Activist, educator and author Dr. Warren Farrell is at it again with his just-released book co-authored by Dr. John Gray, The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We can Do About It. For many years, Farrell has been concerned for the welfare of boys, and he believes that fatherlessness is at the very heart of the issue.
In an Institute for Family Studies interview, Farrell asserts that today’s boys often struggle with a sense of hopelessness and a lack of purpose linked in part to family breakdown and father deprivation. He also believes that boys’ and men’s weakness is their facade of strength.
A recent United Nations study found boys lagging behind girls in all the developed nations. The women’s movement has really helped young girls recognize that girls can take many paths and be successful. However, while girls’ sense of purpose has grown, boys’ sense of purpose has not. Boys seem to hear either that it’s all about earning money or being a loser. Farrell wonders what would happen if we told boys that being a full-time caregiver is a worthy option?
After poring through the related research, Farrell believes the gap between dad-deprived boys and dad-enriched boys will become the single biggest predictor of those who become economically poor versus economically rich.
Boys with little to no father involvement often look to their dads as role models, but without much time with their dads, their role models are more “straw men” or “straw dads,” says Farrell.
“These boys don’t benefit from overnights, hang-out time, and the many hours it takes for boys to bond with their dads and trust that their feelings won’t be dismissed. Dads tend to build bonds with their sons by, for example, playing games and rough-housing, and then use the resulting bond as leverage for their sons to “get to bed on time” lest there be “no playing tomorrow night.”
This boundary enforcement teaches boys postponed gratification, whereas boys with minimal or no father involvement are more frequently addicted to immediate gratification. Additionally, having minimal or no father involvement increases the chances of video game addiction, ADHD, bad grades, less empathy, less assertiveness, more aggression, fewer social skills, more alienation and loneliness, more obesity, rudderlessness, anger, drugs, drinking, delinquency, disobedience, depression and suicide. Fatherless boys are also more likely to be imprisoned.
In a TEdx Talk on “The Boy Crisis,” Farrell cites that since 1980 in California, 18 new prisons have been built, but only one new university. There has been a 700 percent increase in the prison population and it is mostly a dad-deprived male population.
As an example of the pain of fatherlessness, Farrell mentioned Anthony Sims, known as the Oakland Killer. His last Facebook post was this: “I wish I had a father.”
While many see guns as the problem, Farrell contends that school shootings are mostly white boys’ method of acting out their hopelessness. He says guns are also white boys’ method of committing suicide, and serve as a reflection of our inability to help constructively track boys to manhood. He points out that girls living in those same homes with the same family values and issues are not killing people at school.
Farrell speaks of attending a party once where he learned that a men’s group formed by Farrell had impacted a man named John more than any other thing in his life. When group members asked the man, “What is the biggest hole in your heart?” he blurted out, “I was so involved in my career, I neglected my wife and my son. That’s the biggest hole and a deeper hole because I ended up divorced. I remarried and the group knew that my wife was pregnant with our son.” The group then asked, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you like to do?” He said he would take five years off and help raise his son. He talked with his wife, who told him to go for it. He shared that it had been two years.
When Farrell asked John if it was a good decision, he replied, “No. The best decision of my life. Up until I took care of my son, my whole life was about me, me, me. Suddenly it was about my son. I suddenly learned to love and be loved.”
As they were wrapping up their conversation, someone asked for an autograph. Farrell thought it was for him, but it was for John. Farrell said, “I guess you’re famous. What’s your last name, John?"
“Lennon,” he said. John Lennon had discovered he was not giving love by earning money as a human doing, but by being love.
Many boys wander aimlessly, looking for their purpose. Farrell and many others believe one way to end the boy crisis is for fathers, uncles, grandfathers and other male role models to step up and stand in the gap, and for women to encourage men in their efforts to raise men of purpose.