“Life in general is a test. And raising a son especially a black son in an area [environment] with hardly any tangible prospects or prominent male figures to look up to as role models is a test within itself. Not to mention the fact that the same area [environment] is known for low income, crime, police rivalry, inequality, broken homes, drugs, violence, and prostitution. The list goes on and will leave a young man with many unanswered questions about justice.” (from “Mama Can’t Raise No Man” by Robyn Travis)
I’ve recently begun volunteering and today I met the most amazing man.
We got into a great conversation about manhood and what it means to be a man, which is poignant considering I’ve just finished reading Mama Can’t Raise No Man by Robyn Travis, focusing very much on what it means to be a man and how a boy can learn to become a man.
The guy I met today told me that he’d never had a father figure in his life and had struggled to find one. His primary role model was his mother and so he felt that any man he encountered later in his life looked at him as an effeminate man, not man enough. He eventually met his father later on in life, who was derogatory about his son’s man-status, or lack-thereof (he repeatedly referred to him a sissy); thankfully he stood up for himself even though he was hurting inside; he knew that him having not learnt how to be a man wasn’t his fault because the person who was supposed to be responsible for doing this had walked out on him during his formative years. This story is very much like Duane’s in Mama Can’t Raise No Man, whose father walked out on him when he was still a baby; his father refuses to take any responsibility for missing out on Duane’s childhood and failing to provide him with the teaching he needed to become a man. In fact, his father argues that his mother should’ve been the one to teach him everything he needed to become the man his father expects him to be… doesn’t really make sense does it? How can he be what his father wanted him to be without the influence of that father? I also recently wrote about absent fathers, failing to take responsibility for their roles to play in parenting sons a couple of weeks ago.
After reading this novel, although I thought so before, I really realised how hard it is to be a man in our society. My mother didn’t necessarily teach me how to be a woman, however I had many role models around me in the women who were part of our lives, to help me become the woman I am today. Although single mothers are amazing in everything that they do, they cannot entirely give their boys everything they require to be a man. As I was growing up and had questions about life in general or things I was seeing and hearing, I had women around me to ask who could offer the relevant perspective I needed for my enquiries. Speaking of which, over the weekend I checked out a recent BBCThree documentary called Finding Dad, which tells the story of Mim Shaikh who hasn’t seen his father since he was a baby (this is a great documentary by the way and a highly recommend it). He was raised by women – his mother up until a young age and then his maternal grandmother who took over when her daughter became too sick to look after Mim – and the people who hold the answers to who his father is, and shape him as a man, are women.
It is very clear that not having his father around, leaving so many unanswered questions, has a profound affect on Mim’s mental health; although he is highly functioning with a successful career, he feels that there is a giant piece of him missing from his identity causing a great unrest within him, which is also why we must take men’s mental health so seriously. Who can young boys talk to when they don’t have men around them to confide in? Who can we blame when they go out seeking role models in the wrong people? When I used to teach, I was extremely protective of my boys and would always ensure that I was available to them, but I was also very much aware that I was a woman to them and could never be the complete answer that they needed.
The man I met today said that as a young boy he sought a role model in the wrong type of man, which nearly killed him as he was lead down a dangerous path.
Who is ensuring that this history doesn’t repeat itself in younger generations?