“We need to prove how strong we are all of the time.” We heard this sentiment from young men in cities across the country, talking about their experiences becoming men. Father figures, mentors, and a host of men who may not even realize it can show our boys that a large part of discovering their identity is relying on other people. It empowers them to understand that leaning on others is not weakness, but it is the wellspring of true strength. These demonstrations of healthy masculinity have far-reaching impact not only for the mental health and belonging of our young men, but for our communities and society.
Masculinity is not inherently destructive. We simply need to show young men that masculinity is expansive, not narrow. We need to encourage them to develop a view of masculinity broader than its traditional forms. We can role model this critical lens and open lines of communication around it.
Here are tangible steps for men to do just that, this Father’s Day and beyond:
Ask. When you think about masculinity, what comes to mind? As fathers and mentors, what forms of masculinity do we want to promote? Make time to reflect and examine what shapes your understanding of fatherhood, of masculinity, and relationships between males.
Identify. Men can work with young men to identify patterns of masculinity that are toxic and self-perpetuating while supporting them in acquiring and utilizing skills that foster the development of others, including active listening and skills for consoling.
Model. Recognize the power of words and model language that defies stereotypes about masculinity. Instead of “man up”, try “What’s holding you back? You can persevere.”
Engage. Mentors and fathers support youth by having difficult conversations about identity, about power and privilege, about how the systems in society work, about living up to high expectations, about being oneself and setting boundaries. We can all approach our relationships with boys and young men with a mentoring mindset by being intentional in how we build relationships with them – making time for them, respecting their perspectives, and challenging their growth.
Celebrate. Celebrate diverse forms of manhood. Elevate stories of fathers who express care, ask for help, role model how to face challenges with integrity, respect people of all backgrounds, serve as allies to women, give back to the community, engage in dialogue about social norms and media images and political controversies, and take responsibility for mistakes.
At the heart of good fatherhood are the same attributes at the heart of good mentoring – being present, curious, consistent, open-minded, and supportive. To mentor young men means showing up with your full authenticity and embracing the authenticity of our young people as they develop and discover the men they will become. To learn more, visit www.mentoring.org/masculinity and become a mentor.