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SVDP CEO reflects on lack of male role models

by | Mar 12, 2015 | Vincentian Family | 1 comment

Barringer In his weekly column “From Your Servant Leader”, in Frederic’s E-Gazette David W. Barringer, CEO of the Vincent de Paul Society in the USA reflects from his own experience of the lack of a male role model and how he sees the impact of this in many men served by the Society.  What can members of the Vincent dePaul Society do.

Perhaps you have heard this too. During several informal meetings with men recently about their lives in poverty, homelessness or prison re-entry, I kept hearing the same basis that leads to these conditions.

When sharing about their current place in God’s kingdom, many of the men related that they had no adult male role model in their youth. Let me re-state that: They had no positive role model. Every older man was an example of one type or another, good or bad. What the men recognized later in life after experiences of chronic poverty, little education, unemployment or under employment, homelessness, or time in prison was that they had no one to serve as what we once called the “father figure” in their lives.

Some of the men didn’t specifically blame the lack of such a role model for their current challenges. Rather, they recognized that such a man in their lives might have prevented some of the trouble they got into, or helped them to make better choices, or as one man put it, could have given them a swift kick in the rear before things went so wrong.

As someone who grew up with divorced parents, I recognize the blessings I had of a nearby and involved grandfather and some Scouting leaders who always made time for me. Even so, I remember vividly looking for adult male role models in fictional settings such as comic books, fancier literature, TV and movie dads – wherever I could find them. There was no one in my home who could teach me how to shave, much less how to act around teen girls, how to apply for college, and otherwise how men were supposed to act outside of, God help us, beer commercials and sitcoms.

Boys and young men today might at first glance have more places to seek such knowledge. But do we really want family and social structures built based on what boys learn on YouTube? Or from a culture of sports heroes when half of sports radio is filled with news from the crime beat? Boys have always learned about girls, sex, colleges and cars “on the street” but is it really easier – or wiser – with texting, 500 cable channels and a worldwide web of bad examples? I think not.

Some fathers, and not only new ones, never become true Dads because they leave the mother to fend for herself and the child. There are many reasons for this, often and unfortunately with little
repercussions or even a negative image for the father. The result is that in the U.S. today, only about half of all children reach adulthood with both parents in the home. For African American children, the results are much worse. I pray that as the Church comes together to prepare for the World Meeting of Families next September, this is a primary subject not just of concern, but of study and action. If the Church is going to matter, it needs to matter in the homes of children.

But meanwhile, what can we do as Vincentians? If we wait until the parents aren’t together, we have missed an early opportunity. As parishioners and simply as concerned adults in our communities, I believe it helpful to reinforce young couples, married or not, for working together to raise their children.

We can celebrate fatherhood while reminding men that they have a responsibility, and that we can help them if needed to determine how to be more present in the life of their child.
We can also serve, in a structured and safe manner, single-parent mothers and their children as Vincentian mentors and counselors. In today’s world of suspected child abuse around every corner, the Church offers training to help us do this in the right way that protects adults as well as the child.

No young man, especially a troubled one, is going to ask for your help. And he probably won’t admit until years later, if ever, that you made any difference in his life. Yet Christ, who we proclaim to see in the faces and voices of the men (and women) we serve, is telling us that adult male role models make a true and positive difference. Are we listening to Him?

Yours in Christ,


1 Comment

  1. Lynn L'Heureux

    Thank you for this. I read the article and have been thinking and praying on this. In SSVP beginnings were all men and now we are hard pressed to find men willing to serve. In my workshops on leadership and recruitment, I focus on men quite a bit. I take a little heat from some of the women, but I still see men as a minority in the organization in most places. A balance of gender would be great. Thanks for planting this seed and sharing your experience.

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