October 24, 2010

Banged Up Boys, Boats, and Masculine Gravity

I still remember the smell of sawdust that hit me when I entered my first woodworking shop. I'm an older man and I attended that class way back in the day when "shop" was what the boys did in elementary school while the girls were baking cookies upstairs. The shop teacher, Mr. Alexander, was a burly man's man and he ruled his domain with an attitude of competence, and a powerful respect for the danger and creative power of his tools.

The wood shop held about eight work benches, saws, hammers, and what appeared to me to be lots of generally strange and dangerous stuff. After learning the rules of working around all the equipment, we were introduced to a pattern of the object we were to create from the pile of the lumber in the corner. After studying that map, we proceeded to learn about wood, measuring, sawing, sandpaper, screws, staining, and all the tools required for those tasks. I'm sure you can imagine the chaos that ensued.

That experience remains a happy memory today, and I still have and use the little footstool that resulted from my time in that class. Mr. Alexander's shop was one of my early introductions to the world of men. It had a powerful impact on my self-esteem and 11-year-old sense of what it meant to be a man.

For most young males, working with tools of any kind is a doorway into the world of men. In this post I want to describe the wonderful chemistry that can happen when a man takes the risk to share his shop, workbench, tools, and his experience with boys. While this work can take many forms, both of these stories have to do with boats.

The first is about what happened to John Connell, a man who loves restoring old canoes. John was a teacher in a school that featured alternative educational programs for what he calls “banged up kids.” “We had an open house and a guy asked if I wanted an old canoe for the kids to work on,” he said. From that moment on, John's life and the lives of many kids were changed forever. You can read the whole story at this link. As you might guess, John is about building good kids as much as canoes. He says, “A canoe can be a vehicle to learn about work, authority, and initiation,” he said. “The kids find pride and accomplishment in finishing a boat.”

Another man, Brad Buxton, had some men friends that were passionate about wooden boats. They eventually decided that their interest in the craft would be a good thing to share with young men. They managed to get some shop space donated at a shopping center and started inviting other men and boys. It is now 15 years later and Urban Boat Builders (UBB) is a not-for-profit organization that has served 2,700+ teens, interacted with 38 juvenile justice programs, public schools, charter schools and neighborhood organizations, and now has over 175+ wooden boats built ranging from 9' long to 25' long. You can learn more about UBB on their website.

If you are a man with a passion for tools, or stamps, or birds, or hunting, or ?????, consider taking the risk to share it with a group of young guys. What I call Masculine Gravity may just take over and result in many lives, including yours, being changed forever.

Do you have a story about a man who shared his interests with you when you were a kid? If you're willing, please do send it along to me, or add it to the comments section of this post.

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