In his book entitled Raising Boys, Australian family therapist and activist Steve Biddulph offers an affectionate, connected and supportive approach to parenting boys. Biddulph begins by outlining parenting strategies for three distinct stages of growth, from birth to six years, from six to fourteen, and from fourteen to adult. In a nutshell, he writes that boys in the first stage need lots of affection so that they can learn to love. In the second stage, boys display a strong interest in maleness, and this is when fathers’ involvement becomes even more critical. The third stage is when the boy needs multiple adult mentors, beyond the father and mother, and fathers can help identify members in the community to guide their sons along to adulthood.
Biddulph’s style is to dispense with advice without sugar-coating, conveying to fathers the hard truths about fatherhood. He includes a section entitled Is it ADD or DDD (Dad Deficit Disorder)?, prompting dads to reflect on whether problem behaviours could be alleviated by environmental factors, such as dads’ concerted efforts to be more attentive and attuned to their sons’ needs.
Biddulph delves into physiological matters as well, dedicating a whole chapter to the effects of testosterone on various behaviours such as aggression. However, he is careful not to assume a deterministic ‘biology is destiny’ approach, asserting that “it is never an excuse for male aggression to blame hormones” (p. 46). Instead, he suggests that violent behaviour often stems from boys’ socialization: boys who grow up to be violent appear to lack the trait of empathy because they never received “consistent understanding and kindness” (p. 46) at a young age. Thus, Biddulph’s key message is that gender characteristics are the result of a complex interplay between nature and nurture – and that accordingly, dads have an important role to play in nurturing their sons.
Although the book is very much centred on boys, Biddulph also compares and contrasts raising boys and girls. He sketches out how the two can react differently in the same situations. Citing studies that show how boys are more prone than girls to separation anxiety, he advises fathers to keep boys out of child care if possible before the age of three.
Chapter five, entitled What Dads Can Do, contains nuggets of wisdom presented in digestible chunks, and is arguably the most valuable chapter in his book. Here, Biddulph revisits a theme running through his book: men must abandon the old-school idea of them being the breadwinner more than the father. He makes a salient point that dads have to “fight for the right to be a dad” (p. 69) given that the world seems to be pushing them away from their parenting roles. He reveals how dads are bombarded with messages attempting to convince them that they “just [need to] pay the bills [to be] like a good man” (p. 69). As such, he suggests that succeeding at being a good dad requires men to have the courage to stand up against societal pressures and make an effort to hone their domestic skills- what is traditionally considered a ‘female’ domain.
Biddulph continues to take a critical stance on normative gender roles and expectations in his chapter on Boys and Sports. He refers to sports as a “two-edged sword” (p. 164). On the one hand, sport renders benefits such as exercise, fun, achievement and is a way for fathers and sons to connect. However, he also points out how sports is increasingly changing for the worse by perpetuating a culture of machismo, aggression, egotism, sexual crudity and an obsession with winning at all costs. He cautions dads against emphasising competition, as boys who are less talented might feel discouraged and excluded, and even eventually lose all interest in sport. He also encourages dads to accept the reality that some boys are simply not good at sports. Biddulph would rather dads and sons simply find a common ground, an activity that both parties enjoy participating in, which may or may not be a sport.
Biddulph closes his book with A Community Challenge, underscoring his perspective that society must move away from an individualistic approach to fathering and instead draw upon collective community efforts. He defines community as “networks of committed adults consciously caring for each other’s children” (p. 175), and argues that these networks are critical in facilitating boys’ transition into adulthood. In his view, boys’ spirits are too big for just one family to contain, and boys’ horizons too broad for one family to provide. To illustrate his point, Biddulph has selected three stories, each about community action turning boys into men. Ending on an optimistic note, these stories will no doubt provide inspiration to fathers about how they can join efforts with other caring, responsible adults to raise their sons to become happy and well-rounded men.
1. Biddulph, Steve. 2008. Raising boys : why boys are different – and how to help them become happy and well-balanced men. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
ISBN 9781587613289. Available for purchase from Amazon; loan from National Library Board Public Libraries (Call Number: English 649.132 BID -[FAM]).
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published in 18-07-2013.
Categories: Recommended Reads