Why I think Boys2Men is a great idea

Steve Bennett, B2M Trustee

Being a good parent or a good father figure has got more and more challenging over recent years. I know, because I have seven kids of my own – aged, 25, 23 (from a previous marriage), 14, 12, 10, 8 and five months. Trying to be a good dad/mentor has got more and more difficult over the years as computers and the internet seem to be all today’s kids want to spend time doing.

Before the age of the internet, it was so much easier to go outside and kick a ball around with my eldest son or to sit down and watch something worthwhile and marginally educational on TV. But for my 10-year-old son today, his PlayStation and his friends on the other end of it, is all he seems to want to spend his free time doing. They call it the PlayStation Generation and as a parent its bloody annoying. I can’t quite fathom it out. Tom would rather play a game of football sitting on his bed, playing against his mate the other side of town, than come down stairs, put on his boots and come and kick a ball around with his old man outside.

With my job being a gem-hunter, I spend a lot of time in Africa looking for gemstones. Much of my time is with the Massai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania. Here things are obviously very different. Here they haven’t even heard of a PlayStation (although weirdly everyone has heard of David Beckham). Here when a young boy becomes a man, their rite of passage is a real ceremony and marks the transition from one phase of life to another. As the boy transfers from adolescence to adulthood, the entire hamlet celebrates the event. I once spoke to Paul (his Massai warrior name is impossible to spell or read) and asked why they made such a big deal of a boy becoming a man, he responded; “it’s the most crucial time in a boy’s life. If it’s not handled correctly, the boy can change to the wrong path in life. This is a time where the boy’s father and the village elder, must spend a lot of time giving advice and explaining to the boy, how he is in control of his life from now on. How his decisions and only his decisions will shape the future of his life”.

“it’s the most crucial time in a boy’s life. If it’s not handled correctly, the boy can change to the wrong path in life”Maasai Warrior

But what do we offer our boys as a “rites of passage” event? Nothing, we don’t even realise it’s happening. Worst of all, if we have a cross word, we send them to their bedroom because we can’t be bothered to work out how to deal with the difficult little teenager who’s started to behave just like the kid in the Harry Enfield sketch.

Now before anyone starts to yell at me “what about the girls too?”, let me explain why we set up Boys2Men to help just boys. (By the way, I have three daughters and four sons and it’s not that I don’t feel girls need similar help, it’s just there are more startling consequences of getting it wrong with boys)…

In the UK, suicide in men under the age of 35 is the biggest killer of all – bigger than any disease or even car crashes. Plus, for every one young female in our jails, there are 20 males – sadly.

Now I am no doctor, or psychiatrist, but from the numbers, it’s as black and white, that it’s the boys that need the greatest help. But why Boys2Men? Are we excluding mothers here? Well actually yes! Don’t get me wrong, the mother’s role is critical and in our family, it’s my wife who does the far better role of bringing our kids up from day to day. But in those early teenage years and a few before, all lads seem to need the influence of a strong father figure.

Before I helped launch the Boys2Men charity (www. Fatherfigures.org), I hadn’t really stopped to think about how important having a strong male role model was. But when I stopped and looked back at my life (I am now turning 50 which, to be honest, is scaring the living daylights out of me), I realised that my dad’s influence from around 11 years old till about fourteen, had really helped shape me. He brilliantly guided me and pushed me really hard to achieve. My dad was a very good car salesman and yet he had bigger ambitions for his young son. As I look back, it was my dad who set me off on the right path in life. I have walked to The North Pole, sailed across the Atlantic, built an international company with almost a thousand employees and all of this, I can truly put down to my Dad spending quality time with me in my adolescent years. It was my dad that taught me that anything in life is possible as long as you work hard at it. It was my dad that taught me the phrase, “if it’s to be, it’s up to me” and it was my dad that didn’t explode at me when I played truant from school, but sat and carefully explained that without paying attention at school, I would be limiting what I could do with my life. I have a lovely mother too, but my dad made me who I am today.

When Phil Williams approached me and told me about his project, Boys2Men, and how he had realised that one of the biggest issues facing us as a society was how we had forgotten how important it is to really engage with our sons throughout adolescence, I was all ears. As he explained about his project and how he worked with families facing challenges, bringing both the father and the son together through a range of evening sessions and camping weekends and as he explained the positive outcomes they had achieved, I was hooked. I went home after our first meeting and declared to my wife how poorly I was interacting with our youngest sons. I made a commitment that evening that I would work harder at being a better dad, a better mentor to my boys and that I would find a way to help Phil role out his scheme to more and more lads and dads. Here’s to a great journey where we aim to reach as many families as we can, helping bring the dad (or step-dad, or uncle or grandad) and the young man closer together, providing a platform where the young boy can grow into the best man he possibly can). Welcome to fatherfigures.org.