Melvyn Davis is manager of the boys2men project in North London, which aims to ease the transitions from boyhood to adulthood and on to fatherhood. Many of the boys included in the project are deeply disaffected. Most have little or no contact with their natural fathers and have had a negative experience of male role models.
One of the things we do is to provide male mentors for these boys. The vast majority come from families where the father is either completely absent or inconsistent in his contact. This means that most of the nurturing is done through the mother.
“Many boys therefore struggle to find their own male identity. They don’t get it from their mother, or from their teachers at primary school, who will probably be female. Often secondary school is the first time they have met a male in a responsible role. The result is that they get a very unrealistic view of what being a man is about. It comes through the media or through music. They see someone like 50 Cent, who’s taken nine bullets and has this sort of superhuman image that becomes the embodiment of being a man. It’s a very machismo image.
“We also work with the boys’ mothers, which is vital. From a very early age these boys are challenging their mothers and women in authority. Very often the mother is made to feel she is failing. Women are not valued as much as men. It’s not articulated as that, but that’s how it works.
“It’s very difficult for single mothers to find a good role model for their boys because they may not want another relationship. Where can they go without compromising themselves? That’s where we come in.
“We work with the concept of what it means to be a man. We try to show that you can be a man and still be reliable and educated. Self-esteem is the bedrock of what makes a good person, and you can build your identity on that.”