June 17, 2017

A Father’s Day Lesson, as taught by Elephants.

“Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.” ~ Bertolt Brecht


It is Father’s Day again.

As a single mother, it would be convenient for me to be able to dismiss the value of a strong male role model. But I can’t.

The presence and absence of a father has an impact on their children, the magnitude of which depends upon a lot of things—including the father himself.

Turns out this is true for elephants too.

Decades ago, because of elephant overcrowding at Kruger National Park in South Africa, park management separated out the child elephants to other parks. They wanted to move entire elephant families, but couldn’t figure out how to transport the larger adult elephants. So, they just moved the children and killed the adult elephants.

Decades after the elephant families were “broken,” Pillanesburg Park experienced mass murders of rhinos. When they investigated, they found that juvenile male elephants were to blame, not poachers.

The young male elephants had no strong male role models to teach them how to behave. And when left to themselves, they became angry, barbaric murderers.

One of the park ecologists, Gus van Dyk, said, “I think everyone needs a role model, and these elephants that left the herd had no role model and no idea of what appropriate elephant behavior was.”

The solution: Bring in virile, older male elephants.

This is somewhat surprising, as elephant families tend to be run by the females of the pack. Elephant fathers are not intimately involved in raising their children, and some even leave their families to become loners.

Even so, park management believed the juvenile male elephants needed male role models to establish a new hierarchy. And they were right: once the new males were introduced to the parks, the tribes calmed down and there were no more murders.

The absence of fathers is detrimental to human children as well. An article by Dr. Edward Kruk in Psychology Today listed the following negative effects of the absent fathers:

>> Diminished self-image, and weak physical and emotional security

>> Behavioral problems including difficulty making friends

>> Truancy and poor academic performance

>> Delinquency and crime (85% of youth in prison have an absent father)

>> Promiscuity and teen pregnancy

>> Drug and alcohol abuse

Both the “60 Minutes” story and Dr. Kruk’s article suggest that the presence or absence of male role models affects the well-being of children—as well as society as a whole.

This reality influenced my dating life after divorce. At my age, the dating pool is full of men with grown children. They are typically not interested in helping raise someone else’s children—which narrows the dating pool significantly.

When I did date, I was conscious of the views and mannerisms of the men. After all, any one of them could have become a living, breathing example about how men should interact with the world to my children .

And in my experience, one of the primary ways that children learn is through example. If you don’t walk your talk, they will sniff you out in a second.

So what did I look for in a date?

>> Kindness. Not just to me, but to every being.

>> Compassion. Interest in helping others—without any expected payback.

>> Prioritization of his children above all else. And understanding when I do the same.

>> Integrity and honesty. A non-negotiable for me was cheating. If he had cheated on his wife, I wouldn’t date him. For if he cheated once, he might cheat again—and not just on me, but in other areas of life.

>> Emotionally aware. An understanding of how emotions impact actions and a desire to evolve.

>> Hard-working. Interested in doing his best, even under difficult conditions

>> Confidence and resiliency. Ability to step into difficult situations (like dating a working mother with two teenage children) and withstand an occasional knockdown.

Looking for all these attributes made my dating life more difficult; it was almost like searching for a magical unicorn. But I found one —and turns out he was looking for a nurturing female role model for his children, too.

So, when celebrating Father’s Day this Sunday, be thankful for all the positive male role models in your life—many of whom might be fathers. Use this holiday to consider new ways to grant your children access to strong male role models through family members, significant others, or other avenues (like teachers, coaches, or Big Brothers).

The universe may be better because of it.

Just ask the elephants.

“For me, a male role model would be a man who, despite holding a leadership position, has the courage to say he wants to reschedule a 7 p.m. meeting because he’d really like to be able to put his son to bed.” ~ Kristina Schroder



Author: Donna Yates Kling
Image: Tobin Rogers/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton
Supervising Editor: Danielle Beutell
Supervising Editor 2: Yoli Ramazzina

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