05: Fatherhood cont’d

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So let’s see what these books say on their own terms, before some analysis in the following section, The Problem. Stephen James and David Thomas, the authors of Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys are both counselors with an interest in boyhood. To demonstrate the above-mentioned significance that “being” a father has over “thinking” about fatherhood, after their counseling credentials James and Thomas state “more importantly, we both have skin in the game—with five sons among the seven children between our two families.” It is clear before even reading their book that James and Thomas have a clear idea about what fatherhood is about: enabling the “wild” in boys and facilitating a noble warrior-like masculinity, as demonstrated by the two boys playing as knights with swords on the cover. Also of note, both James and Thomas and Johnson’s books are written from a Christian perspective. I won’t make too much of this, as most of each book speaks equally to non-Christians, but it’s a point to consider as Christian writers tend to be more preoccupied than most about the nature of fatherhood, and there are still a surprising amount of people who are Christians and their values should be heard (and a tip of the hat to you if you’re one of them).

James and Thomas take a clear developmental approach to boyhood, suggesting there are five stages through which every boy must be guided:

  • The Explorer (ages 2-4). During which boys are active, aggressive, curious, and self-determined. They require boundaries, open space, consistency, and understanding.
  • The Lover (ages 5-8). During which boys display tenderness, obedience, attachment to dad, and competitiveness. They require reprieve (not being forced into school too early), relationships, routine, and regulation.
  • The Individual (ages 9-12). During which time boys are searching, evolving, experimenting, and criticizing. They require supervision, information, involvement, and outlets.
  • The Wanderer (ages 13-17). During which time boys are characterized by physiological chaos, arrogance, individuation, and argumentativeness. They require other voices in their lives, understanding, and boundaries.
  • The Warrior (ages 18-22). During which time boy issues are about finishing, being reflective, searching, being romantic, and ambivalent. They require a training ground, freedom, blessing, patience, and transitional parents (other mentors).

They state that these stages all have loose parameters and that boys will develop at different paces. Nevertheless, the message is this is what is “natural” for boys (and less so for girls), and that fathers should nurture these natural and particular characteristics. Specifically, James and Thomas routinely refer to biological differences between boys and girls and cite scientific studies that show boys’ brains work in unique ways (“hardwiring”) that fathers must address.

Each of these stages requires promoting certain types of values, points of inspiration or activities. During the Lover phase, for example, James and Thomas suggest watching films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Stagecoach (1939), and Old Yeller (1957), which will presumably instill in boys the desire for adventure and the great outdoors. Also on the list are films such as It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and The Princess Bride (1987), which offer a message about appropriate family values and saving maidens. During the Individual phase, for example, James and Thomas suggest fathers should encourage activities including flashlight tag, paintball, flag football, night golf, ultimate Frisbee, wiffle ball, white-water rafting, high-ropes challenge courses, rappelling or rock climbing, and horseback riding.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Am I the only one who notes the freudian-slip overtones of words like “hardwiring”?


    July 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    • Ha, yes: I made a bit more of the language in Numen, Old Men.


      July 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm

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