The subbie was a weathered man in his late 50s with big, calloused hands and knobbly knees. His offsider was a skinny, tearaway kid with wraparound sunglasses and a hotted-up Holden. Watching them work at our house over a few weeks was an instructive experience.

They were obviously on good terms with one another, and occasionally there was even a bit of leg-pulling. But there was no doubt about who was the boss. When the older man gave an instruction, it was carried out quickly and cheerfully. And when he explained something, the offsider took it in with a level of concentration he had probably never shown at school.

Like most successful relationships, it was based on self-interest as well as respect. The builder got a keen and an increasingly reliable helper; the young man received a fair wage and priceless experience from someone who knew what he was talking about.

I don’t know whether either of them thought of it that way, but it was a classic case of mentoring — the sort of relationship that Opposition Leader Mark Latham and others believe is needed to address Australia’s so-called crisis in masculinity. Labor has promised to spend $33 million to train and screen 10,000 volunteer mentors by 2006 to help boys as they move into adulthood.

The Federal Government has also jumped on the bandwagon, with Youth Affairs Minister Larry Anthony claiming that the Government is already spending much more than that on mentoring programs.

Like most buzzwords in the internet age, mentoring has taken on a life of its own, and is used in so many contexts that it’s difficult to know exactly what it’s supposed to mean. A quick check of the web reveals that there are now “online mentors,” “telementoring,” “celebrity mentors,” and even a “mentors’ hall of fame”.

Taken from the name of a friend and tutor in Greek mythology, mentoring is usually defined as a long-term beneficial relationship between a young person and an adult. Many of us are able to identify a mentor — usually someone like a teacher, neighbour or relative — who has had a significant positive influence on our lives.

Of course, girls also benefit from mentors, but the common belief is that the breakdown of family life and the decline in the number of male teachers in primary schools has created a shortage of male role models and contributed to boys’ poor performance at school, anti-social behaviour, suicide and other social problems.

In a perfect world, mentoring would be a spontaneous process, with experienced and motivated people readily available in the community for the young people in need of guidance and support. But we have created a society in which keeping to yourself is a virtue and showing an interest in young people can attract suspicion.

Labor has not yet spelt out how its program will work and where the mentors will be drawn from, but Mr Latham imagines they could be business people, sportsmen and women, retirees or public servants.

Presumably, boys from dysfunctional or under-privileged homes will be assigned to a mentor who will be able to provide them with regular guidance as well as being available in times of crises over a number of years.

Any initiative that aims to lessen the difficulties experienced by boys is welcome, but we are overlooking the people tailor-made for mentoring boys: their fathers.

Yes, there are plenty of “deadbeat dads” who don’t want or deserve to have anything to do with their children, but there are also many fathers who desperately want to play a bigger part in their children’s lives and are prevented from doing so because the system is weighted against them. More than a million children in Australia under the age of 18 are living with one parent — usually the mother — and almost one-third of them rarely, or never, see their fathers.

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by Andre Malan, The West Australian.
Photos: NeONBRAND on Unsplash; Pixabay.

About the Author: Guest Writer

Dads4Kids is a harm prevention charity committed to excellence in fathering. Our vision is to transform the nation by inspiring fathers to help their children be the best they can be.There’s a crisis in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 870,000 children, more than 1 in 6, live without their biological father at home.

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