How Gang Culture is The Scourge of Modern Democratic Irresponsibility?
The importance of a responsible father figure for boys in Western ‘go-it-alone’ society
My son has recently started High school. Unlike me at that age, he is neither sporty nor used to the occasional fight. Do not get me wrong, he is a fairly big strong lad for his age and is no ‘shrinking violet’ but he is a soft-hearted and sensitive boy going from a small well-mannered Junior school into the hormonal, adolescent-fuelled and unforgiving environment of secondary education. You see, I am one of 5 brothers (no sisters) so you might appreciate the boisterous nature of my upbringing and how initial play regularly became a bit more than just competitive sparring. My mother’s friends and relatives often commented on how she coped. My wife, in complete contrast, came from a female dominated household of two sisters. Her mother is integral to her life while her father is a very strict individual who obviously felt duty bound to ensure the protection of his two seemingly vulnerable daughters. Any potential boyfriend would be aware of his stern presence and failure to be back at home by a certain time would at best result in a non-negotiable grounding or at worst facing embarrassment of him seeking them out from their location and physically bringing them home.
Leading up to my son’s first day at High school there was much debate with my better half about how soon we should allow him to make his own way in, as the journey involved a bus ride and further walk which is something he was not familiar with. Also being a relatively tall boy, he was likely to stand out from his peers and be more noticeable to the older kids, which in itself has its pros and cons. Any parent might appreciate how your heart strings are pulled during this transition. You just do not know what to expect and the only way you are going to find out is after the event. If my wife had her way, her protective instincts would have been to deliver him by car to the school gates until she was comfortable that he would not be in any danger. As a man and once a boy, I was firmly against this approach as I regarded it as ‘victim’ material having mummy or daddy taking him to school. It was vital in my view that going into that environment, it was essential to make a strong first impression to show that he could stand on his own two feet. It was important for his own confidence and he had to face up to any potential first day situations by himself.
Indeed, I recall my first day at High school being initiated by a scuffle with another new boy during a game of football in the playground. He had made what I thought was an unnecessarily rough tackle on me and I returned the compliment with a similar challenge. His very reasonable friend promptly intervened to halt our fracas and although the blood was still pumping and our hearts pounding, we managed to avoid further confrontation for the remainder of the game. Coincidentally, we met each other again during the very first sports lesson and after apologising to each other we shared a mutual respect throughout our High school years. In hindsight, his friend’s intervention was probably a small blessing because I came to realise that he was a particularly rugged and powerful individual.
Getting back to my point, although our son is well versed in appropriate behaviour and the sins of bullying or fighting, it is essential in the world of a young male to be recognised as someone who will stand up for himself. My early demonstration of this mentality certainly held me in good stead during those testing years of puberty where finding your status in the pecking order was so crucial and it enabled me to get on with my school life relatively untroubled. This very attitude was instilled in me by my own father who I recall, at the time, being more concerned about how I had stood up for myself. My mother in contrast was more concerned about the potential dangers of me getting into fights. The fact is that, although my mother was the heart and soul of the house, for me as a boy, my father was that additional level of authority who could step in when a firmer hand was required. He was by no means an aggressive person but simply possessed a more physical presence, deeper voice and less emotional address. He was the voice of understanding when necessary and a source of crucial guidance, particularly during the emotional minefield of my teenage years. Both he and my mother were very keen that I took my education seriously and I was left in no doubt about the high standards of behaviour expected of me. However, my mother could never understand the relatively robust and dog-like world of a boy and often tried to impress her more feline-like views that simply were not conducive in the pragmatic, black and white world of the male species.
As it transpires, I had been waiting patiently, if a little nervously, for my son’s first inevitable encounter with confrontation. Then on returning home from work one day, the realisation of this scenario was clearly obvious as I heard my wife ‘spitting chips’ at the ‘scum’ who dared to threaten her son. Her emotion-filled tirade was rich in spiteful rhetoric and suggestions of what he should do in her opinion. Remarkably, I suddenly found myself in my father’s shoes being more concerned with how he handled the situation. As it was, on his walk to the bus stop via a footpath on the way back from school, he had to negotiate a group of older boys who were obviously high on teenage macho and buoyed by each others presence. They had attempted to intimidate and impose their seniority over him with the threat of violence. As his story unfolded, my wife’s rants began to fade from my hearing as I focussed on his reaction. I felt the sense of pride rising in me as he explained how felt no sense of fear towards them and being that they were just one year group older than him, he found their attempts to look bad somewhat pathetic. His unperturbed appearance obviously had the impact of negating their ‘gangster’ egos and he continued to walk on past them without any physical conflict. He certainly was not traumatised by the experience and even suggested that if they tried to take him on; he would have taken all six of them out using some Jacky Chan type moves. I had to bring him down to earth by explaining the likely outcome versus the fictional, particularly as he does not possess such skills.
I had to withstand my wife’s anticipated irritation at my calm reaction to this incident and my suggestion that he should just get on with his normal day at school and not show any concern for his aggressors. This is the boy’s way and has greater resonance than spiteful comments or gathering allied opinion. My son’s sense of satisfaction by my response was clear to witness which only fuelled my wife’s irritation further. However, after calling her sister, mother and anyone else who was prepared to listen, she eventually stepped down from her soap box with a slight degree of submission. Her view was that some sort of verbal reaction is necessary to deter his adversaries from trying it on again. My knowledge is that lack of response actually undermines any perceived sense of power in macho language.
Reflecting on this event and its outcome, I felt a sense of relief that my words of wisdom had helped to get him through this inevitable first hurdle. As a caring father, I am not oblivious to the different dangers that the streets of London now present from my days growing up. Guns, knifes and teenage gangs hold a prominent headline spot in the media and I cannot deny that I am effected by the paranoia it stimulates. However, I keep reminding myself that its scale is sensationalised and those involved or inflicted are mainly within small rival groups. As such, I think it is important that young boys like my son, who are not that way inclined, should not be indoctrinated by the fear that such dangers lay in wait around each and every corner. This simply perpetuates the illusion that there is the need to counter this peril with your own means of self-defence whether that is through weaponry or the security of being part of a protective unit. This is a disturbing mentality that I believe can afflict impressionable young men too easily in their vulnerable adolescent years. With the availability and temptation to experiment with drugs and the perceived status of respect that comes with being amongst a feared group of ‘bad boys’, the attractions are clear for those who are misguided or indeed devoid of any guidance at all. The continual negative images, particularly of black boys, the seeming lack of controlled censorship of evermore graphic violent computer games and the general absence of social responsibility towards young men presents a worrying and easily accessible dark existence for boys where the door is wide open and left unguarded.
The reality is that fundamentally, a boy’s existence today is much the same as it has ever been. The varying degrees of ones perceived masculine attributes will inevitably be realised during the years of growing up and consequently so will the vital appreciation of ones status in the male pecking order. The real difference today is that a stricter social framework used to be in place that dictated a boy’s role in life and the stigma of being a single mother was an overbearing deterrent to the number of people living in non-father circumstances. Feminism, multiculturalism and greater social tolerance have all been necessary evolutions but in many ways they have left a large generation of vulnerable boys to grow up unguided and fearful of a society that is hostile towards them yet sets no clear structure for them to follow.
The fact is boys will be boys and ultimately will face their own unique dilemmas in growing up. The key person who can instinctively guide them through their naturally boisterous existence, understand the boundaries within which they need to operate and the rules that will direct them towards a well-groomed individual is a father figure. This is not to devalue the required balance of having a good mother figure or to suggest that single parent circumstances do not produce good men. However, the security of being part of a gang and the misguidance that comes with it would certainly be less attractive to most if they had the responsibility of living up to the expectations of a good father figure.
My work as a role model figure has only really just begun but so far, so good. Without doubt I am blessed with a bright and mature thinking boy who is making a good impression at school in both work and behaviour. However, the attractions of the opposite sex are just around the corner and he has already been invited to a friend’s house party albeit an early start, early finish one. I anticipate further distractions and the accompanying peer pressures will come thick and fast meaning that I will need to step up my game to keep abreast of any new challenges. My first experience of his initial step towards adolescence has already reinforced the important role I have to play in guiding him through this tricky stage of life. He is already sporadically adopting today’s street slang which by default is riddled with references to violence like ‘shank’ alias ‘to knife’. Although I realise that his use of these terms are fairly innocent at this moment and are a necessary protocol for High school survival, I feel impelled to frequently remind him of the true consequence of such words and their reality. While there is no reason in his upbringing that he should walk the less desirable path, I certainly believe it is my responsibility as his father to ensure that he sticks to the straight and narrow. I only wish that those tragic boys who make the news too frequently for their gang related misdemeanours and regard incarceration as free hotel accommodation had grown up with similarly responsible and dedicated father figures. For them life could have been so different…