A Dinosaur and a Frenchman.
Yesterday I unearthed my first dinosaur on an archaeological dig and it reminded me of a frenchman who started a very successful religious order. Ok…now don’t click out of this post. I will make the link…I promise.
My little boy is four and is obsessed with dinosaurs. I have no idea how this happens. So many boys seem to hit a dinosaur phase about the same age. I have not run a peer reviewed study but I saw my nephews do the same thing. Ok, so three boys is not, perhaps, the largest sample size in history…but anyway, let’s get on with this post.
My son Aidan had been given a rather ingenius present for a young boy. It was a small block of soft rock that could be gently chiselled away with a small wooden chisel about the size of a large match but thicker and with a chisel-like wooden end. Inside the rock, a small dinosaur had been hidden and the task of the budding scientist was to slowly chisel away the sounding rock along with using a delicate brush. An ingenious gift because it stimulates an interest, of sorts, in science and discovery, but also because it kept him stationery for almost an hour…the gift that keeps on giving!
So what’s my point? Essentially, we uncovered the ancient beast together. After a time, I chiselled away the harder rock and he wielded the brush in a manner that would have made Indiana Jones proud. What I learned, again, in those moments is the simple power of just being together, man and boy on a shared task. It occurs to me as I type that this is how men and boys have been together for millennia…and this is something we have lost. The industrial revolution fundamentally changed millennia of how fathers and sons, boys and men have interacted.
As the factories covered the landscapes, boys saw their fathers leave the village or farm and disappear into the ‘dark satanic mills’ for the first time. Let’s not paint an overly idyllic picture of the pre-Industrial era, I, for one, value flushing toilets, but you get my point in that boys and men were, in the great arc and sweep of historical time, sundered from one another in a dramatic way.
Sitting with Aidan I was reminded of just how much boys need men but the danger is that fathers and men forget to offer and to be present and boys rarely ask. They don’t ask because they either can’t articulate the need in words or because they have been hurt if there is one thing boys and men are good at it is burying disappointment, abandonment and pain.They bury it deep and it seethes through the cracks in their lives as depression or rage or both.
Perhaps the simplest thing we need to remind ourselves of, all of us who care about boys, is that we need to be with them and for them. This is where the frenchman comes in. Marcelin Champagnat is a great hero of mine. A big, lumbering, academically ‘ungifted’ French farm-boy who failed seminary three times before his remarkable life saw him found the Marist Brothers who have done a wonderful job educating tens of millions of young people. He once said, “To teach young people, first you must love them. And you must love them all equally.”
If you have any role in the lives of young men as an educator or parent these are powerful words. They are words to guide the ship of your vocation into the harbour of young mens fragile and easily wounded hearts.
BOYS NEED MEN
Boys need men. Sons need fathers. They need teachers and wisdom figures and mentors who will simply be with them and for them. It’s not rocket science. Just a deliberate putting down of the briefcase for a deeper conversation, a switching off of the mobile for a kick of a football. It’s about the teachers who are present and deliberate to the needs of young men for the presence of older men. They won’t ask so we should’t wait. The time is now. The need is great. Wherever you are…be with them.
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