If you missed the explanation for what I was doing in juvi (serving kids, not time. I’m interesting, but not that interesting!), you should check out Part 1 Johnny Cash Was Right.
Today I want to talk about the uncle problem. Of all the kids I met at juvi, I can hardly think of more than a hand full who had a father in their life. And as everyone thinks they know, the solution to raising a boy without a man around is to find him alternative male role models. Because that’s all a boy needs a father for – to role model, dontchano? (Deep sarcasm here.) So. many of these kids moms had turned to their brothers to fill that role. Problem fixed, right? Yeah, except that over and over and over again as I talked to these boys I heard stories of uncles who helped them join gangs, gave them spending change for running “packages” around the neighborhood for them, given them drugs and alcohol, hooked them up with women – often females seeking intitiation into their gangs. You name it, uncles brought it. I mentioned it in my post about fatherlessness, but one of the worst stories I ever heard came from a boy who had been given drugs starting at age 5 by uncles who thought it was funny to see a little kid stoned.
You see, most people assume that kids wind up in juvi because they don’t know right from wrong. However, nearly all the kids I met had people in their lives – usually a mom or grandma or even a teacher – who went to great pains to try to teach their kids right from wrong. The methods they used often obliterated any good their instructions could have done of course, but that’s for tomorrow’s post. For now my point is simply that these kids had people around them who were earnestly trying to keep them from getting into trouble.* Now, given the tactics that a lot of these people used and the poor schools and poverty, these kids never did have a good shot at becoming fine, respectable, upstanding citizens. But add a ne’er-do-well uncle into the picture and a trip through juvi became all but guaranteed.
So, the second thing I learned in juvi is that if you are a single mom looking for a role model for your boy, skip your brothers. Unless your brother has a graduate degree, is married with a mortgage and their own kids, or speaks a second language (“gansta” doesn’t count) in which case it should be fine. But if you are living in a high crime area and your brother has hand and neck tattoo’s with words that only those in the know can read, your kid probably won’t benefit from having him as a role model. I know it’s hard to believe, but trust me on this one.
*I have heard from people working with kids these days that they do see a lot of parent’s teaching their kids to be dishonest, unwilling to work, violent, etc. I was volunteering in the early 90s when people working with at-risk kids were becoming increasingly alarmed at the number of kids they were seeing who had nothing resembling a conscious – as in they simply didn’t care if something was right or wrong. This could be traced mostly to abuse and infant neglect. And those people would be the parents who are now actively teaching their kids to reject decent standards of right and wrong. But when I was volunteering, I don’t think things were quite that far gone.
BTW, Today is my birthday! Only 123 years to go until I’m as old as my 6 year old thinks I am! If you are looking for a gift for me on this very special day, buying a copy of my book The Upside Down World ~ A Book of Wisdom in Progress would be just perfect. For both of us.