Sharma Howard: Lack of positive male role models is very disturbing

Sharma Howard

The outrage my son felt during physical fitness testing a few years back was pretty typical — he was fuming that the girls had a shorter distance to run.

I asked, “Why?” — knowing of course there was a good reason.

He sighed heavily, and reluctantly said, “Their lungs are smaller.”

Ever since girls started their ongoing critique of boys, my son, who had gotten along well with them, went through a time where he denounced them as “evil.” He saw unfairness at every turn and perceived they got preferential treatment from teachers. Which could have happened.

When the girls’ ongoing critiques about the boys turned to outright cruelty, I began to be troubled myself, and even embarrassed that girls were being so mean.

Then he began to pick up on the bits and pieces of news he overheard. And he saw a troubling pattern: Men were quite often the ones connected to murder and violence, and it seemed to give him pause on how the world may not be tilted forever to favor girls.

“Why is it always the men?” he asked, pondering the heaviness of it all.

I struggled for a satisfactory answer, but news and statistics seemed irrefutable.

And those numbers are a fact all young boys will have to deal with, said Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D., who co-authored the best seller, “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.”

“Ninety-five percent of crimes are committed by men, that’s a fact every man has to confront — that violence is mainly male, but at the same time, 95 percent of men aren’t violent. So, yes, men commit violence, but it’s a small percent, your son has to know both those things,” Thompson said to me.

And while men and boys get more air time in movies and on TV — 70 percent more than girls — they also are frequently cast as the instigator or troublemaker.

Couple that with the lack of nurturing adult males depicted in TV and movies and you begin to wonder what that impact has on these boys who will one day be fathers themselves.

“There’s a serious dearth of both sympathetic and competent fathers in TV and movies, the best we can do is ‘Two and a Half Men,’ and these are well-meaning bumbler dads,” Thompson notes.

Positive coaches and other male role models are critical for boys in real life, where their influence resonates much more deeply than any TV show.

But the reality is if boys don’t have role models at home, there is also a lack of them out in the world. Male teachers have been in decline for the past 20 years, leaving young boys with mostly female teachers.

And that statistic prompted more observation from Thompson, who also does workshops in school systems.

Female teachers need to avoid approaching boys with a “reformist” mindset, he said, which is woven into our culture of parenting boys.

Thompson advises women to reach down and bring to the relationship the positive experiences they’ve had with their own father, or grandfather, and avoid trying to ensure they don’t become the disappointing man they had an experience with in the past.

Being a mother of two boys fills me with a gratitude that I am an integral part in their emergence to manhood. I enjoy the way they propel themselves forward in the world with their fabulous energy. Yes, sometimes it’s nonstop. But I am also there to witness their fragility, and the tenderness they aren’t encouraged to show the world.

Will we ever support men to be gentle and nurturing, or will that forever threaten our ideal of the “strong” man we need? Can we reconcile these qualities as ones that can co-exist, and not negate each other?

As I mom of two, I think they can, but until the day comes, let’s be aware the media will be lagging behind, and statistics need to be put in perspective.

Contact Sharma Howard at showard@norwichbulletin.com.