Early in the movie, GoodFellas, Ray Liotta’s character is a teenage boy working for the neighborhood “wiseguys” or members of the Mafia. When he is arrested for the first time he is greeted as a conquering hero by all the older “made” wiseguys after he walks out of the courtroom. These powerful, rich men now consider him worthy of being a man. He is given money, cheered on, and welcomed to the club of men by older men he idolizes. He is given confidential advice that now makes him an insider of their club. They were very effectively teaching him the value system (good or bad) of their “tribe.”
This is what all young men yearn for. The club of men that welcome him can determine the destiny of a man’s life. We see it with young men in gangs of all kinds. They yearn for the acceptance, validation, and even affection of a group of older males to teach them how a man lives his life. If those men are good men, he prospers, as does society. If they themselves do not know how a man successfully lives life then the boy and everyone around him suffers.
One of the things men do is they know stuff. They know how to do things and how the world works. They learn from their experiences and from trial and error. Our ministry once held a retreat at a ranch with a big stone fireplace in the great room. One of the young men from the city was asked to light a fire in the fireplace. I noticed he was struggling and casually gave him a few tips on how to start a fire. Soon he had a majestic fire roaring in the fireplace. As people came along and complimented him on his great fire, he was quick to say, “Rick taught me how!” It was as if he was so grateful and proud that a man had taught him something handy that he couldn’t wait to let everyone know. That experience built his confidence because he knows he can start a fire if he needs to. Seems like a small thing doesn’t it? But being capable is important to our self-esteem as men and boys. If no one shows us how to do something how can we ever learn to be capable? And if we do not feel capable how can we feel good about our manhood?
Being competent is one of the things we strive to teach the boys during our BetterDads Annual Father-Son Campouts for non-custodial dads. We want to teach the boys (and maybe the fathers too) some survival skills that will give them self-confidence. We teach them how to start a fire from scratch, we teach them about the “ten essentials” for survival in the wilderness, we teach them how to use a compass, and we teach them other survival skills that breed feelings of competency and adequacy so important for a male to feel good about himself. Because I know that I can survive if dropped in the middle of nowhere with just my own two hands and a couple of basics, I believe that the other struggles and issues of life—even if I fail at them—are somehow less consequential in comparison.
When boys are brought up to feel that way about themselves they have a much better chance of succeeding at life. When they have men come alongside them and teach them how to succeed in life, they do not have to suffer through the trials of failing which lead to frustration, anger, and often quitting on life.
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