Giving Dads Help They Need to Be Involved and Battle "Guy Code"
Updated: Jan 6
Guest Post by Neil Tift
DCG DADvisor, Outreach Project Dir, Native American Fatherhood & Families Association
"I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence – both in my life and the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole that a man leaves when he abandons his responsibilities to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference." ~President Barack Obama
Have you ever noticed how many great resources there are for moms in the US? Lots of programs like Maternal and Child Health, WIC (Women, Infants & Children), and Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies are funded through all levels of government and community organizations. They clearly benefit mothers providing needed supports for families.
Have you ever noticed how few resources are provided for dads? And those rare government programs that do exist tend to focus upon dad deficits. Child Support Enforcement, Department of Corrections, Probation and Parole, anger management, domestic violence and batterer intervention, and Child Protection Services are examples.
Considering this disparity, one would think growing up with a troubled dad or without a dad might condemn a child to repeat the cycle of poverty and hard knocks. But consider again President Obama's words above and you'll see that, with the right support, the cycle can be broken.
In any case, dads are important in their presence and their absence.
There is a vast amount of research that documents how much better off children, mothers, and families are when fathers and children are positively involved in each others' lives. So, the more deliberate steps that can be made to remove obstacles the better. This is one reason why I have been working to create and operate fathers' programs for 30 years now and I continue to recruit other professionals to enhance opportunities for fathers to be the kind of fathers their children need. Actually, that's been our motto.
Unfortunately, too many American fathers are reluctant to seek assistance to meet a wide range of their essential medical, emotional, educational, social, or parental needs.
I propose that a major reason for this tendency is the perpetuation of a stereotypical "guy code," which boys often pick up in sandboxes, playgrounds, classrooms, camps, scout troops, gyms, places of worship, locker rooms, clubhouses, and informal hangouts. Boys also learn this "guy code" from and have it reinforced by their parents, buddies, coaches, the media, teachers, the streets, and just about everyone else. From an early age, boys face clear – and too often dangerous – consequences if they fail to live by this code.
As they grow older, enforcement and reinforcement of the "guy code" intensifies in school, the workplace, gangs, fraternity houses, sports participation, the military, politics, faith communities, friendships, sports fandom, the entertainment industry, and many other areas.
Most guys just absorb the code. To be clear, there are both positive and harmful elements of the code. An important task is to sift through these and promote the good content while discouraging the unhealthy.
Most guys don't have to tell one another about urinal etiquette, dating your buddy's ex (never OK), or hugs and fist bumps. We just know it. We exhibit wingman responsibilities when out in public and we honor our debts and dares (even those made while under the influence of "guy drinks" – never wine coolers).
Some of the unhealthy elements of this code tell men and fathers that they must be strong and silent, never whine, don't ask for help. To "man up," and do what they believe they need to do without complaining. The result? So many men hide – and lose contact with – essential elements of their human-ness behind what author Jackson Katz calls a "tough guise."
Fortunately, an increasing number of men today are learning to resist the downside of the guy code and engage more fully with their families. As fathers, we must encourage this growing trend and promote the growth of programs and services for fathers in our communities. We can share and display our perspective of the guy code with our sons and daughters and their peers.
We can call out those who try to emasculate men and fathers who live by the positive practices of the guy code: to protect those we care about, to respect girls, women, and other males, to challenge bullying behavior, and to honor family and country.
When fathers have the resources to step up to the plate and be the kind of father their children need, we all benefit.
Neil Tift, MA, and his wife Denise have been foster parents of children and then adults for the past 25 years and provide training to foster parents and ADH providers. He is a family mediator, college instructor, parent educator, game developer, birth father, adoptive father, foster father, and grandfather. For more than 40 years, Neil has worked with at-risk clients, and he has established programs for low-income fathers in Minnesota, Maryland, and Arizona for the past 30. Currently, Neil is Outreach Project Director for the Native American Fatherhood & Families Association in Mesa Arizona.