I was inspired today by some photos of a male friend who surprised a few kids and shared their school lunch table today. The kids were beaming, huddled close to his strong smile. I see photos a lot, and I have many men friends who are good fathers, but something about one of the photos made me think of mentorship.
As a former foster child, I have spent a good amount of my professional and personal life advocating for the needs of abused children and foster children. Sometimes life gets in the way and I have to work on things that have nothing to do with my passion. I tell myself to do more and more.
I feel a sense of pride when I think I’ve gotten through or helped someone who was in the same situation I was in long ago. I have spent thousands of hours of my life pondering what it is that abused children need to get that extra push motivation to love themselves and enter society as a whole person successfully.
Leadership is always the answer. Since I am a woman who was put in foster care at a young age, my answers for this strength came from within and from becoming a mother myself. My time with mini me is something I am not only proud of, but helped define myself and idea of family in many ways. Male leadership was not part of that equation or so I thought.
I remember one male social worker, who I saw on and off for a couple of years as I visited my real mother. It was a confusing, scary time for me. I was 7 or 8. He would run up to me with a big smile at me and ask me to draw him pictures when I would visit. I spent a lot of time day-dreaming about being friends with that man outside of court visits.
I imagined his wife and children as the luckiest in the world. I had never met a man who was so intelligent, strong, handsome or kind before and at such a young age..it overwhelmed me in many good ways. I thought of him many years after I no longer had pigtails. He was something in the back of my mind through many hard times and formative experiences. He still is sometimes.
But today, it was this friend’s big smiling face..and his excitement and pride at his afternoon with a few innocent children stirred me in a way, that I have not been moved in a long time.
I am ashamed to say that as an adult, I overstepped the gender role in any kind of mentorship. Women are nurturers ( which is why when they abuse we all feel a different sting–shouldn’t women be caring)? But the true nature of a decent man, is one of great strength. He is a pillar of family or social justice in a truly different way than a woman. Not better, but definitely different.
The world of mentorship for abused children or former foster children needs more men. The strength and character that good men can represent and provide is something everyone needs brought to the table.
In other volunteer work I’ve done, I always felt that my role as a woman, was to take care of..provide..help a child or adult up. Women are natural healers. In my volunteer work with service members, I found women in particular to be nurturing caretakers. But the powerful nature of a man in front of a wounded soldier garners strength. This is the same for children who have been abused by men or women.
A man with character, stability, strength can change the world of a scared child or at-risk teen in an afternoon. It gives them something to emulate, it fulfills a need for protection, in a far different way than a woman.
Children who have only known abuse or mistrust, who have been shuffled from home to home, young adults who grew up on the street, soldiers who find themselves alone when the world quiets down…they all need to witness the courage of a man.
A man with self-respect, one who lives honorably to his word, one who stands strong when things fall apart. One who does not run. This is what children in the system lack and need to see desperately.
Several of my readers are social workers, teachers, advocates, mentors…I encourage you to seek out honorable men to steer our country’s greatest asset and give them something to look up to, to follow and to seek out their sense of security.
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