Father's Day reminds us of the importance of strong, healthy male role models in our boys' lives, but locating such men can be daunting task for single moms experiencing hard economic times. For children who do not have fathers, the commercialization of the fatherhood industry and Father's Day have become just another reminder of the things they do not have in life. Sure, every child deserves two healthy, loving parents, and there is no doubt that probably 90 percent of fathers voluntarily play an important role in their child's life, but what if that's just not your child's reality? What if your child's father is unfit, unwilling, or too dangerous to be involved in your child's life?
Children need healthy male role models, but if you are a mother who does not wish to date potential father figures, what are the alternatives?
For some Boston-area children, the panacea is the CYSTEM, a free Cambridge program where dedicated coaches use a unique formula of sports, academics, and discipline to prepare young male student athletes to excel in school, athletics and their social lives.
Coach Tyson Bolling, father of five, originally founded City Youth Sports Training & Education Movement (CYSTEM) in 2008 to provide his undefeated Pop Warner football team with free, year-round support and training. Every Saturday morning, droves of boys flock to the Frisoli Youth Center to train with CYSTEM's talented coaches:
Through sports we are able to teach fair competition, good sportsmanship, personal accountability and a healthy life style. Our student athletes are coached on the ins and outs of the game, from skills and conditioning to sports nutrition and team building.
Unlike some of the dangerous, federally funded fatherhood industry operations I previously wrote about, CYSTEM is funded entirely by independent donations and staffed exclusively by volunteers.
CYSTEM's Sports Media program teaches boys alternative ways to channel their love of the game. In a recent sports media challenge, Rayquan Francisco (age 10) wrote:
"The CYSTEM means a chance to try something new. I learn about what it is like to be a real athlete. I get to experience other people to get better at different sports."
Rayquan refers to the fact that CYSTEM doesn't focus on just one sport, but consists of a core training program, then allows kids to benefit from the expertise of different coaches who specialize in various sports like basketball, baseball, wrestling, football, martial arts, etc.
CYSTEM newbie John Shaw (age 9), wrote that he gave up sleeping in on Saturdays to join CYSTEM because "I like playing sports ... especially football." Rayquan says CYSTEM newbies benefit from learning sports from mentors like four-year veterans Alonzo Vanterpool (age 14) and Jahel (age 12) who traded in cleaning and video games to "Learn to play football, and play as a team." Baseball kingpin Nate Tavares (age 7) wrote that he retired early from a Saturday-morning career watching movies because he likes the exercises -- despite his arthritic legs.
Another key component of CYSTEM is nutritionist Jessica McGovern's healthy eating curriculum. Third grader Tevin Johnson wrote that CYSTEM helped him trim down, and says his friends should come to CYSTEM instead of "sitting in front of the TV and eating junk food."
That's the consensus according to Zavier Dunbar (age 9), who said prior to joining CYSTEM four years ago, he slept in and played video games instead. Zavier wrote "CYSTEM helps boys get stronger and healthier. ... It's fun working with Coach Tyson because he motivates me."
Terry Jean (age 9) wrote CYSTEM "helps me be a better person" and perform stronger academically. The boys get points for doing well on trivia challenges, completing homework, and bringing in good school report cards. The rewards are sweet and include gift cards to places like Sports Authority and the movies. The generousity of the Red Sox and Celtics Community Relations offices sometimes allows the boys to attend major sporting events that they might otherwise only get to watch on TV. A recent Celtics trip even caused them to be discovered and featured on NECN.
On Saturday, June 16, Cambridge families will join R&B singer James Massone and Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster at Donnelly Field in Cambridge to celebrate strong community and compete for citywide bragging rights community through CYSTEM's Annual "Got Skillz" youth baseball talent competition. The event is free for youth and families to enter and attend.
"William Lawrence Camp provides a spirited, challenging and safe environment that promotes self-esteem and the physical, social and intellectual development of boys and young men."
Nestled deep in the woods on an island on Lake Winnepesaki in Tuftonboro, N.H., WLC is steeped in traditions that are all about man stuff, all the time. There is a 3 to 1 camper/staff ratio that ensures your child is safe, cabins and facilities are well maintained, and the food is good but the meals are spirited and loud like the boys eating them. The boys spend their days playing sports like soccer, rugby, tennis, archery, swimming, sailing, canoeing, fishing, rock climbing, zip lining, riflery, water skiing, etc. They learn woodworking and fly fishing, and go on wilderness trips in the White Mountains. Best of all, they learn how to make beds, maintain their laundry, do dishes, and clean up after themselves.
On Father's Day, we should celebrate the families we actually have and ignore the fatherhood Industry hype. Blaming fathers who are unfit or unwilling to take custody does not help children. No matter what level of voluntary participation your son's father may take in his life, boys should focus on the blessings they do have that count -- not the mythical paternal standards that reject his reality. Outside of Hallmark holidays, healthy families are diverse (some have one parent, two same-sex parents, grandparents, foster parents, etc.), and it's the healthy, loving relationships your child builds with those who want to be there that influence the men they become. It's time we celebrate the fact that we are a nation of strong single mothers and men who have rescued abused boys and raised presidents like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton in nontraditional families, who consequently grew up to be excellent fathers.
For more on the CYSTEM:
For more on William Lawrence Camp: