Seeking Healthy Fathers for “broken boys”

(This blog was originally published in the spring of 2018, shortly after the Parkland High School shooting. We are republishing it at this time because we find ourselves here, yet again, mourning as a country and asking ourselves, why? How is it possible that we can have three senseless mass shootings in under ten days? What can we do? As with Parkland, the perpetrators are young men, and so what we wrote 18 months ago, still applies today. In addition, these latest incidents raise additional questions about anger in young men, and men in general. We will explore this aspect in a new blog next week. Till then our prayers go out to those who have been directly impacted by these tragedies, the many "at risk and hurting" young men out there, and to us as a country that we may heal and grow beyond the times in which we live.)

In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Florida, a surprising statement was made which caught the attention of the social media world garnering 60,000 likes and 15,000 retweets by the Friday following the incident. Comedian Michael Ian Black, who not coincidentally lives in Newtown, CT (location of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, perpetrated by a teenage boy) tweeted the following observation:

Michael Ian Black ✔ @michaelianblack Deeper even than the gun problem is this: boys are broken.

5:32 PM - Feb 14, 2018

So, what do you think? Are boys broken? Many “tweeters” jumped to the defense of boys and men, interpreting Black’s observation as just one more politically correct declaration that maleness is inherently flawed, and in need of a massive overhaul. At the risk of offending the twitter-sphere however, we have to say that I think there is some validity in what he says.

From what we know, the shooter was a troubled young man and while his actions are indefensible and incomprehensible to most, he none the less has a story which may not be so unique. What we learn from his emerging story can possibly teach us what we can do to avoid, to the best of our abilities, contributing to the creation of another shooter.

One such lesson is articulated by Suzanne Venker in her article, “Missing fathers and America’s broken boys – the vast majority of mass shooters come from broken homes.”

In her opinion, much of the responsibility for the “broken boy” phenomenon is the result of absent fathers in the lives of these young men. As to the reason for missing fathers she offers the following:

“The root of fatherlessness is deep and wide, but it ultimately rests in two things: our culture’s dismissal of men as valuable human beings who have something unique to offer — and its dismissal of marriage as an institution that’s crucial to the health and well-being of children.”

To her observations about missing biological fathers, we add our belief that there is a lack of healthy father energy among men in general. What is healthy father energy? We define it as a conscious choice, on the part of a biological father or father figure to love, protect, guide and challenge their boys (and girls) to prepare for the realities of their future adult life, in developmentally appropriate ways. Healthy father energy teaches, and more importantly models, these life lessons regularly and consistently.

Turning the mirror on us as men, we must ask ourselves; “How often do I fail to step up?” or “Do I delegate the love, discipline, challenge and example that the boys in my life need, to the women in their lives?” Perhaps we even buy in to the societal message that we lack sufficient value or experience to offer healthy father energy to these pre-destined “broken boys.” As the current public service announcement says, “there’s no such thing as a perfect parent” (nor a perfect father). But it’s not about perfection. The first step to sharing healthy father energy is just caring enough to show up, even if you don’t know what to do or say.

As Suzanne Venker shares when looking at her own family experience;

“It’s not that single mothers can’t be great mothers. They can. But they cannot be fathers. Children need their mother and their father to have the best shot in life . . . I can vouch for this as the mother of a 15-year-old son, who would not be the exceptional young man he is if not for his father. The truth is, I take very little credit for who my son has become. He needed me the most when he was little, but once he became aware of his male identity, it was his father—not me—he looked to for guidance and direction. His father was, and remains, his model for manhood.”

And so, the final questions that we invite you to consider today are:

  1. How do we become the men these boys need?

  2. And how are we, the literal and figurative fathers of these potentially “broken boys”, supposed to provide this love, teaching and example if we didn’t receive the training from our own fathers?

While the answers to these questions vary from man to man and situation to situation, what we know with certitude is that these boys need healthy fathers in their lives and it’s never too late to become that man.