Boys are in trouble. They’re diagnosed at two to four times the rate as girls with learning disabilities, have higher rates of depression and suicide, and are more likely to end up in prison or on drugs, or be killed in foreign wars. One reason: they are suffering from dad deprivation. In this podcast we talk with Dr. Warren Farrell, author of The Boy Crisis, about the importance of fathering and the male values to preserve and to protect.
When boys hurt and the pain becomes unbearable, Farrell says, they hurt others, entering a cycle of violence that may include mass shootings and participation in extremist groups offering strong father figures. How did we miss this epidemic of male suffering? And how can we make sure our sons feel safe at home and learn the value of strong relationships? These are some of the issues we’ll be tackling in our conversation about the boy crisis.
Farrell has been chosen by the Financial Times as one of the world’s top 100 thought leaders. His books are published in over 50 countries, and in 19 languages. They include The New York Times best-seller, Why Men Are the Way They Are and the international best-seller, The Myth of Male Power.
Farrell has been a pioneer in the women’s movement and has been named by GQ magazine “the Martin Luther King of the men’s movement.” He conducts couples’ communication workshops nationwide and has been interviewed by Oprah, Barbara Walters, Peter Jennings, Katie Couric, Larry King, Tucker Carlson, and Charlie Rose. Dr. Farrell has two daughters and lives with his wife in Mill Valley, California.
Listen here or read our full transcript below. And learn more at www.warrenfarrell.co
Welcome to Reinventing Home. I’m your host Valerie Andrews and today we’re going to be talking with Dr. Warren Farrell, author of The Boy Crisis, about the presence of fathers in the home – and the positive effect they can have on boys’ lives.
Warren started out as a feminist and was the only male board member of the National Organization of Women in New York City. He supported women’s issues—and even held a “Male Beauty” pageant on the Merv Griffin show. Later he became an internationally known advocate for boys and fatherhood, calling our attention to the ways we need to improve men’s lives.
Warren is the author of Why Men are the Way they Are, The Myth of Male Power, and most recently, The Boy Crisis, where he shows what kind of support boys need at home to thrive and grow up to be healthy, well-rounded adults.
Today we’re going to be talking about the role fathers play and how their special parenting skills are essential if we want to build strong communities and a strong society.
In your book, The Boy Crisis, you note that boys often consider themselves worthless? Why aren’t they as good as girls at handling stress?
Boys are as good as girls at handling stress in emergencies. In the arena where the house comes on fire, boys handle stress well, but in terms of emotional issues, they go into greater depression, greater alienation from people, and they don’t have as well-developed emotional skills as girls do.
You mention that boys suffer more from learning disabilities in school and college at roughly twice the rate of girls.
Yes, in areas like ADHD boys suffer, depending on the studies you look at, about twice to four times as much as girls do, and to a large degree, that’s because the teaching in school is focused more on listening to teachers give lessons, whereas boys learn a lot more from doing. When I did my own teaching in college and in high school, I always got the students involved and physically acting things out, playing roles and when they could get up and debate, when they could go out and do projects, that’s the way boys tend to learn best.
I’m wondering in this particular year with homeschooling and remote learning due to the pandemic, if boys are going to have a harder time of it.
It depends on how the home learning is done. For example, if a boy and girl are both learning by Zoom, girls will frequently have self-discipline and sit and take notes. However, the Zoom also allows the option for the boy shutting off a pre-recorded lesson and then doing something like taking the recess break, playing with his friends, being physical. If he learns to honor himself by taking those breaks, Zoom can actually be a benefit over the strict confinement of the classroom.
Well, this is really important for parents then to make sure that their sons get away from the screen at some point and actually go and do something physical and then come back to it.
A very good thing for parents to do is to do rough housing with the kids or to chase them around the house, or to play ball with them outside. The CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, now have come up with findings showing that these types of breaks will allow boys to do better on a given exam.
One of the other things that we’re learning is that fathers are enjoying staying home and having more time with their families, that they seem to be longing for more time with their children. Is this something you found in your research as well?
Absolutely, the more time Dads spend with children, the more two things happen. One is they find that dad’s time is valued as much as dad’s dime, and most men felt that the way that we loved our family was to be away selling a product to make the money to have a good home in a good neighborhood. We worked and tried to increase our promotions and status but in the process, we miss enormously what we really love, our family.
Have you heard some stories about men enjoying their new parenting role during the covid pandemic?
Yes, I was just talking with a father and his son, and as a result of them spending a lot more time together, they did get into some misunderstandings and conflict. He’s about ready to go to college.
And so the father has saved a lot of money over the years in a 529, and the son didn’t realize that that money had been saved for him, and sent him a very sharp email. The father called me and said, “I tend to become very defensive. Can you walk me through what I do to listen?” And he did that. But he was spending far more time with his son than he had before. And as a result of that, they came through that with a deeper and more loving understanding than they had had previously.
We often hear young men say, “I never really knew my dad” Would you say fathers need to be modeling a sense of meaning and purpose for their sons?
Warren: Yes, I’ll give you an example of my own dad. My father came out and visited me when I first moved to California, and the first three days he talked only about himself. So I said, “Dad, why aren’t you asking any questions about me?”
It was a long pause, and he said, “Because I want to keep our relationship positive.”
I said, “Dad, it’s not a positive relationship if you can’t talk about me as well as me talking about you.”
And he said, “You really want me to be honest?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, I think the work you’re doing in psychology is ruining the lives of millions of people. “
“Wow, thank you for thinking that I affect millions of people. But why ruin?” This was my attempt at humor.
He said, “Because psychology is teaching people and particularly men to do what they want to do. Becoming a real man is not doing what you want to do, Warren, it’s doing what you have to do. It is not talking about rights, it’s talking about responsibilities and obligations.”
He was really angry at me for wanting to write, and he went on, “There are only about one in 100 authors who find a publisher, and if you can’t find a publisher, you won’t find a wife.” And then I later read that Zelda said exactly that to F. Scott Fitzgerald! “I can’t marry you until I find a publisher.”
My father was born in 1910, and by 1945, he’d been through two world wars and a depression. From his perspective, he just focused on doing what he needed to do. And I said to him, “Dad, the results of your generation sacrificing so much is that you’ve helped us survive. And as a result of being able to survive more easily, we’re free to do more of what we want to do. That’s a shift that you’ve helped create for us.”
And then he was able to see that he had fulfilled his obligation but also done something deeper than he had realized.
That’s a deep and beautiful story. Can you talk a little bit about the damage that dad-deprived boys do in our society?
Yes, and the brief answer is that dad-deprived boys hurt and so they hurt others.
They hurt in more than 50 different developmental areas, such as being more likely to be addicted to drugs, be addicted to video games, be addicted to opioids, to have death by opioids. They’re more likely to be depressed, more likely to withdraw into video games, more likely to have depression that morphs into suicide.
They’re more likely to have their life expectancy shortened. Their telomeres are shorter, significantly shorter, 14% on the average, when they don’t have a significant amount of father involvement by the age of 9 and a half.
These boys don’t learn the discipline of being able to do things to succeed, and so they become very angry and so we now have, since the 21st century began, 10 school shooters that have killed 10 or more people. Every single one of those is a dad deprived boy.
ISIS recruits are often boys that feel no sense of purpose through the father. And 93% of our prison population is male, and of that, about 85% to 90% are dad deprived males.
Those are extraordinary statistics. Did we see the same thing in World War II? Where there are a lot of dad-deprived boys who were drawn to totalitarianism?
Absolutely. Just like ISIS today, Hitler Youth found it much easier to recruit from the dad deprived population.
So if we don’t want a totalitarian movement in this country, we’re going to have to really focus on our parenting skills.
Yes, and here is the ironic nature of it. The political left is very much concerned that there is the possibility of this type of totalitarianism, but does not focus on dad deprivation as an issue. The political right tends to focus more on the importance of dad and the family.
Why is single parenting so hard for everyone?
When I dated between marriages, mostly single mothers, the word that I heard most frequently was, “I feel overwhelmed, I feel depressed that I can’t do as good a job as I’d like to do.” It is totally unfair to women to not have the help of a dad as well.
What I hear most frequently from dads is, “I feel alone, unneeded, and I just want to be with my children. And I know they want to be with me.”
How can divorced Dads, be sure they have an influence on their sons growing up?
If you want to do the best for your children, there’s four what I call “must dos.”
One is that the children have about an equal amount of time with mom and dad.
Number two is that the dad and mom do not live more than about a 20-minute drive time from each other.
Number three, that the children aren’t able to detect any bad mouthing or negative body language about the opposite parent. Bad-mouthing is one of the worst forms of child abuse.
And the fourth “must-do” is something that has only been discovered recently, which is that the parents need to do a significant amount of couples communication counseling or relationship counseling, not just when emergencies come up.
So parents really have to show boys that they are loved and capable of loving, and you can’t do this without a role model. Even if the marriage has reached its limits, there still needs to be this human connection that is part of the family life.
Absolutely. The role modeling of good communication skills is helpful for the children to know how to resolve an argument, never battering each other or withdrawing and not speaking to each other for days.
You said that one of the best ways to get to know a boy is to ask a question. I’d like to know what advice you have for parents to draw out their boys.
For a boy, drawing out starts with hanging out. So for example, if you pick up a boy from soccer practice and say, “How was your game today?” chances are the boy will say, “Oh, it was okay.”
But if you’re hanging out with that boy later on that evening and doing your work next to him where he’s doing his homework, he’s much more likely then to say something like, “Dad, what do you think it means if you did a good job being a goalie, but the next week, the coach doesn’t let you be the goalie again?”
A good dad will not give an answer to that. A good dad will provide space for that child to elaborate on what happened. If the dad doesn’t answer right away with a solution, the boy is more likely to say something like, “This happened a few weeks ago when I was playing with basketball too.”
And so you begin by allowing space in the framework of hang out time for a boy to begin to open up. You don’t interrupt and don’t solve his problems for him, but give them a place to just be safe. When you solve the problem too quickly, you basically are telling the boy, “You can’t figure out an answer of your own, but I can figure out an answer in about 30 seconds.”
The other thing boys benefit from, and girls, too, is family dinner nights that are constructed to not become family dinner nightmares.
How can you have a constructive family dinner night?
First. by making sure that there’s no electronics at the table.
Second, make sure that everybody has a defined period of time to share what happened during the week or that day, or what their opinions are on a given topic. The more controversial the topic, the better it is! No interrupting.
The next is to make sure the family spends time saying. “What we heard was this. Is that accurate?” And the person has a chance to clear up any distortions.
This is going to take a while. You go around the family table and do that, not only for the children, but also for the adults, requiring the children to listen to the parents as well. You’re showing the children there’s one family here that will always support your uniqueness as individuals.
Are we removing towards a generation of hopefully more expressive and more empowered young men?
Yes, we are. That’s the good news and that becomes the bad news if self-expression becomes everything. Most people who want to express themselves want to enter fulfilling jobs like being an artist or writer, an actor, but we use the word starving artist, and most actors are called waiters. Until there is the ability to discipline one’s self, one cannot enter the fulfilling professions.
Parents that allow their children to be expressive oftentimes don’t create that discipline, and parents that create the discipline are oftentimes minimally encouraging of expressiveness.
Is there any coming of age literature or any film that you’ve seen recently that will help boys and fathers to start this dialogue?
The Boy Crisis lists some 50 different films. One that I saw recently was East of Eden about a boy who whose brother was valued very much by the dad. It’s very common in families that If one child does really well, the other one gets his attention by rebelling.
There is a movie that’s called Father, Soldier, Son that is quite good. The New York Times devoted a whole section to it, and it just came out in 2020. The father loved being with the children, and so that was a wonderful part of the movie, but then he was shot, and lost his leg, and made a type of sacrifice that really impacted his ability to be close to his children.
This sounds like a very good film for discussion. Is there any last advice you’d like to give to dads who are now spending more time at home in the presence of the children?
Yes, first of all, understand what you contribute as a dad.
Know that the best way you raise your children is doing some of the things that are natural to you. Take them out camping, let them explore. Know the value of doing things like rough housing or letting your children climb trees or explore nature.
Rough housing is, let’s say where it comes from is more split, but a dad say, throws the three kids on the couch and say, “Okay, the job here is that you guys have to pin me down before I pin the three of you.” Sooner or later somebody’s going to end up getting hurt. Christa starts to cry because her brother’s elbow hit her in the eye. You say, “Sorry that was too rough, we’re going to stop the rough housing for tonight.” Now the dad has taught empathy. And the kids are also learning that they can’t just do what they want when they want to do it. Dads don’t explain this process to moms and they don’t even know what they’re doing, they just do it.
How can men model meaning and purpose as opposed to just productivity?
I used to work a lot with Tony Robbins, and we would take children out every Thanksgiving to feed the homeless, and the children’s eyes just popped, “My goodness, We’re so focused on ourselves, how is it that we didn’t even see them right here in San Diego?” which is where we lived at the time. They started tuning into people that they can be helpful toward.
That’s a beautiful description of the way fathers pass on the skills of caregiving and stewardship to the next generation, Warren.
I want to thank you for this conversation today, and urge our listeners to read The Boy Crisis for a wealth of information about why boys are suffering, and how we can make sure that they live richer and fuller lives. and become strong members of society.
Oh, thank you. It’s wonderful to experience your thoughtful questions and your caring loving way of listening.