what we see

during the television broadcast of an nfl playoff game, the camera focused in on the cheerleaders…and so, my son and i focused in on the cheerleaders…then, he spoke…

my son: they must be cold.

[flash]

me: i reckon so.

[in an instant, forty-five years of living as a man in the world flashed through my mind; when he said that, i scanned through all of the thousands of pieces of social data, experience, and history i had seen and heard over the years (everything i knew)…that led to this very moment–where young women were standing there, in front of the world, in a strip of clothing–so much to say and no words, for my six-year-old son–so, deliberately, i tucked this moment away in my mental files and stacks, in the section called, “father/son conversations“–and thought, we will talk about this again, son–oh yes, we will talk about this again!]

(keep going out) where the wild things are…

“the core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.”
-jon krakauer

this summer has had its share of adventures (some planned, some unexpected)…in fact, i was just telling my wife that this has been one of the most action-packed summers of our life together…from road trips to utah and chicago, to camping at state parks around minnesota…i feel like we could’ve run our own outfitting group for travel adventures-

dett-fitters…

not only that, but my friend (nate) and i were able to take a long-awaited canoe trip down the southern part of the st. croix river…we had been talking about taking the trip off-and-on for the past 4 years…but, we both had experienced the arrival of our own children during that time–four children (two each), all told…so, i guess it wasn’t surprising that the trip wasn’t realized until just this summer?!

honestly, i’ve always loved the outdoors…but, i’ve been inspired, once again, by just how excited my children get when we go camping, especially, when we get the tent out…their sense of wonder is completely and absolutely unmatched…it is awesome…so, i was fired-up and determined to make the canoe trip happen this summer–and it was clear that nate was, too…

and as awesome as it was to have all those earlier adventures with my wife and kids…there was something equally as awesome (albeit different) about taking an overnight canoe trip with my friend…we put in at the osceola landing–after hitting the local pizza buffet and downing a couple of miller lites (it was 11am–so, that’s a good start right there)…we headed down the st. croix…the water was the perfect temperature, so we stopped a couple of times to get out and swim near some sand bars…afterwards, we continued on, stopping about 12 miles down to set up camp…after swimming and relaxing by the campsite the sun started to set…so, we went about our chores–and with a good campfire going, we had a hearty, man-made dinner of steak, potatoes and beans–and jack and cokes, of course (that dinner was tasty…and a bit nicer than what you’d get on your average outdoor trip, but hey, it was one night and we could pack the canoe!)… eventually, the fire faded, so we hung up our food and anything else that was “scented” (to keep the wild things away) and hit the hay…

the next morning, we woke to another sunny day…and a deer…checking out our campsite…just 10 feet away …it was unafraid…and, what an amazing sight?!  before breakfast, i had to make a run to the “bathroom”…so, with my trowel and tp in hand i walked a good distance from our site…i dug my hole and took care of business…there’s nothing better to test your mettle than “poopin’ in the woods” (i had to dig my hole pretty fast, too–it was coming!;) …anyways, after i shook out my leg cramp from my “yogi squat*”, i covered my hole with dirt and left no trace behind…i took care of the tp in our “burn can” (a new trick we learned), washed my hands, and relaxed as nate prepared breakfast–i was on dinner duty…

[*yes, i know what a “yogi squat” is…because i took a few yoga classes with my wife this summer…apparently, i need a few more classes, if i’m still getting leg cramps when crouching;)]

after a filling campfire omelette–eggs, cheese, and sausage in foil…and coffee…we took it easy and lounged a bit before hitting the river again…

all packed up and on the river, we continued south…we enjoyed the paddle and the conversation–it was good to be able to catch up on life…just “us men” and the open river…what a great trip it had been…

nate and i on the river

nate and i on the river

but, like all trips, there is a beginning and an end (or, at least, “until next time”)…and, after another 8 miles or so, we reached our destination–the boom site landing near stillwater, mn…

after loading up the canoe and gear, picking up the second vehicle near osceola, we returned to nate’s house to ‘break-down’ and claim our individual supplies…after a few words, we shook hands and went back to our everyday lives…

a few days later, when i was back at home, i thought…

it is important for men to do such things together, to have adventures together, to wonder…once again…at the world.

you can’t handle the truth…

there are traits that make a 16, 17, or 18 year-old male student truly amazing; like fearlessness, youthful optimism and a sense of adventure about the world around him — however, there are two significant adolescent male traits that can be a challenge in the classroom, home and community:  1) the edgy and ‘confident’ attitude that reveals itself as — i know it all and 2) the attitude/posture that says–i don’t care…about anything…

because boys don’t know it all AND should care (about something) …teaching boys is a really important thing for us to do well…in fact, we are at a critical time for ‘bringing up boys’ in u.s. history…a time when we need a few good men–to teach our boys…and i’m not talking about teaching specific subjects or curriculum components…i’m talking about teaching them what it means to be a man…we need male teachers who will stand “toe-to-toe” with boys and shepherd them into adulthood — truly!

don’t think this is teacher’s job? think again…it’s one of the most important things we can do in schools today…and, believe me, there are countless opportunities each day to help ‘grow boys into men’…in fact, there’s probably a teachable moment every time a boy opens his mouth to say something in class, guaranteed–in addition to a responsible male parent and/or family member (if available), most boys need a responsible male teacher in their lives–one who will smack ’em upside the head–figuratively, of course, in the school setting (heh, heh)–in the way that only a grown man can do…

don’t get me wrong, i’ve had amazing women teachers throughout my life; my wife and my sister are two of the best educators i’ve ever seen–they can rock the classroom…and there are thousands of great women teachers out there…and women can teach boys any subject in the book, no doubt…but, we’re not talking about teaching boys subject matter here…

we’re talking about teaching boys man matters

and when it comes to teaching man matters…no one is better equipped for this task than a man…as evident in this quote from dr. leonard sax:

“…when it comes to showing boys how a gentleman behaves–how a gentleman interacts with women, how he responds to adversity, how he serves his community–then there is no substitute for having a male role model…that’s where boys can benefit most, in my judgement, from seeing a man, perhaps a teacher or a coach, who loves to read in his spare time, who participates in projects for habitat for humanity or in community service with his local synagogue or church, who’s a regular guy–not a saint, not rambo, not john wayne…just somebody real”(sax, 2007).

let me give you two, real-life examples about teaching boys man matters from my classroom…times when i needed to go ‘toe-to-toe’ with the boys in my class…

classroom case files (fall, 2007):

male student: men are smarter than women, that’s a fact (other men in class are nodding in agreement)

female student: i agree with them

(i am shocked at this!)

(other male students clap and laugh)

other male students: see, mr. d.!

mr. d.: let me ask you something young men, and the woman over here — where in the world did you get this idea? (we engage in debate and discussion — where i include facts/research that debunks and challenges what the boys put forth)…

it’s important to not let some comments slide; to openly challenge what has been stated with strong counter-arguments that are based in fact–and this was one of those times… and in the back of my mind, i was thinking…come on, do you really believe this? do you really believe this in the year 2007? come on, this is mad men shtuff…

let’s move on to the next example…

classroom case files (spring, 2014):

this next story takes place during a week when were discussing risk factors (for juveniles that may need social services and/or become delinquent)…on one particular day, i had them write down all the things that they do that drives their parents nuts…things that their parents wouldn’t want them doing …and they came up with some good ones: staying out past curfew, lying, using alcohol or drugs, ‘back talking’, not answering their phones, not cleaning their rooms, skipping school, etc…then, i had them flip it and write down all the things that would drive them nuts if they were a parent–things they wouldn’t want their kids doing…

[a few of my students are actually parents (teenage moms), so that always makes these exercises a bit more interesting; fyi-the teen parents i have in class this semester are not in this particular block of students, though i wish they were]

“things they wouldn’t want their kids to do” items: use/become addicted to drugs, drop out of school, bully another student, get arrested, get thrown in  jail, etc…then came one that was gender specific (daughter specific)

get pregnant…

while most parents (regardless of gender) would agree that they wouldn’t want their daughters to get pregnant in high school…this item was voiced by a boy in class and then, immediately, a bunch of other guys chimed in to agree with him and comment on that item…some of the girls agreed, some stayed silent…but, the boys got louder and made “the getting pregnant thing” a one-sided deal, they talked about it like it was “her problem”…this is when i stepped in…

mr. d.: say that again? 

male student: you know, i would definitely be upset if my daughter got pregnant, i wouldn’t tolerate that…but, i would’ve kept her under lock and key beforehand…

mr. d.: what about your son? i take it that you put this item into a different category, according to gender…because you think it’s different for your son?

male student: of course, he’s got more freedom to date and see girls…it would be different with my daughter…you know…it’s what guys do…

mr. d.: what if your son was involved with a girl…and got a girl pregnant? then what? i mean, it takes ‘two to tango’, you know…are you gonna give him a free pass?

the male student started to lose steam…it was at this time that his friends tried to save him, to take his side and come to his rescue…so, they came at me and tried to back me down…

but, i didn’t back down…i continued to push back, hard–against this group of boys…i was forceful and there was iron in my words…

mr. d.: you know, we teach teen moms over here…i’ve had quite a few of them in my classes…and these girls have to take responsibility for their actions–the part they played in the pregnancy, no doubt…but, so should the boys, the teen dads…the boys who chalk this up as a ‘notch on their belts’…a ‘conquest’…like it makes them a man…but, let me tell you something…these guys…most of ’em…they don’t ‘show up’, they disappear–after the fact…you think that’s what it means to be a man?! you think that’s what it means to be a father?!

it got real quiet after that…

importantly, i didn’t shame, belittle, or ‘name-call’ any of the guys in my classroom…but i didn’t sit there quietly either, i didn’t let their comments slide, like it was nothing [importantly, a lot of where they get this mindset from is…the media, their male peers, and some older males (who get it wrong)…the double standard for men and women on this issue is pervasive throughout our society (i’ve got to guard against it myself)…but, it’s no excuse]…it was something they needed to be challenged on, it was something they needed to be called out on…because it’s part of the greater negative worldview regarding women…a negative worldview that some men hold and pass onto the younger generations–that women are objects…for the amusement and pleasure of men–and that kind of thinking affects how men treat women…thinking, after all, affects action (i am one to know, i’ve been there–intentionally and unintentionaly)…so, if you can influence the way a boy thinks, positively, he’ll be a better man for it, he’ll treat the women in his life with love and respect…

there are countless other issues that come up at school that need to be addressed with boys…bullying and harassment, work ethic, motivation, problem-solving, perseverance, responsibility, adversity and how to respond to it, ‘admitting when you’re wrong’, etc…i chose these two examples (that focus on gender bias) because it is an issue that comes up a lot at school (out of the mouths of boys) and in our society, in general …where it is common to equate masculinity with the ‘degradation of women’...male teachers can change that

when a male teacher confronts a boy in class, it lands differently than if the same conversation had taken place in the presence of a female teacher (just as it would be different if a female teacher confronted a girl in class about the domain of women)–it carries a lot weight…or, in biblical terms (proverbs 27:17):

iron sharpens iron, and so one man sharpens another

in these moments, it becomes immediately clear that when boys are up against a male teacher who won’t back down (yet talk to them with respect and reason)…a male who possesses real swagger, who really knows something about the world, who really cares about the world–that their ‘(over) confidence’ and i know it all attitude is most often revealed as a front…and that, most of all, they’ve got a lot to learn

who better to challenge a male than a male teacher? who better to counter a negative behavior in a male, than a male? who better to call out a male on ‘what he thinks is cool’ — but is, in fact, a harmful approach to life, than another male? who better to encourage and support a male, than another male? especially, at this time in their lives, when they really need it — when they are pushing up against every parent and every other authority figure around them…when they are looking for an opponent, a fight — intentionally and deliberately — who better to push back with bravery, wisdom, and love…than another male?

the following observation from poet robert bly soundly sums up such things:

“during the sixties, some young men drew strength from women who in turn had received some of their strength from the women’s movement…one could say that many young men in the sixties tried to accept initiation from women…but only men can initiate men, as only women can initiate women…women can change the embryo to a boy, but only men can change the boy to a man” (bly, 1990).

we don’t need perfection, but we do need a few good men…

a male who is brave is best, a male who is tough is best, a male who is stubborn is best, a male who has been through some shit is best, a male who has moral fiber is best…and above all, a male who cares is best…*

in 2011, 84% of public school (k-12) teachers were female (Feistritzer, 2011)…and, given the impact that a male role-model can have–it is clear that we need more men in this field…men who will match, step for step, the young boys they will go up against every day…and given the class-sizes of schools across the nation, i think we can add men and balance the ‘teacher-profile ledger’ without threatening the jobs of women teachers…

so, men, sign up today!

*nowhere in this section do i mention that the male has to be straight…that’s not a prerequisite for this kind of work…for teaching man matters…one of my former colleagues–that i still hold in the highest regard–was/is an openly gay choir director at a church i worked at in omaha, nebraska…talk about stones…try doing that in nebraska, people…anyways, this guy had the respect and admiration of the staff, the families and the kids in the church community…and was an outstanding leader and role model for the boys in our youth programs…

recommended reading: boys adrift: the five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men–video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs, environmental toxins, and the devaluation of masculinity, dr. leonard sax, 2007; (one of the best books i’ve ever read about teaching and parenting boys in america); profile of teachers in the u.s. 2011, c. emily feistritzer, 2011: http://www.ncei.com/Profile_Teachers_US_2011.pdf; iron john-a book about men,  robert bly, 1990.

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