Men who do get involved in the betterment of boys' lives for positive and healthy reasons need some measure of courage to do so, especially if they are not married with sons of their own. Some do so as part of their community and in addition to the activities within their own families. Others may devote most or all of their lives and creative energy to working and associating with boys, in effect following an alternative lifestyle as compared with mainstream society. Both of these approaches have their positive aspects and, especially in contemporary society (early XXI century), their problems.
I outlined this idea in an invited paper I presented to a conference on paedophilia in 1987, attended only by invited professionals and researchers in the field. The response to this notion of an attraction to boys that was not the same as paedophilia was mixed. Such an attraction is not paedophilia (though paedophiles may well exhibit the same behavior as part of their involvement with underage people). In the early XX century society was able to see the difference. Paedophiles, when exposed, suffered legal and social consequences, and those who loved and nurtured boys without taint of scandal were respected and admired.
Until recently, women's involvement with the development of boys faded into the background when the boys entered puberty. At that point, men became more involved, through apprenticeship, high-school teaching, sponsorship of boys social groups outside school and general mentoring. Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouting movement, said in his manual, which many considered the "Bible" of scouting, that "Manliness can only be taught by men" (Scouting for Boys, 1908, p.301. That view seemed unquestionably right at the time. To say the least, it would not "fly" today, though many mothers as well as fathers still believe it to be true.
The custom of the late XX and now the XXI century is that women need to be involved in child and adolescent development at all stages. So far so good. Women do need to be involved, and not just in the home as was the custom in former times. Unfortunately, the rapid rise to prominence of women in our society has offered only an either-or choice, and right now the choice tends to be women only for most positions that deal with education, child and adolescent medicine, day care and tutoring. The virtual exclusion of men from these opportunities provides women with an unfair "advantage" of influencing growing youth in ways that may be limiting and narrow as far as growing boys are concerned. This likely will change and find balance in the long run; for now, however, the consequences of growing up in a women-only world are largely unknown and probably not optimal, given that society (obviously) consists of both women and men.
Another characteristic of very recent decades has been the obsession of society with paedophilia, more precisely the obsession with demonizing those who seem to show a special interest in children and adolescents. Laws against sexual contact between adults and under-age persons have been around for as long as anyone living today can remember. People nonetheless press for more and more laws to rid society of the scourge, as if it really were something that could be exterminated.
If we take a few steps back and re-visit the world of 100 years ago, we can see that men who showed a special interest in children and adolescents often were praised and respected. Charles Dickens was able to write, "I love these little people [children], and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us" (The Old Curiosity Shop, 1841).
A.G. Spalding's 1921 guide to Camps and Camping used the term "boy-lover" in describing his ideal camp counselor. He wrote that one of the reasons for becoming a counselor was "the pleasure of mingling with boys" (p.120), and that "My counselor must have a genuine love for boys. If he be a real boy-lover, he will have some boy friends" (p.122).
Today's skeptic likely would view expressions like these as inappropriate, and some would even wonder out loud if the men who said such things were child molesters. Anyone reacting in this way is guilty at least of ignorance, if not revisionist history. We cannot judge the customs and activities of former times by the standards of today.
A case in point is the widespread social queasiness over the many expressions of love for children, and frequent association with boys in childhood and early adolescence by Michael Jackson throughout his adult life. He often said that he liked being with children because he was still in part a child himself, having missed out on an otherwise normal childhood due to his career taking off when he was only about ten years old. There are many people who will always believe that his motives were less than honorable, even though authorities failed in several passionate attempts to prove any wrongdoing.
Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State University, in a telephone interview broadcast on television soon after he was indicted in late 2011 and in subsequent on-camera interviews, defended himself as being someone who enjoys being with young people. Some friends and colleagues described him as a just a "big kid" himself. Sandusky's situation is very different, as he has been charged with multiple crimes of sexual contact with minors which, if proven, are inexcusable. Still, his defense in the interview, and the description of him offered by others who knew him, are not unheard of in other men who never act inappropriately. Can society separate expressions of attraction and even love from the suspicious assumption of ulterior motives? They could in the early XX century and earlier. Maybe not today, at least right now.
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© Gerald Jones, Ph.D. [firstname.lastname@example.org]