THE BLOG

Men and Boys in the Woods

06/03/2014 17:07 GMT | Updated 06/05/2014 10:59 BST

Recently, a friend of mine told a woman about his work cutting and carving wood. He wanted to share these skills with children and young adults, particularly boys. She felt such work was open to misinterpretation, and could be seen as 'dodgy', advising him not to take that path. My friend was upset by this remark as he felt it was his calling.

I told this to a male friend, he agreed with the sentiments of the woman, adding men had been such bastards over the last millennia they deserve such suspicion. I can't agree.

I believe it reflects a common confusion between 'men' and a 'man'. Men have been dominant, powerful and tyrannical for a long time, and many have become paedophiles and abused children. However, this doesn't logically mean a man will become one. If a man gets into a car and drives, it doesn't mean inevitably he will drive recklessly and kill someone. Lots of men have driven recklessly.

In this age of computers and mobile phones, some of the most popular complaints include, ' my children won't leave the bedroom', 'they don't play outside any more', and 'they don't get any exercise.' Working with wood enables us to fully use our opposable thumbs, stretches our imagination, is mostly an outdoor activity, can be combined with lessons about the natural world, and so much more.

In this age of peer culture and absent fathers, some of the most popular complaints include, 'he doesn't have any friends', 'he has no social skills', and 'he doesn't have any good male role models'. By working with older men, younger men and women can be taught how to interact sociably, and it may well give them a much deeper perspective on life.

Working with wood has health and safety issues, and these need to be adhered to and obeyed. As restrictions on the behaviour and contact between teachers and pupils are there for everyone's security. Given those restrictions there are still plenty of activities which will make a positive change in people's lives.

Working with wood is a positive example. If men want to share their skills with young people we should encourage them to, not treat them with suspicion. The greater tragedy for me is how many good men are not working with children because of these views? I think a large number, and society as a whole is a lot worse off as a consequence.

My advice to my friend was 'feel the grief and do it any way'. This included grief for all those men who have abused their responsibilities, and a grief for all those children and young people affected by such abuse. Grief for those of us who immediately assume the worst rather than the best in such circumstances. A grief for all the men who could do this type of activity, but felt judged and were unable to do it. A grief for all the young people consequently losing out on outdoor healthy activities. A grief for the generations who have disconnected to such simple work practices. A grief for his own lack of self esteem and worth.

It is a very sorry state we live in when a wish to help young people is instantly assumed to be malign. I absolutely know where it comes from, and have a huge amount of sympathy for it. But, I know I must support and encourage men to challenge the assumptions, they will provide positive male role models which buck the trend, and show all of us better ways are possible.