In his classic book, The Wonder of Boys, Michael Gurian makes the claim that “three families – not one – raise a healthy boy to healthy manhood.”
The first family is the “nuclear family,” the parents and grandparents who raise the child.
The second family is the “extended family” – teachers, coaches, relatives, caretakers and other adult mentors.
The third family is the surrounding culture and community – media, churches, government and other institutions.
This is what people mean when they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Gurian calls this “the boy’s tribe.” He claims that when the village or tribe isn’t working together to create an adult who contributes to society, commits to his family, and grows spiritually, then boys will feel insecure and confused and will seek ways of creating their own extended families and villages, often destructive ones.
Gurian claims that raising a child to be a strong adult takes so much effort that the mother and father simply can’t do it all. They need help.
He makes a good case for the three-family concept, but we all know that modern life makes this kind of multi-adult support system hard to achieve. Furthermore, it’s shocking to acknowledge that so many nuclear families these days are single parents. That usually means a mother trying to raise a boy by herself, which is troublesome, because mothers have never been boys. Most mothers understand what girls need far more than than they understand what boys need.
Recently, I read a moving story about Eric Rogers, an undrafted rookie who is working hard to earn a roster spot on the Dallas Cowboys (“Strong women helped rookie avoid gang life,” by Tony Orsborn, San Antonio Express-News, July 27, 2012). During training camp, his paternal grandmother died from cancer at the age of 70. According to Rogers, his “Grandma Doris” helped his mother keep him out of trouble as he grew up in a neighborhood dominated by gangs. His father was out of the picture, serving time on drug charges.
It was these two strong women, his coaches and other mentors who helped Eric get a scholarship to Cal Lutheran and an invitation to work out for the Cowboys.
“My mom is my father figure,” he said. She would tell him: “Be a leader, not a follower. Just because your friends do something, you don’t have to.”
From his grandmother he learned that “no matter what obstacle you face, keep battling.”
And that’s what he was doing in the Cowboy’s training camp. He wasn’t in jail, which is what happens to too many young men who are raised without fathers – and without a supportive “tribe.”
Instead, he was putting his work ethic on display. Dallas Cowboy’s head coach, Jason Garrett, said of him: “He was one of those players that got better before your eyes.”