By Bunmi Sofola
Some few weeks back, I was talking to the father of a teenage boy who was despairing that his son insisted on putting his play-station above homework, chores and even sleep. He asked, with a defeated shrug: “What can I do?” I was afterall an agony aunt. He seemed to believe that as the boy’s father, he had no part to play in his problem at all. When I told him to “take the damn thing off him”, I’m not sure which of us looked more surprised. The father because I was suggesting a firm act of parenting that was clearly an alien concept, or me, because I was required to point out such an obvious solution.
Not long after this incident, I ran into an older friend who rose to the position of the principal of a reputable male secondary school in Lagos. According to him, “Society is increasingly equality-driven, which is a good thing. But something clearly has got lost in translation when a father believes this must be extended to his connection with his young son. You see family relationships where formalities have been removed so much so that the child is allowed to call his father by his pet name! This would be a good thing if it worked, but it doesn’t.
“Instead of acquiescing to their father’s firm but fair demands, too many boys find themselves calling the shots. They dictate how much home work they will do, if any. They decide whether they will sit at the family table to eat and what time they will finally switch off from technology and grab some sleep. If they’re rude to their mothers, it is of no consequence. Should they fall behind at school, it is left to their teachers to try to cajole them into catching up. Structure and orders are lost – and in the vain hope this will allow friendship to thrive between father and son.
“Of course similar behaviour can occur between daughters and mothers, but the brain of an adolescent boy is wired differently to that of his female counterpart, meaning it is potentially more of a problem. He matures later, meaning he has less of a sense of personal responsibility when it comes to his own safety and success. Studies have shown that boys are more likely to take risks and be more optimistic about the outcome – this makes strict rules and discipline all the more important when it comes to keeping on the right path.
“I’m not suggesting we should return to the autocratic, distant parenting of the past, but the permissive style of many fathers today does not help their sons. During my 35-year career, first as a teacher and then as a principal, I have taught many hundreds of boys. When I meet a pupil I taught years ago, they often thank me for being strict at school. They say that though they might not have liked it at the time, they’re grateful to me now for the high standards and discipline instilled in them. I was friendly but not overly so. Good fathers play a similar role in their son’s lives.
“I’m not saying they don’t show great warmth, but they would never put friendship above rules and routine. Effective parenting means insisting on bedtimes, making sure home-works are completed and to a decent standard. It is about having basic expectations that children turn up for meals, help with household chores and switch off computer games when asked. I wouldn’t be bothering to bring this up at all were it not for how dearly this surrendering of authority is costing our boys. Because without a loving but firm role model keeping them on track at home, many are failing to thrive outside of it.
“Today, girls are out-stripping boys at school, university and in their early careers. Modern methods are a far cry from the way in which boys of my generation were raised. I was the eldest of four sons, and our father, while loving and encouraging, was also quite clear about where the boundaries lay and how we should contribute to family life. Each week, a rota of weekend chores would appear on the kitchen door. One brother would vacuum; another would dust and clean the furniture; I might be washing the car, while another tackled feeding the chicken.
“This was thought fair and reasonable and we took pride in doing the jobs well. There were other expectations of us too. We had to be respectful to our mother and thank her for the food she put in front of us. And there was no question of us arguing about bedtime.
“I needn’t tell you that teenagers aren’t always naturally sensible, grateful, polite and well-behaved. They don’t appreciate that if they play computer games instead of getting their sleep, they will under-perform the next day. It needs to be spelled out to them.
“For what child is ever going to self-regulate? These are traits that need to be learned through the enforcement of rules. If a boy is never taught what he should do in order to operate as a successful member of the family, how can he possibly know? I never saw the way I was raised as unreasonable. My father didn’t nag us to keep our bedrooms tidy or moan about us doing our home work. He was strict about what he felt mattered without being pedantic. He was my father, and I loved and admired him. He provided me with a template of how to be a good man and parent, but at no point did I consider him to be my friend – nor do I ever recall wanting him to be.
“That doesn’t make me unusual. Children want and like the security that comes from a degree of discipline from their father far more than they want another pal. Trying to be mates with a son generates a generation of feckless and lazy boys, without the skills, self-discipline or motivation to well-founded adults. All children need love, boys included, but what modern fathers need to understand is that the best way to help their boys is by providing structure, rules and discipline. And not by trying to be their best friend.”
I beg your pardon! (Humour)
An elderly couple has been courting for some time. Finally, they decided to go ahead and get married. Before the wedding they go out for dinner and had a long conversation about how their marriage might work. They discuss finances, living arrangements and so on. Eventually, the old gent broaches the subject of their physical relationship. “How do you feel about sex?”, he asks cautiously.
“Well”.she says delicately. “I’d say that I would like it infrequently”, the old gent ponders the remark for a moment.
“Sorry, dear”, he casually asks, looking over his glasses at his lady friend. “Was that one week or two?”