How do you talk to girls?
I was sitting in the back of a taxi on the way to another airport. I had just spent the day delivering seminars to Year 10 boys on manhood, sexuality, pornography and much more. Part of the seminar included the chance for the boys to write anonymous questions related to the big issues we had covered during the day. I would then read them during the week between my first and second seminar with them and answer them upon my return.
That particular day, at one of the most elite private schools in the country, had gone very well. A large part of the impact is simply that as a speaker you come from ‘outside the community’ and also that I addressed issues that are central to their lives but rarely spoken about.
I unfolded the mass of paper slips as we rolled toward the airport in heavy traffic and began working through the questions. And there it was. “How do you talk to girls?” I was instantly struck with a thought that has remained with me ever since, “Why are you asking me?”
Here I was being asked this question and all I could think of was, “Why is there no man, woman or other wisdom figure in his life that he can ask?” I thought of all that teenage confusion and loneliness and uncertainty. “Do I call her?” What do I say if she answers? What if I freeze?” I knew enough at this stage in my personal and professional life to know that boys were never meant to face the great challenges and uncertainties of their teenage years without good men and women around them.
We often assume that lack of role models and mentors is primarily an issue in low socioeconomic areas but I realised that day that the wholesale abrogation of the initiation and mentoring process so crucial to boys wellbeing is no respecter of postal codes. His parents were paying over $30,000 per year to educate his mind but no one was talking to his heart.
Ever since that moment in my seminars with parents and educators I show a slide of a young man sitting alone by a lake. I ask them what they recognise about him. It takes a while but eventually someone ventures, “He’s alone?” “Correct!” I reply. “He’s alone.” After all these years I am still amazed at the fact that boys chart the heavy seas of adolescence mostly alone. Their veneer of protective aggression or passive withdrawal and disengagement means we assume they’re doing ok. What if we’re wrong?
In The Men We Need Program we make the point that the path to mastery in any discipline requires the existence of the master/disciple relationship. Young doctors serve under older surgeons, new pilots train with old hands, martial artists follow the path of a master. Why do we assume that the path to becoming a fine man is any different?
In the absence of men engaging the loneliness of boys the void is currently filled in two main ways. First, the peer group. The tribe of the uninitiated cannot initiate. Boys can learn something from their peers and they do indeed provide the solace of comradeship and adventure. It is a good thing to see boys engaged in the simple act of having fun together. What the peer group cannot do however, is provide the map up and into the deep things of the heart and soul, the eventual path of manhood. Only men can do that. If they are aware, committed and sensitive to the depth and seriousness of their awesome responsibility. Most men are not. And so boys are left alone. Angry and confused or passive and withdrawn.
The second great ‘void-filler’ is the convergence of technology and pornography. Sexuality formation now happens for most young men in the cyber-wasteland of sexual violence and abuse that is modern pornography. Somewhere beneath the bio-physiological demands of the teenage testosterone drive is the ability for gentleness, romance and genuine love. Pornography poisons it at its source.
It is into these voids that men (and women) of goodwill must step. Boys need men and women who are brave and passionate enough to not leave them alone. They need fathers who will rise up from their own pain and generational patterns to rescue, love, heal, challenge and disciple them. They need teachers, principals, coaches and pastors who are no longer prepared to assume that things will work out somehow.
We created The Men We Need as a catalyst for these conversations to begin. We created it so that educators could begin to delineate the challenges that our boys face and how those challenges will shape the next generation of boyfriends, husbands and fathers if we do nothing.
I have a four year old son. When he is sixteen, two things need to happen. First, when he wants to know how to talk to girls he will need to have someone he can ask. I pray that I will be that someone. Second, instead of the toxic subtext of pornography he needs an answer that speaks of the beauty of friendship, romance, of companionship and the pure unalloyed wonder of the ‘the feminine’.
The Men We Need Program gives you the tools to start those conversations. Let’s pray enough boys get to hear the message.