laughing and dancing with glee as he walked on to the field, “I’m not an imposing sight,” Lewis explains, “I’ve not so much hit puberty, as dealt it a glancing blow. I look like a scoop of vanilla ice cream… the other team has facial hair and muscles.”
His coach, he recalled fondly, looked at him and said, “There’s no one I’d rather have in this situation.”
Field explains, “Such is the force of the man that I believe him. The strength of this coach was inside me, like a superpower.”
Touching, right? And yet…
Field then went on to explain how his coach had such a temper that if the team lost, he would swing a baseball bat around smashing the walls in the locker room. Once, the coach was so furious that the boys came second, that he smashed the trophy the team had won in front of them.
Suffice to say I quickly dried those tears of tenderness I’d shed. I think our boys deserve to be shown not only how to win, but how to lose with grace too.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s much to be admired in any person who learns from their past and strives to do better. But the truth of it is I fear we often set the bar so low for positive male role models that, as a dear friend recently said, you’d have to dig to get under it.
I shake my head in dismay sometimes at the sports stars who feel they can act one way when competing, and another when off-field and think their abhorrent antics are ok (and please note, donating cash to a women’s charity, or buying toys for sick children doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility to be a respectful human. The little eyes that watch you on field, watch you off-field too).
May I suggest that when you do seek out opportunities for your son to connect with men who may act as guides (you might do this through sports, scouts, taking up a musical instrument, cadets, dance or drama classes, volunteering with a charity that’s important to him) you might like to also encourage him to consider not just the kind of man he’d like to be, but the kind of man he feels uneasy around as well.
Remind your son that all people have both good and bad qualities. If a man he admires stuffs up, explain to him that we all do at times, but it’s how we deal with our falls that shows growth.
Encourage you son to also question limiting beliefs around masculinity. Rather than needing a sports star or a man who does great things to guide him, instead, he might find connection with a man who moves through the world in a quieter way.
And perhaps rather than looking for a role model, he might also consider being open to a mentor of either gender. Michael Ward is one of the academics involved in a research project exploring gender identities and practices with young men, entitled: Beyond Male Role Models. He summarised the project’s findings in The Conversation, “What we found was that these vulnerable young men valued the personal qualities of staff – respect, trust, consistency, care, and their commitment – above their gender or other social identities such as cultural background, class and ethnicity.”
This makes intuitive sense to me, particularly as my role model growing up was my grandfather.
Please don’t underestimate the many things you, and the women who love your son, can teach him too.
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Dannielle Miller is the CEO of Australia’s leading provider of in-school wellbeing programs for teens, Enlighten Education. She is also a best-selling parenting author, the Director of Education and Special Projects for Women’s Community Shelters, and is the founder of The School Toilet Project.