As busy as people get, we’ve gone a long way to subcontracting and outsourcing many family functions. Cleaning house, yardwork, food preparation and even aspects of childrearing – apart from daycare, think Gymboree in lieu of the old-fashioned playgroup – have all been privatized as parents seek ways to keep the kids covered while they either work or, in extreme cases, just don’t bother. But there activities that thrive only with the input of volunteers and it’s here that fathers can and must step up, especially scouting and sports.
Through our history, almost everything having to do with the children has been the purview of mothers. But as they’re stretched further with work, other areas have to necessarily suffer and some of the obvious areas, like housework and childcare, have seen fathers step up accordingly. But one of the areas that hasn’t seen as much is volunteering. Men simply aren’t as gifted at multitasking as women, and there’s still considerable fear amongst many guys that they aren’t as good with the kids as women. Men are obviously becoming more comfortable with their own children but that hasn’t always carried over to working with and managing Opies – Other People’s Kids. But the reality is two-fold:
- Many worthwhile activities and organizations simply cannot survive without an active volunteer cadre to carry the load;
- With as many broken families and absentee fathers, there’s a true need for fathers to serve as role models for kids.
The obvious start is to stick with what you know. What sports did you play when you were younger? What were your activities apart from sports, such as scouting or hunting and camping? These kinds of things in and of themselves give you a leg up as a volunteer with kids. My youngest has taken to baseball and it’s fascinating to watch the fathers involved with the teams. While the head coach of his most recent team never played as a kid, he’s comfortable with kids and a number of other fathers – all of whom played – stepped in to assist with the position drills and practices. This goes with whether the sports are for boys or girls as the key is to provide a steady, stable and authoritative presence for the kids.
If you don’t have any particular sporting experience, you can still step up. As I mentioned, Youngest’s baseball coach had no experience as a kid but stepped in when his child was a beginner and learned over the years with his son. It’s likewise been the case with my daughter’s soccer teams, many of whom were coached by adults with no real experience. The case of soccer will probably change as time passes as the game becomes more popular and played in this country. Regardless, these are all individuals who started when the kids were little and learned along with them and as is often the case, if you don’t announce that you have no experience, the kids will never know the difference. If the adults can tell the difference and complain, then screw ’em – they should be out there doing it instead of grousing about you.
There is one area which makes men uncomfortable – me included – and that pertains to girl scouting. The only time that I’ve declined to become involved is when a desperate scout leader asked if I would be willling to lead a Brownie Troop, and my refusal was on grounds that many parents would be uncomfortable with a man working with little girls. This was borne out by subsequent conversations with female friends whose comments confirmed my suspicions. Both Girl Scouting and Boy Scouting are organizations that have taken the concern for predatory behavior to heart, but there’s still a cultural bias against men taking such an overt role with girls and the Girl Scouting organization itself has established guidelines that highly curtail the interaction of men and girls, such as on camping trips in which any fathers who might choose to come along have to remain a certain distance from the girls’ campsite.
This is another aspect that I believe concerns many men, and that’s the worry about whether they’ll be perceived as predators or face accusations of predatory behavior. It’s a legitimate concern but one that’s easily handled if you exercise some common sense. The Boy Scouts of America require that all leaders take training in their Child Safety Policy and the cornerstone – apart from a mandatory criminal background check – is the practice of the "two deep rule", where no adult leader can be alone with any youth apart from their child. Any meetings or activities require the presence of at least one other adult at all times and that policy carries through to such simple tasks as picking up a child for a meeting or taking the kid home. On multiple occasions, I’ve demurred from taking another kid to an event as it would violate the rule and the other parents have learned to work around that.
The point is this. There’s a chronic need and it’s not just for volunteers, but fathers to step in and take a role. Like I said, if you don’t tell the kids, they’ll never know. They’ll just be glad that you’re there.