The Boulevard of Broken Dreams
I can still see the moment like it just happened.
I was still teaching back then but my classroom had been commandeered for a rolling series of student interviews aimed at helping boys start to consider their career options.
A boy called Ryan walked in and sat down. I was reading the paper outside in the sun while another teacher ran the interviews. I knew Ryan pretty well. He was a kind and gentle boy and a gifted athlete. His goal was to make the AFL draft which depending on what part of the world your reading this is like making the NFL draft or playing in the English Premiership.
To be honest, I had no idea if he was good enough and to this day I don’t know if he ever made it. What I do remember is hearing the conversation that took place and then seeing him walk out in tears. The teacher running the interview was a well meaning soul but seemed to completely miss what was happening. There were only two things he needed to know about Ryan. First, he was a gentle, quiet boy and second, he had dreams that meant a lot to him.
During the conversation the teacher repeatedly told Ryan he was dreaming if he thought he could make the draft and demanded that he stopped being silly and wake up to himself. It went on for a few minutes and Ryan walked silently out and broke down. I just happened to see him cover his face and watched his shoulders heave.
I felt a protective, visceral rage. I was just so angry for a whole range of reasons. I sat him down and told him the truth. I told him what was possible and I told him how to disregard everything he had just heard.
What Did I Learn?
So what did I learn? It’s pretty straightforward really. Here’s what I knew about Ryan and here’s what I’ve learned about boys. Boys are capable of being gentle. Our culture tries to crush it out of them in a million ways but they do feel. They can be wounded. They also have dreams. They have big plans for themselves and yes, life may change those dreams and leave them, perhaps, at some point disillusioned for a season, but they need to dream and they need good men and women around them that believe with them and for them.
All of this is way of saying something that I have believed for many years about men and boys and have experienced in my own life. For boys and men, affirmation is oxygen. Tell a boy you’re proud of him and that he can reach for the stars and he’ll believe you. He probably won’t tell you he believes you. He may grunt or tell you to bugger off but deep down he’ll treasure every word.
The Oxygen of Affirmation
That’s why, when creating programs for boys, our schools and homes and need to be places of affirmation. Not places that sanction poor behaviour in the belief that endless self-esteem boosting is the way forward. They need to be places where as teachers, fathers, mothers, principals, counselors or coaches we tell them who they are and who they can become. That’s why in our new resource for schools The Men We Need we devoted an entire module to the Nobility of Manhood , to the belief that there is something good and strong and precious inside every boy.
They are gentle deep down, fragile even and their dreams are too easily crushed.
HAVE YOUR SAY
In the comments box at the very bottom can you share an experience you have witnessed of their gentleness, fragility or the power of their dreams and the power of affirmation?
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