My best friend and I were sitting at her kitchen table having coffee. The TV news was probably on in the background because Rose never wanted to be too far away from events in the larger world. It was 1977 and the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution, which guaranteed women equality of rights under the law, was still lacking the three states necessary for its ratification.
Feminists to the core, Rose and I had focused on “women’s issues.” She’d traveled by bus to various marches for the amendment while I had founded a Center for Co-Equal Education consulting with school districts across Nebraska as they implemented Title IX. Through an Educational Equity grant we worked with community colleges in rural areas, as they addressed the needs of women students. Back home in Lincoln NE, we frequently stood up to church and neighborhood organizations intent on turning back the clock to a simpler, more unequal time.
But in this private moment we were talking about our sons. Mine was in junior high, and hers in high school. They seemed to be floundering. We had raised them to be feminists; to respect women, to know how to cook a meal, to not be afraid to show love and tenderness toward younger children, and to not think it would challenge their manhood to do dishes or their own laundry. Despite our efforts, we saw our sons being raised by their peer group – the neighborhood boys.
David had gotten into alcohol and drugs and was exhibiting the irresponsible behavior that that life style brings about. My son Kevin was experimenting with smoking pot with his classmates on the school grounds. In spite of the large cloud of smoke wafting each morning from the low hanging branches of the largest tree in the schoolyard, I couldn’t get anyone in authority to take notice. In the standards of that day, they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t tobacco that the 12 to 14 year old kids were smoking, so they elected to look the other way.
Rose and I finally came to an uncomfortable but undeniable truth. She said it out loud. “We can teach our sons many things but we cannot teach them how to be men. Their fathers and other men have to do that.”
So here we are, some thirty years later, and I am thrilled to meet some grown men in the Pittsburgh community who are taking steps to do just that. Their organization is a chapter of one founded by African American men in Omaha NE in the early 80s. Its full name is Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder, but their short handle is Mad Dads. http://www.pittsburghmaddads.org/about-maddads.html.
Their mission is to train and guide men to impact the issue of drugs, gangs and violence. They go unarmed on street patrols as surrogate parents, work with law enforcement and provide support to the women who are raising their children without a father or grandfather in the home. Their aim is to make their neighborhoods safer by becoming the force behind the change they want to see.
And as often happens, when the time arrives for a truth to be accepted, whole communities begin to take action. This March several organizations in our community that have funded services to deal with domestic violence are calling on the good guys in our community for help. They’re sponsoring Man-Up: A Men’s Leadership Program March 14th at the University Club 9 am – 11:30 am. Call Sue at 412 456-5550 or firstname.lastname@example.org