In a 2006 article, Orlando Sentinel columnist Kathleen Parker wrote about America’s “boy crisis.” There have been numerous statistics showing that boys are falling behind in school performance. Parker was responding to a recent study which concluded that the problem is really more about class and race, since the problem is most severe in Hispanic, African American, and poor communities.
Parker’s comments caught my attention:
It is apparently true that boys do pretty well in elementary and middle school but tend to go wobbly in high school and college. We may need to give social scientists a few more decades to pin down possible reasons for that, but I’m willing to bet my two cents on a combination of testosterone and a lack of disciplined guidance from fathers. A subject worthy of research not addressed in this study might be the correlation between poor academic performance among these same black, Hispanic and impoverished boys and the absence of fathers in the home.
She’s right, of course. And while fathers play a huge role in shaping boys, we live in an age where many fathers are absent for a variety of reasons, and that’s where I believe grandfathers should be stepping in.
And since education is a big part of a child’s healthy development, and grandfathers can also play an important role in that—not only regarding school work, but also in life skills.
Donald Miller has written powerfully about his own experiences as a fatherless boy in his book, To Own a Dragon:
Because I didn’t have a father, I felt there was a club of men I didn’t belong to. I would have never admitted it at the time, but I wanted to belong. I desperately wanted to belong…. Every time I met an older man, I assumed he would not like me, and he would not want me around. I felt as though all the men in the world secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes … how to throw a football or a baseball, how to catch a fish and know what kind it was…. They talked about how to look a woman in the eye and tell her she was your woman and that she looks good in that dress and make it so your eyes say you love her but you could survive without her, and how to drive a stick shift truck without grinding the gears….
It took a long time to connect the fact I didn’t like authority with the idea I felt older men were rejecting me, and even longer to realize I was really looking for the kind of validation I should have received from a father, the kind of validation no man is going to give except to his own son…. And I’ve found if you sit down with a man you trust and respect and explain to him you never learned about some area of life, girls or money, cars or computers, you would be amazed at how honored they are to help. They practically pour out their lives, for heaven’s sake.
As Miller points out, men who were abandoned by their fathers have good reasons to hope. We have met many who are overcoming a painful past to become connected, loving fathers who are giving their own children what they never had.
And grandfathers, in case you haven’t realized it yet, here’s the punchline: you have the power to make a HUGE difference in someone’s life—both by reaching out to grandchildren in your life, and also by reaching out to other fathers and grandfathers to help create a strong network.
- What does your fathering heritage look like? Make a list of the ways you’re like your father and grandfathers and ways you’re not like them. (If some of these men were absent from your life, list some ways you have grown stronger because of that challenge.)
- Identify a child in need of significant male role models to invite along to a family event (even if it’s just dinner).
- Identify a father or grandfather who might benefit from your wisdom and invite him out for lunch.