CALLING all good men. We need you. The role of fathers is often undersold in a culture where women, despite trends towards stay-at-home dads and go-to-work mums, are still the primary caregivers.
It’s women who are generally expected to nurture, to listen, to comfort and, increasingly, to discipline because men who grew up in homes where punishment was meted out by a belt can be unsure how to teach kids a lesson any other way.
As women become more independent and self-sufficient, the danger is that men are left wondering how they fit into the equation.
Far from being redundant, however, good men have never been more important, particularly in the lives of boys.
Single mothers of sons may not like to hear this, but the most important parent is the same-sex parent, says adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg.
This doesn’t mean dads don’t influence their daughters (a girl’s relationship with her father sets the tone for interactions with other males) but that boys instinctively imitate their dads.
This is wonderfully reassuring when dad is around and is warm, attentive, stable and responsible.
If not, hold on. You could be in for a bumpy ride.
Researchers at Columbia University have found that children in two-parent households with a poor relationship with their father are 68 per cent more likely to smoke, drink or use drugs compared to all teens in two-parent households.
Teens in single-mother households fared worse; they had a 30 per cent higher risk than those in all two-parent households.
And it is worse for boys.
Young Australian males from broken homes are more likely to commit crimes and go on to become serious offenders than females (though girls are closing the gap).
Boys are crying out for strong role models, and when dad is absent (or loosely present), boys struggle harder to work out what being a man is all about. Enter grandfathers, uncles, teachers, coaches, youth group leaders and other mentors who can be trusted.
Consider the pivotal role of Robin Williams’ characters in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society and 1997’s Good Will Hunting in improving the self-esteem, prospects and happiness of boys.
It’s sobering to learn, from Raising Boys author Steve Biddulph, that 30 per cent of Australian men don’t speak to their father; 30 per cent have a hostile relationship; 30 per cent go through the motions of being a good son (hello, Father’s Day); and only 10 per cent are friends with their dad and see him as a source of emotional support.
The only way is up.
Governments and communities must invest more time and resources in helping men parent more effectively and to relate better to boys in their charge.
Women must encourage and enable the good men in their lives to shine, be they adults or children.