When males are NEEDED MOST
When a boy is about six or seven, it is Dad’s (or another man in the boy’s life) time to shine.
“At this age, boys are on a pretty visceral, primal level, looking at how men operate in the world and how that is different from women. How do they walk? How do they talk? How do they drive the car? Every little detail is noticed, and the young boy needs to absorb that.
“He needs that male ally now, because most men have gone through that stuff themselves, and they are open to risk,” says Richard. “The classic story I tell is of the little six-year-old who is climbing the pohutukawa tree in the back garden and Mum is saying, ‘Be careful,’ and Dad is saying, ‘Grab that branch with your left hand, that branch above you is too thin, step to the right.’ He’s teaching practical ways of managing the risk.”
“And Mum is thinking, ‘Just get out of the tree!’” adds Ruth.
The next stage of development when a strong male role model becomes pivotal to boys’ development is the age of 14.
“Here it’s about the big question: ‘Who am I?’” says Richard. “And the first answer is, ‘I am a man,’ and you can’t ask your mum about that. He is trying to absorb by osmosis what maleness is, and it is a big job so Mum needs to back off because it takes all his attention.”
But that boy still needs his mum. “Mum still very much needs to be alongside him,” says Ruth. “But be alongside him rather than hovering above him!”
“He is starting to grow into an adult,” says Richard. “A lot of cultures have initiation rites at that point, when the boy is taken away to join men and then he’ll come back slightly different. Mum’s job is to go, ‘Okay, he is more of a man and I will have a slightly different relationship with him.’”