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Life in Community

Our Boys Need Help

June 15, 2017 by

Dan reading
Tim's father, Dan Maendel

When I was a child my father seemed to believe that the best way to raise his large family of all boys (nine of us) was to simply bring us along on his own activities. Worked out well for him of course, and we got an education out of the deal.

Dad was an avid photographer. If after dinner he had an hour or two planned in the darkroom processing photos of a friend’s wedding or new baby, one or two of us would come along. “Watch and learn, junior, watch and learn.” Our pleas of “Can I go out now?” were usually answered with, “Wait, just a few more minutes,” (repeated five times) until finally we were free to escape to peruse books from a nearby shelf in lighted freedom.

We’d also spend hours assisting him with projects around the house. When he needed a tool or part he would simply call out for it. If we brought the wrong one, we would hear about it. If, left to finish a job for him, we did it only halfway, we got the most dreaded label of all: “you’re unreliable.” The word grated me to my core. Made me cry. And then mad enough to change.

I thought of Dad while reading Saving Our Sons: A New Path for Raising Healthy and Resilient Boys, by Michael Gurian. The book’s opening description of the current state of boys made me wonder if I was living in a bubble. Pick almost any bad trend – suicide rates, drug use, learning disabilities – and it’s about twice as bad for boys as for girls. Boys seek purpose in life but end up in a basement, jobless and into drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Young males are now one of the fastest dying populations in this country. Most disturbing was the term “school-to-prison pipeline.” Really? That bad? Yes, says Gurian.

Whatever good effects the feminist movement had, it also left a toxin that Gurian calls the Dominant Gender Paradigm – the idea that boys are privileged, already on top, and inherently dangerous. It’s girls that need the help, not them. The Dominant Gender Paradigm labels females as victims and males as the bad guys. Masculinity is dangerous, it argues, and needs to be toned down early to stop boys’ wild behavior before it leads to aggression and crime. This has led us to a politically correct morass of “gender sameness” that is blinding us to the suffering in the real lives of boys.

family photo
The growing Maendel family

My mother saw that we boys were different than girls even as babies. She didn’t fret that we preferred toy trucks to dolls. These genetic differences, now well-documented by brain scans, are nothing to balk at but something we should embrace rather than try to smooth out.

Boys like pain, Gurian says. That’s why they excel in the rougher sports, love bodybuilding, and pick fights with each other. Pain drives them to do what is needed to not let their team down. It signals when to cut off mushy empathy and push for painful solutions to solve all kinds of problems. Of course this is a generalization. But it’s just this nervousness about such statements that brought us to the soul-damaging state we are in now. Masculinity is seen as overbearing, and pushing among preschool boys is taken up as aggression that needs to be nipped in the bud, rather than as a natural way for young males to show affection.

Later, with sons of my own, I remembered my father’s lessons about the value of working with them. When it came to spending time with them, I found that it was quantity that was important, not necessarily quality. I watched their testosterone-charged energy, but also saw how they responded to trust. I loved their sensitive questions about life – a sensitivity that could have been ruined by overuse of technology, which Gurian calls a “neurotoxin.”

He also says that it was completely fine that my parents often told me to “be a man” when I was being a wimp. It wasn’t sexist! But that doesn’t mean they liked it when I was tough. I remember smashing a bug and laughing, only to look up into my pained mother’s eyes. “That was a life that you just took,” she told me in a tone that brought instant repentance.

Gurian is passionate enough that he has started an institute, written a string of books offering “citizen science” tips and action plans for concerned parents and teachers, and pressed for a White House Council on Boys and Men.

Those are big solutions. But we all have the small solutions available to us, if only we’d realize that boys and girls are beautifully different as well as equal. If we understand that, we will stop fearing them and suspecting the worst and instead, help each of them mature as God planned.


Tim Maendel lives at Fox Hill, a Bruderhof near Walden, New York.

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  • Thank you for sharing the wisdom of your brother, and for the prayerful good wishes and loving share of your family

    Dr. Paul Jankiewicz