Monday, September 03, 2007

Where are all the real men?

Here is an appeal from me, the single mother of two young men whose older male relatives seem to mostly think (or hope?) are 'someone else's problem'.

If you are male and you have nephews, grandsons or even sons who are being brought up either by a single mother, or a mother plus uninterested male, please take them camping. Teach them how to pitch a tent, read a map, light a fire, catch a fish and shoot a bow. If you don't know how to do these things, then learn together. You can't rely on someone else to do it and it desperately needs doing.

It's not something a mother can do, or even necessarily will realise her sons need. She might have younger children, lack of funds, or just not have the motivation, inclination, time, effort, energy or knowledge to lead those kind of trips. So you might not be asked to do it, much less nagged into it but do it you must.

If you don't do it, the young man might grow up looking for risk and adventure and seeking it in seriously unhealthy places.

There, that's my appeal to the world done for this decade.


Blogger Annkrozeika said...

I've just got back from a week's camping holiday with my daughter and my mother. When my parents were still together (way back when) we used to camp several times a year, so I am very lucky that camping is second nature to me. I am trying to make it like that for AJ too. She adores it and we have been away camping for the past 3 years. Granted, she has no idea how to pitch a tent, light a fire, etc because as soon as we arrive at the campsite she runs off to meet other camping children!
We will teach her the vital skills involved sometime, but for now, with her still being small I am happy for her to just run off and play/explore.
"Where are all the real men?" - yes, I wonder that too sometimes. The only male influence my daughter has is her grandad, but rather than teaching her skills, he prefers to teach her things that an 8yr old can't get her head around at all (such as photosynthesis!) He makes it all so complicated and fails to notice that she is just nodding in all the right places and willing it to be over, sadly. At the beginning of the summer, he told her he would take her on some nature walks, which she was really looking forward to, yet it never happened. He always says he wants to do more with her, but then never makes the time for these things to happen. I hope he soon realises that it won't be long before she's too old to want to hang out with her grandad and by then it might be too late. :o(

10:22 am, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Dani said...


Why do you think these are not things that a mother can do with her son, should he want to do them?

I can't shoot a bow, but could learn alongside any child of mine who needed to learn that. I can pitch a tent and read a map, and so can my daughter, and so can her other mum. I think between us we could light a fire if we needed to.

Why do you think these are things that boys need to learn from men? (Genuine question - not meant to be aggressive)

11:39 am, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I hope he soon realises too Zoe!

I've done bits of camping, fishing etc, with my children over the years but nowhere near enough for the boys I don't think. I couldn't have done, with the younger ones to look after and money was always an issue.

The thing is, they have four uncles, 2 grandads, one father and various adult male family friends, none of whom has ever offered to take them off camping - or indeed to do anything much with them at all. They all assumed it was someone else's job and therefore it didn't get done, and now Tom's going away on his own and I'm just hoping he gleaned enough from the little bit I did manage to do with him when he was a lot younger than he is now.

We had a visit from one of the uncles yesterday who said: "Well, I barely know you so I can't advise you about the trip. For all I know you'll go away and do something stupid," which pretty much took my breath away to say the least.

*Fume fume..*

11:39 am, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Dani,

Hmmm not sure. Something to do with the way teenage boys are with women and the way they are with men. It does seem different to me.

Also there's a thing about mentoring - that does seem to need to be gender-specific. I can mentor my daughters but not my sons, who essentially have no mentors - hence my appeal/lament.

11:41 am, September 03, 2007  
Anonymous Clare said...

I can see where you're coming from. I and my brother were very fortunate to have uncles and a grandfather who were very involved in our upbringing after my Dad left when I was 6 (and beforehand when he was simply useless!) and having men around was helpful not just for my brother, but for me too. I wonder if this is the thing that people who are anti-single-parenthood have a problem with - the lack of influence from both sexes. However, if that influence suggests to young boys that the role of a father is to get pissed and hit your wife and then bugger off when you get bored it rather blows a hole in the argument, doesn't it! What children need is a lot of good, caring adults in their lives, of both sexes, who demonstrate good, loyal, moral behaviour...IMHO ;-)

12:55 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Well I've just asked the teens and they think I'm wrong and that they haven't missed anything due to lack of male input. Zara even thinks they'd have been worse off for having it because their childhoods would have probably been more prescriptive and restricted.

1:05 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

You're probably right Clare - interested, good healthy mentors of either/both genders are what's needed. I'm probably just reacting badly to yesterday's visit + my worry about this forthcoming trip of Tom's.

1:07 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Dani said...


I must say I am unconvinced that boys in general have a particular need to learn camping/survival skills, or that they need to learn them from men. Surely it depends on the individual concerned? Out of our two, Pearlie is so far the more interested in all things outdoorsy, and also (I think) less receptive to mentoring, though I'm not entirely sure what that means.

I think Zara's comment is very interesting. We were thinking about modelling of gender roles recently, and one thing we hoped might be true was that being brought up in an unconventional family like ours might free our children to choose their own roles in life, rather than conforming to a preordained script for 'man' or 'woman'.

Certainly (though I'm not claiming all the credit for this) so far they are both quite unusual examples of 'girl' and 'boy'. I'm quite glad of that, and hope they will carry on following their own paths.

1:45 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

By mentoring I mean someone to act as a role model - an adult to whom an older teenage child can look to for support, advice, and as an example to live by.

I feel instinctively that I somehow can't do that for the boys as much as they need, but it could be my own mental conditioning that's causing this feeling I suppose.

I'm sure people's individual preferences and tendencies do play a very big part.

2:31 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger penny said...

I agree that children do not have to follow stereotypical role models.I know my son hates the normal boy games football etc and plays with girls toys.Perhaps you could find someone else to take your sons camping. I know that the scouts and duke of Edingburgh Award scheme does camping.

2:52 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

It's a bit late now Penny! At 17 and 18 they'll take themselves if they want to go.

Also, they had autonomous/ self directed childhoods so the motivation to attend Scouts/DofE would have had to come from them and didn't, so they didn't attend. We did camp as a family, and fish, do abseiling, orienteering and various other activities when they were children, but I feel they'd have benefitted even more from the focused input of one of their adult male relatives - especially the one who visited yesterday.

But you can't have everything, I suppose. And the teens themselves say they're very happy with the amount of adult input they had and with the extent of the activities that were on offer from me, which is what matters most.

2:58 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger emma said...

I don't see camping and mapreading and firelighting as something one has to learn from a person of the same gender, at all.

Yes, they are perhaps most comfortably learned by apprenticeship, but if someone can put up a tent, light a trangia, and dig a hole to poo in, that's pretty much the technical bits of camping sorted out. Map reading and compass work are always best done with a crib sheet IMO (I always go the wrong way and add degrees when I should have taken them away, or is it the other way around?)

And firelighting? No shame in taking firelighters, and a person will have a job NOT lighting a fire with a pack of those in tow. Just put them in 3 poly bags so the smell and taste don't impregnate everything else.

7:13 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Louise said...

Am sure Tom will be fine, he seems so well sorted, he'll probably go away to the wilderness and make new friends!
As for the male role models, it probably is not essential but would be nice for our boys. Even a non-blood relative could build a lovely relationship with these great guys.

Am thinking of you, let us know when he goes.
ps. do we get before and after photos of the basement??

8:40 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Lou xx And yes of course you'll get to see the basement photos, one way or another! ;-)

11:04 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Rosie said...

There was a bit of a conversation today with 3 other single parents (which I didn't really say anything, as i was still thinking about it) about the differing mother/father roles and how you have to take on both when you become a single parent. But I do look on friends to hopefully help with aspects of bringing up the children that I feel I am unable to give them. But not family, as I don't see much of them and don't have enough in common, either.
I do sometimes have this vague hope that a male friend will come and do some boyey stuff with the boys!! Not that we don't have bonfires, chopping firewood, camping, and tree houses, etc, and Joy gets into those things (almost) as much as the boys, but I don't seem to have that same kind of enthusiasm that (some) men have for these kinds of things, and don't perhaps spend enough time doing them for their liking.
I think what you are referring to is not so much camping skills, but the whole rite of passage thing, that kind of out in the wilds thing. I'm sure even if he had never put up a tent before or cooked on a trangia he would soon learn and the experience would be a very rewarding sense of achievment. That's what it's all about?
Also i don't think it's just a male thing as I had similar urges at that age and often went off hitching on my own-(though not wildcamping, it hadnt occured to me!) it was about growing up and finding my place in the world.
*Also*... another thought! I'm only just learning how to do some of those things, eg tent-pitching, fire-building, having always had a man around who was more than willing (insisting) to do it for me. And it's quite empowering having to do it myself.

11:54 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger Minnie said...

I think you've done just great, Gill. Don't let a visit undermine your confidence. I know how you feel when kids go off on adventures - the jitters and all that... but they are generally more sensible and capable than one would think. My 18 year old went to Jamaica for three weeks and helped build a school from scratch for the needy. Went out a boy, came back a man. He can cook, clean and look after himself.

Mentoring is ok I suppose. But it's having the right people that matters I think, not their gender. Just 'cos you can't pitch a tent doesn't make you any less a person. Personally, I'd just sod it and kip in the car!!! lol My ex-husband would think it more important that he get the washing and ironing done before we went on any trip!

11:59 pm, September 03, 2007  
Blogger HelenHaricot said...

we all enjoy camping here, i first camped as a child yearly with my parents in a tent travelling europe for a month each yeear, so was quite happy to be v adventurous. my schoolfriend and i did a fair bit of backpacking and tenting together round europe once i could get an interail pass. don't think maleness an advantage! Also wild walking. and tiny tent on top of brecon beacons when all those hurricaines hit the UK - fun!! [?85,6 or 7ish??]
why not have a go camping with tiny tents in your field on a nice night??

12:01 am, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Rosie said...

More thoughts: I struggle with this mother/father role thingy sometimes. I have inadvertantly allowed myself to become very good at sewing, cooking, nurturing, etc, and i know men who find themsleves lacking in these skills for the same reasons, ie that was the way we were brought up by our parents and grandparents. My dad was great with wood, but I really don't have a clue. But that's only part of the picture: the classic male/female skills. I think your'e right that when boys get older they need some good male role models to do stuff with, and who they can relate to. I suppose I'm lucky that i do have male friends to hang out with so I am reassured, whether it's necessary or not, that there is the opportunity for this to happen.

12:04 am, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

It seems like I gave the wrong impression in my post! I wrote the main thing for those urban children of single mums who might not ever get chance to pitch tents etc. My children did lots of that and the three teens can all pitch tents and light fires with no trouble at all.

BUT when the boys got to the age of puberty they seemed to need something male by way of solidarity that I couldn't give them because of my gender. I've been thinking a lot about drugs, gangs, disaffected youths etc. And no! We don't have any of those problems in our house either, I hasten to add ;-)

Also since Lyddie's birth 5 years ago and even moreso since the baby was born, we simply haven't been packing up and setting off to do things as much. My post was lamenting the fact that this uncle or another male relative didn't think to step into the breach and do things like that with the boys because they'd have both enjoyed it and benefitted from the male bonding and mentoring.

Whatever you fantastic mums say to me in comments - and I know I've done a great job with the boys myself - doesn't stop me knowing this to be true! Sorry if it upsets you to read it, but it upset me to realise it and have this uncle say to his nephew: "I barely know you. I don't know what you're likely to do," because I was thinking: well, you flipping well should know him! Where've you been? I've never asked anything from any of you, but you could have done this one small, but hugely beneficial thing?

I sometimes think that we mums appear to do such a great job at parenting/mentoring/everything to do with children that some men seem to forget they have any part to play at all, just get on with their lives and wait to be nagged into doing something. The purpose of this post was to point out that this is not the case and if you want to consider yourself friend or family, it's perhaps a 2-way street. Or something.

8:36 am, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

I would recommend you laminate my phone numbers and address and pop them in then if he gets of to a poor start with weather/pitches he can come and dry out/take stock and start again. The very last thing we want is for him to feel he has failed.

8:49 am, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oops! I did that already Elaine! ;-)

8:52 am, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Pete said...

As a very nerdy, indoors type dad, I'm very glad of the influence of my Stepdad, who has taken my boy shooting and fishing, the first I have never done, the second I am embarassingly bad at...

10:09 am, September 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what you have said is right Gill. My son and husband have a deep bond and its based over stuff like nature and the outdoors and sports. I am not a sporty person or really the outdoors type. My father left my mother when my brother was 8 and he lived with my mother and my sister( i had left home). There was a lot that my mother could not do for him with working and stuff, I think at this time my brother is in he could do with a strong male role model to speak to him about his drinking and other issues. My brother is very Alpha male and I think this is a reaction agaisnt constantly living with only women during his childhood.

7:11 pm, September 04, 2007  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Hi Gill,

Dal here, I never had any positive male role models in my life or male influence.

Hence I can cook, do my own washing and if I want tidy up! I went to Boys Brigade and Scouts so can do all the wilderness stuff too. What I do miss out on is being able to talk about sport, or 'manly' things like that. Which is a bit of a struggle in my job in which 95% of the people I talk to are male.

I was also an urban kid so scouts was probably the only way I would go camping.

Personally I think men now a days are finding the male role very confusing and hard to do, their damned if they act their 'old fashioned part' and damned if they don't.

7:13 pm, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL Pete, I know, outdoor pursuits aren't everyone's cup of tea are they?

Anonymous, I'd like to know more about this. It's an interesting issue, isn't it? And probably quite an important one. I don't wish to generalise or make assumptions about genders but I just know instinctively that my boys needed a bit more male input than they got. I just assumed uncles etc would know this, having been teenage boys themselves, and come and do it for them and was surprised when they didn't. Then absolutely gobsmacked about what the uncle on Sunday said, re: not knowing his nephew! I'm really struggling to understand why they didn't do it: if I had a niece being brought up by a single dad, I'd offer to do the necessary mothering-type stuff for her during adolescence. Ah well. They managed without, thank goodness! No serious harm done, I don't think.

Hi Kev, good to get the perspective from someone who was in the same boat! Tom and Al had each other to do the mantalk stuff, at least. Must have been difficult not to have brothers either.

I get that men are confused about their roles these days, but I wonder why. From my POV, as someone who's tried co-parenting with men with various degrees of success (but not much overall!) it just seems that xyz needs doing for the kids, so I wait and see if he wants to do it. He invariably doesn't, so I do it instead. In this way he sort of talks himself out of the job and sits around being confused while I bring the kids up.

I realise I'm probably missing some vital chunk of man-knowledge or communication, LOL, but there was never time to stop and work out what it was! All that stuff he didn't want to do needed doing, so I did that instead..! I guess I was meant to nag(?) but I just didn't want to do that. Life's too short to get sick of the sound of your own voice asking people to do things constantly, innit? ;-)

10:20 pm, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Dani said...

I think this is a really important and common problem. As something of an outsider, I find this quite perplexing and very sad, for everyone concerned.

There must be another way for men to be parents, apart from failing to do the stuff that needs to be done unless nagged to do it. There are men who manage to do this, and are real, involved and attentive parents.

But we can't expect boys to grow up finding this easy, if they are offered role models of men who find it extremely difficult.

I think what women expect of boys and men is significant here. If boys grow up seeing that women expect the men in their lives to be hopeless, they may absorb that as some kind of 'script' for their own future lives and behaviour.

I think we all find it very difficult to break away from the various scripts that have been written for us. We try to tackle it in our family by talking a lot, and making explicit agreements about things that are often unspoken - housework, budgeting, childcare, etc.

I think this is clearly easier for us as two women than it is for women and men to do, but it seems to me it is the only way to avoid that nagging/confused thing.

11:17 pm, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes I agree Dani and I found your comment very helpful and thought-provoking.

My dad and stepdad are both good at not being hopeless and at taking an active role in household things. My stepdad was very keen to give parental input, my dad less so. He just preferred to do other things. My stepdad was one of my parenting role models - he was excellent at involving us in his activities, teaching by example and he home-educated us even though we went to school IYSWIM.

Then I got married and waited for my husband to do the same as my stepdad or at least my dad, but it didn't happen. So I tried to talk about who would do what and was met with a hostile response. Eventually I realised it was pretty much all down to me, so I just got on and did it and expected nothing from him, because nothing was what I got. I shared a house with someone else for a while and my experience there was that any family activity on his part involved lots of boorish and unpleasant treatment of my children, so I setteld on single parenthood as being probably the best situation for the children, out of the available options.

Tom and Ali will, I hope, be more like my dad/stepdad in terms of input with their families if/when they have them. They know what's involved in family life and are prepared to do their bit, even though all 3 teens have their own preferences regarding which bits they want to do. As long as we have everything covered between the four of us, (and we usually do) I'm happy with that. I do the lion's share of the work, but I'm the only adult parent so that's probably as it should be, and the teens all do help out to varying degrees.

I just don't want to get into the 'nagging' situation and if I ask someone to do something and they refuse or agree then don't do it, I just do it myself or arrange for someone else to do it. I don't think I'm in a better position than anyone else as regards seeing what needs doing, and I've always worked on the principle that if you see, or think, that something needs doing you should probably do it yourself. Different people have varying levels of comfort and pickiness, so if everyone lives according to their own preferences then peace and happiness will reign.

That's the theory anyway! It works out well here most of the time.

I really struggle to understand the philosophy that some people in my life seem to have had, which goes: "I think this needs/needed doing, and YOU should have done it," which brings me back to the main post. Tom's uncle raised the issue that the earlier camping/training/preparation needed doing with Tom, so I'm thinking: well, why didn't you do it then? He seemed to think it was none of his business.

Tom says, "Yes well Mum, you do have an unusual and probably outdated idea of family life TBH," which is maybe true, but if so, that's what I find really perplexing and sad. Who do we have to help and support us, if not our families?

8:01 am, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back....yeah after my father left my brother has not yet spent 1 hour in his company and also uncles where like not even an option. My brother is a good man, he left school with like 1 gcse but has never had a day out of work. He likes to travel. What amuses me is that he has my dads DNA so in him that its silly. I dont say my brother would walk out on a partner but in other ways like nuances and ways of thinking. One of the things he confided in me was his fear of ever being able to find a woman who will love him and how he would treat her and know whats right to do in a relationship. Both me and my sister talk openly to my mother about all aspects of our lives in a way that my brother can't. I fear that he has no-one really to confide in. My brother and mum are fairly close but those conversations don't seem to happen. Its not always possible to have male or even female role models, but we should not discount in this age of political corretness that there are still many many young men who would benifit from solid male companionship of a older freind or relative.

6:54 pm, September 05, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

" but we should not discount in this age of political corretness that there are still many many young men who would benifit from solid male companionship of a older freind or relative."

Yes, that's exactly what I was trying to say :-) Thanks!

9:38 pm, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And just to add that it is important for girls too, but not in the same way as boys.
I have found marriage quite interesting, ( and very healing), as I have had to learn what a man 'is'.

I am thrilled that my children have 'role models' of both genders, but I feel particularly happy watching my girls with male 'mentors', even though they also have a good father. I feel like they are getting this wholesome dose of learning about healthy relationships and so on, that I missed.
I know my brother suffered more for lack of father. These things are sometimes played out later, not in childhood necessarily.
Anyway, two boys together is different to one alone.

10:02 pm, September 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

would have been quicker to sign in.
roll eyes at self.

10:04 pm, September 26, 2007  

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