This article first appeared in the September issue of the LBD Group's GLOSS Magazine.
There are lots of examples in the world right now of why it is so important to encourage young minds towards good rather than evil. Terrorism, political corruption, cyber bullying – you name it and there’ll be a story about it somewhere in the news today.
The biggest issue that strikes me is the opportunity for evil to inveigle its way into the minds of pliable young men who are not being otherwise positively engaged in their daily lives. We need more examples globally of how we should behave towards each other rather than the far too many current examples of how we should not. In a nutshell, we need role models.
And role modelling begins in the home.
As the proud and very lucky father of two young boys, I am acutely aware of the huge responsibility I have in mentoring, guiding and raising my sons to be, quite simply, good men. Most of the building blocks that will ultimately form the adult are absorbed by our children in their earliest years.
As our boys are so young, 4 and 2 respectively, my approach has been primarily about the way in which I behave around them and how I convey to them my attitudes regarding certain things. In my view, the most important place to start is how I treat their mum, my wife, Sarah. Building in young boys an inherent respect for their mother will play a significant factor in their treatment of women generally throughout their lives.
But is it just me doing the teaching or am I also a student in this process?
The greatest thing about being a father is that your children are constantly teaching you and their presence forces you to reappraise your attitudes to things that once you may have considered absolutely set in stone. I grew up in a time when mucking up at school was routinely dealt with by corporal punishment.
As a kid educated at a Catholic boys school in the 1970’s I was hit with just about everything you can imagine, from the strap to the cane to cut down broom handles to hockey sticks, even a cupped hand belted up underneath our chins for maximum effect! I didn’t turn out too bad and for a long while I thought, like many of us from that time, it obviously didn’t do me any harm. After all, boys need discipline! But then our son, Morgan, was born and I instantly knew that I could never raise a hand to my children. A couple of years later our little man, Rhett, joined our family and all of those long held views I’d had about raising boys just evaporated.
It’s impossible to do justice to the level of emotion you go through when you hold your child for the first time and realise what a responsibility you have to the precious little creature in your arms. Everything about their lives at that point is totally up to you and you immediately start thinking about how perfect you want everything to be for them and you’ll stop at nothing to keep them from harm. That’s when you start thinking about how much things have changed since you were a child and how much we have evolved as human beings – ISIS et al notwithstanding.
So, how am I supposed to raise these little guys today - in the 21st Century?
I know many of us stress about these issues because for those of us who have young children and for those who have already been through this stage, it’s a daily struggle. Battlelines are constantly being drawn around the household as boundaries are pushed and tethers are stretched to capacity. This is the very point when our children become the teachers and we the students. This is when all those prehistoric instincts to be ‘in charge’ kick in and our ability to observe and listen to what they’re actually trying to say or do becomes clouded by a millennia of extraneous noise.
I admit that I still struggle with it, especially when I’m really tired and they happen to be operating on all 12 cylinders for some reason, but as someone who feels terrible just raising my voice at the boys, I’m working hard to listen more and be open to what they are trying to teach me about their behaviour.
Without wading through hundreds of examples of what this all entails, the one thing that is crystal clear to me is that children need to feel respected. They need to know that you will allow them to push the odd boundary here and there in order for them to learn something that millions of years of evolution is telling them they must know. And by giving a little ground each time and guiding them whenever you can as they explore their instincts, you can show them how far they can go. And most importantly, they can show you that respect is a two way street – eventually.