Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Michael Abrahams | Why boys need (good) fathers

Published:Tuesday | June 18, 2024 | 12:06 AM
Representational image of a father and son.
Representational image of a father and son.

Fathers are important for children of any gender. Girls need their fathers, but there are reasons why fathers are of particular importance to their sons. Boys see themselves as little men and rely on their dads for guidance as they progress to manhood. The kind of father a boy has can, therefore, have a profound effect on his attitude and behaviour. I have seen this in my own life.

While preparing to write this article, I saw an Instagram post asking, “What is 1 (sic) thing your dad taught you?” I asked my youngest child, the younger of my two sons, and he replied, “To have manners and to know how to treat ladies.” I subsequently posed the question to his brother, who was not at home when I asked his younger sibling, and he independently said, “To respect women.” I found their answers interesting, because if someone asked me the same question about my father, I would have likely said the same things.

MANNERS

My father placed a lot of importance on manners. He was big on that. If a visitor came to the house and I did not greet them appropriately promptly, things would become uncomfortable for me. As for how to treat women, I was extensively schooled on that. He told me never to hit a girl or a woman, to open doors for them, to offer them my seat if I see them standing and there are no more seats available, and to carry loads for them, especially if I see them struggling. These attitudes became ingrained in my psyche. To this day, I cannot sit comfortably if I see a woman standing at an event and there are no available seats. It was a given that I passed these concepts on to my sons, not just by my words, but also by my actions.

It is essential for fathers to not just talk to their sons about sex, but also to facilitate conversations about the topic with them. In today’s world, access to sexual content is way too easy, and pop culture increasingly refers to females in demeaning ways. When boys learn about sex from pornographic videos and literature, and explicit songs, concepts such as respect, consent and boundaries are lost. They need to be guided by responsible fathers so that when they do become sexually active, they will engage responsibly.

Boys also thrive on the affirmation of older males. One of the most significant factors that contributes to boys joining gangs is the absence of fathers and appropriate male role models in their lives. When this affirmation is absent from appropriate sources but given by older, wayward boys and gang leaders, we are likely to lose these boys to lives of idleness and criminal activity.

INFLUENCED BY THE BAD

Unfortunately, boys are influenced not only by the good, but also by the bad. So, boys do not just need present fathers. They also need fathers who set good examples. A study published in The British Journal of Criminology in 2008 found that men who break the law are far more likely to have fathers who also ran afoul of the law. Only four per cent of sons of law-abiding fathers were found to be convicted of more than one delinquent act. In contrast, for sons of law-breaking fathers, about 40 per cent engaged in law-breaking activities. We can see how this can damage a society, because if these errant sons go on to have sons themselves, the cycle of criminality will be perpetuated.

Father-son time is crucial for boys. There is research that has found that positive time spent with fathers can reduce the likelihood of boys experiencing depression or anxiety or exhibiting aggressive behaviour. Boys also benefit from experiencing warmth, affection, and tenderness from their fathers. A study published in Psychology of Men & Masculinities in 2021 found that married fathers who reported frequently shopping, playing a sport, going to entertainment events, playing games, cooking, and/or watching television with their children were likelier to have children who did not exhibit behavioural problems. Interestingly, the study found that the effect a father’s time spent with his child has on protecting against these symptoms was significantly more potent for sons than daughters.

Unfortunately, there are way too many absent fathers in Jamaica. Too many men walk away from their responsibilities, especially when the relationships between them and the mothers of their children fall apart. Their absence has undoubtedly contributed to the high levels of gang activity, violence and criminality in our country. Our boys need to be socialised early to learn to be responsible men and break these cycles of dysfunction. Interventions such as introducing character education into our school curriculum, teaching children about parenting, and establishing and expanding foster parenting and mentorship programmes are needed to rescue not only our boys, but also our society.

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator and human-rights advocate. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or follow him on X , formerly Twitter, @mikeyabrahams.