In Defense of Boyhood

Introducing The Better Days Books Series of Growing Up Great Guides For American Boys (and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them)

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The statistics on American kids raised in single parent households are atrocious. Here’s a sampling pulled randomly off the WWWeb:

  • An estimated 24.7 million children (36.3%) live absent their biological father.
  • . Currently, 57.7 percent of all black children, 31.8 percent of all Hispanic children, and 20.9 percent of all white children are living in single-parent homes.
  • . The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse”
  • . Children who live apart from their fathers are 4.3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes as teenagers than children growing up with their fathers in the home.
  • . Children in single-parent families are two to three times as likely as children in two-parent families to have emotional and behavioral problems.
  • . Three out of four teenage suicides occur in households where a parent has been absent.
  • . In studies involving over 25,000 children using nationally representative data sets, children who lived with only one parent had lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, poor attendance records, and higher drop out rates than students who lived with both parents.

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I was raised in a single parent household, just me, my brother, my sister and my mom, in a small town during the 1960s and ’70s – a time and a place in which “broken homes” like ours were very much the stigmatizing “exception,” rather than the socially acceptable “rule” they have become today. Yet I managed to avoid nearly all of the long term statistical horrors associated with “fatherlessness” (I did smoke for a decade or so, but quit for good about 10 years ago). Many factors contributed to my unlikely success in life, beginning with my very strong and proud mother’s wise decision to relocate our family to the safe environment of a Midwestern small town when it became apparent that her marriage was crumbling. She brought us to church every Sunday, and made sure we stayed supportively embedded in uplifting community activities, from Scouting to Junior Achievement to the school band and church choir. Yet, for all her efforts, being a “fatherless son” was very difficult for me, as it remains for many millions of boys today. Mom worked her tail off raising my brother and me, and I give her all the credit in the world for that. But there was one thing that, no matter how she tried, she simply could not be to or provide for us, and that is a worthwhile male role model. She gave us a stable home, food, clothing, a solid moral upbringing, love… But when it came to understanding deep down inside what it meant to be boys, and what we were destined to become as men, we were, of necessity, on our own.
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Two books had a profound formative influence on my young mind in this regard.
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The most influential by far was my trusty Boy Scout Handbook, which, because we were poor, I had to acquire used – a financial burden which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. During the 1970s, about the time I was most involved in Scouting, the BSA “softened” the classic handbook to focus more on “social issues” (similar to the devolution in public schools at about the same time of good, old-fashioned, citizen-building “American History” into namby-pamby, world-beat globalist New Age “Social Studies”), thereby, it was hoped, to make Scouting more attractive to city kids with little access to wilderness or interest in the pleasures of the Great Outdoors. My family’s poverty blessed me to enter my Scouting years holding one of the last 1960s editions of the BSA manual to emphasize wilderness woodcraft and an unapologetic “un-feminized” ideal of manly virtue. That ideal, more than any other “outside influence,” successfully safeguarded me from doing anything too outlandishly stupid or self-destructive during my typical teenage “rebellious years,” and provided a safe and sturdy foundation to return to as an adult when it came time to become a good “grown up” citizen, husband and father to my own young son. The prime motive driving the worldwide Scouting movement from its inception in the early 1900s has always been the desire to provide boys with a reliable roadmap to upright manhood and, in my humble opinion, even with the New Age “dumbing down” the movement has suffered at the hands of the social upheavals of the “flower-power” Sixties, it still does a better job of achieving that goal than any other organization on the planet.
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Where my 1960s version of the Boy Scout Handbook provided me a clear image of virile manhood and the path to its successful achievement, another book (which I actually encountered first, around the age of ten) profoundly informed my understanding of what it meant to be a boy, just for the sake of being a male kid in America, always on the lookout for something fun to do. This second formative volume I recall as bearing the title 1001 Things For Boys To Do – though I am almost certain now that that was not the actual title of the book, as I have searched high and low for more than three decades and have never found a single reference to that title anywhere. The copy I read, re-read and painstakingly referenced every long hot summer between the ages of ten and thirteen or so was a dark blue, hardbound library book with yellowing, tattered pages and a spine that had been taped and re-taped a hundred times since its original publication in 1912. This robust treasure of a book contained literally 1001 short articles, first published in late 19th Century newspapers, showing boys how to do everything from building rafts and tree houses and first rate, working catapults, to playing baseball, shooting marbles, and making snowshoes, snow forts and sleds. Every imaginable pursuit that an honest, physically active boy could even dream of devoting himself to in the freedom of summer was in that book somewhere, and my brother and I and a few select friends took turns checking it out of the library all summer long, passing it around our little cadre, actually building the miracle devices inside, catapulting rocks and sticks and hand-sharpened 2X4’s halfway to Timbuktu, and living out a timeless adventure of boyhood unconstrained by modern Feminist notions of “acceptable male behavior.” Nowadays we would probably be diagnosed ADD, put on Ritalin, and warehoused for the convenience of society. Back then, in our 1970s small town freedom, we just had fun!
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When I came across 1001 Things For Boys To Do in the library stacks around the tender age of ten or so, I was actively seeking keys for unlocking the mystery of my own maleness, though I don’t imagine I thought about it quite that way at the time. My favorite magazine was Boys’ Life, my favorite book series Danny Dunn: Boy Scientist. I read everything I could find with that magical word boy in the tile, searching for clues my absent Dad wasn’t there to provide regarding what a regular small town boy like me ought to be thinking about, feeling, doing, believing. The opening lines of 1001 Things For Boys To Do came as a revelation, impressing their romantic image of Real American Boyhood onto my young heart and mind with the force of an inexplicable boulder dropping out of a clear blue sky. Writing nostalgically of the 19th Century ideal of childhood (the articles in 1001 Things For Boys To Do were already old when compiled for publication as a book in 1912), the author described how, while girls of the era spent the bulk of their childhood years confined to the home and to “finishing schools” where they learned to serve tea and make polite conversation, 19th Century American boys were considered “wild Indians” (the actual words used, no “political incorrectness” intended…), uncontrollable forces of nature with the wilderness inside them, who were best left to run wild through forest and field, to beat each other bloody and fire arrows at one another from homemade bows, to build makeshift cabins with nothing but a hatchet and to float whitewater rapids hugging lightning-felled trees. Those weren’t the exact words, which I won’t pretend to remember now (except for the “wild Indians” part, which I do remember quite clearly), but that was the gist of the image that so fired my imagination and transfigured my burgeoning sense of identity as a young American male, and which blasted open the door to my unrepentant embrace of the kind of full-throttle, vigorous boyhood on which all manhood worth the title is built.
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This once-universally-accepted equation of boyhood with wilderness, and the reverent acknowledgment of a deep and natural wildness innate to all boys everywhere, a feral fire that not only should not be extinguished but which ought to be nurtured, is a concept that has been turned on its head by our modern Feminized, New Age culture and educational system. The irrepressibly vibrant (and even occasionally violent) physical, mental and emotional exuberance considered natural, and even necessary to healthy human boyhood, not only during the 19th Century, but for thousands upon thousands of years in every culture on Earth, has been redefined in our time as illness, as mental aberration (usually Attention Deficit Disorder or one of its variants), as “emotional and behavioral problems” to be diagnosed by a professional and drugged into submission. In a society that defines natural youthful male behavior as deviant and “treatable,” a Real American Boy doesn’t stand a chance…
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Unless, of course, he has good parents willing to stand up for him against our sissified culture; unless he has caring teachers prepared to face down an entrenched educational bureaucracy; unless he possesses the individual strength of will to swim hard against the current of a society bent on breaking his spirit – or, preferably, a bit of each working together in combination. And he, his good parents and his daring teachers all need access to clear guidance from the past, to an accessible vision of traditional boyhood as exemplified in books like 1001 Things For Boys To Do and the pre-1970s Boy Scout Handbook, works composed in and for a time of genuine insight into the true nature of boyhood, uncontaminated by the misconceived Feminist psychobabble of the last 30 years.
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Which is where I am proud to make my stand, and where Better Days Books has an exciting role to play in the defense of boyhood in our time.
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As explored in this blog’s opening salvo How the 1960s Ruined America (look for it in the “posts” menu on the right if you haven’t read it already), one of the primary goals of Better Days Books is “The Preservation and Renewal of Traditional Boyhood.” Resurrecting the spirit of boyhood as reflected in 1001 Things For Boys To Do, and the path to manhood as described in old Boy Scout Handbooks is exactly what I mean by that. Toward this end, I have created a Better Days Books series generally subtitled Growing Up Great Guides For American Boys (and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), drawing from the very best works of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, along a range of subjects related to boys and boyhood including sports, morals, healthy living, patriotism and traditional manly virtue. There will be many more titles to come in this series, and the range of topics will surely expand, but in this article I want to introduce you to what’s currently available. I will update this entry as new titles are released.
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You Can Be A Great American!

You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness
By W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith
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Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.
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You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.
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Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.
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Healthful Sports for Boys

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Healthful Sports For Boys: The American Boy’s Ultimate Guide to Building Confidence, Strength and Good Moral Character Through Sports, Games, Camping, Boating, Swimming, Cycling, Skating, Sledding, Sleight of Hand Magic and More!
By Alfred Rochefort
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Originally published in 1910, Alfred Rochefort’s Healthful Sports For Boys is an optimistic “Can Do!” prescription for the kind of vigorous, competitive, yet thoroughly wholesome boyhood that for more than two centuries has reliably bred great American men of character, courage and good common sense. In our 21st Century, “post-modern” era of video games, virtual reality and “couch potato kids,” Rochefort’s vision of active boys creating fun with their own minds and muscles is a reminder of everything great about boys and about America, and a Clarion Call to a new generation to “get up and get great!” — Before it’s too late!
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Play Ball! Everything You Need to Become the World’s Best Baseball Player

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Play Ball! Everything You Need to Become the World’s Best Baseball Player
By John Montgomery Ward
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First published in 1888, Play Ball! Everything You Need to Become the World’s Best Baseball Player is a classic manual of the Great American Pastime, written by a champion professional ballplayer, team captain and manager. John Montgomery “Monte” Ward was a man of tremendous talent and personal integrity, and a true sports hero for his own time and ours.
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This latest Better Days Books Growing up Great Guide for American Boys is a practical and inspiring beginner’s guide to understanding the “nuts and bolts” of America’s favorite game (the rules, the layout of the field, the domain and duties of each position, etc.), and an indispensible handbook aspiring stars of the field, mound and batter’s box can employ toward the achievement of their highest potential as players. Includes valuable tips on training and diet, how and when to steal bases (and how to know when to stay put!), the mechanics of pitching an unhittable curve ball and more!
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Camping for Boys: A Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys, and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them, by H. W. Gibson

Originally published in 1913, Camping for Boys is a classic “… handbook of suggestions for those in charge of camps for boys and for boys who go camping…” based on H. W. Gibson’s 23 years of experience in the late 19th and early 20th Century “boys’ camp movement,” out of which arose such positive, character and culture-shaping organizations as the Boy Scouts of America. While aimed chiefly at leaders planning camp activities for groups of six to one hundred boys (especially Christian leaders hoping to build youthful character with an inspiring blend of outdoor fun, Bible study and Traditional moral instruction), Camping for Boys includes a treasure trove of exciting woodcraft lore sure to thrill every red-blooded American boy, with instructions for building tents and lean-to’s, making – and using! – real bows and arrows, etc., along with useful lessons in Camp Cooking, Personal Hygiene, First Aid, Athletics, Games, Nature Study, Weather Forecasting and much, much more!

Camping for Boys: A Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys, and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them. What for sample chapters as independent blog posts, probably already there in the right hand menu by the time you read these words! Thanks!

The Age of Chivalry

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The Age of Chivalry
By Thomas Bullfinch
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In a time when traditional manly virtues like courage, perseverance, loyalty, honor, the importance of physical strength and martial skill, and (dare we say it!) true, selfless Chivalry have been all but forgotten by American society, there can be no better role model for contemporary boys than the great historical and legendary figure of Arthur, King of the Britons.
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This classic collection of Arthurian Tales includes both the complete British adventures of King Arthur and His Knights and their generally more mysterious Welsh counterparts, as recounted in the Mabinogeon. Here, also, are the sagas of many great heroes of the British race, including the Danish monster-slayer, Beowulf, Cuchulain, the Champion of Ireland, and the beloved Anglo-Saxon archer/bandit/hero, Robin Hood. Recounted as exciting adventure stories, in plain English, Thomas Bulfinch’s The Age Of Chivalry is the most complete – and inspirational – compilation of Arthurian lore available in this or any age.
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You’ll find the table of contents and a free sample chapter from each of the books above posted in the “pages” section in the right hand menu bar. Enjoy!
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Thank you for reading! Please help save our boys and, through them, the future of our nation! Support Better Days Books! And tell a friend about this blog!
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Samuel F. W. Alger
3/26/2008

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1 Comment

Filed under america, american culture, american history, antiquarian, books, conservatism, conservative, culture, homestead, Uncategorized

One response to “In Defense of Boyhood

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