Father figures: 'It's a privilege to gain their trust' 

Young people can benefit hugely by spending time with a positive male role model. We talk to two fathers who believe in giving back
Father figures: 'It's a privilege to gain their trust' 

Gerard Leahy of Banteer/Lyre Foroige club, Co Cork who works with children from his local youth club.. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Father's Day allows us to celebrate the men who helped to raise us.  It’s also an opportunity to consider the other men we encountered growing up –  uncles, teachers, and role models who have played a part in shaping our characters and teaching us important life lessons.

Gerard Leahy from Banteer in Cork is one such role model. He’s in his late 50s, and he and his wife Mary have four grown-up children.

“They’re the ones who got me involved with my local Foróige youth club in 2013,” he says. “When the two youngest started attending, I began volunteering as one of the parents who supervise every week.” 

Gerard Leahy of Banteer/Lyre Foroige club, Co Cork who works with children from his local youth club. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Gerard Leahy of Banteer/Lyre Foroige club, Co Cork who works with children from his local youth club. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Nine years later, his children have moved on, but Leahy is still involved. “I’m down at the hall on Friday nights during the school year, setting everything up and organising any activities the kids might want to take part in,” he says. “That might be kicking ball, playing table tennis or pool, or just listening to music.” 

The club members are aged between 12 and 17 and Leahy is conscious of his position as one of their male role models. “Men are often painted as stern figures, but I try to portray something different,” he says. “I try my best to give praise where it’s due and give young people more and more responsibility as they get older, recognising the contributions they have to make. I’m also eager to demonstrate how I work with female youth leaders, and how we work together as equals and as a team.” 

His main priority is making sure the young people feel safe while they’re at the club. “I want it to be a place where they feel they have nothing to fear,” he says.

This sense of safety allows friendships to grow between the young people and the youth club leaders. “We mix together and learn from each other,” says Leahy. “They tell me all about new music and there’s been many an evening when a young person has confided in me, telling me their hopes for the future, or sharing stories about their love lives and woes.” 

Leahy, who is employed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, has found his experience of working with young people fulfilling.  “When I first got involved, I thought of it as a way of giving back, but now I feel I’m the one who has got more out of it than they have,” he says. “I didn’t realise the role I’d play in their lives, the influence I would have, and the privilege it would be to gain their trust and confidence and see them grow into fine young people.” 

Helping young people to achieve their goals 

Anthony Wyse is a retired father of one from Narraghmore in Kildare. For the past five years, he has been working with Le Chéile Mentoring, a national volunteer service which works with young people who are involved in or at risk of offending. Wyse is one of more than 250 trained volunteer mentors who provide supportive relationships for these young people.

Father figure Anthony Wyse, Narraghmore, Co. Kildare with Lexi and Bonnie. Photo: Alf Harvey.
Father figure Anthony Wyse, Narraghmore, Co. Kildare with Lexi and Bonnie. Photo: Alf Harvey.

“I got involved because I got good opportunities myself growing up,” says 62-year-old Wyse. “I met some positive people who saw potential in me and helped me along.” 

His first job was as a machinist on a factory floor but with mentorship, he rose through the ranks to become general manager. “That happened because people helped me make it happen,” he says. “I’m a big believer in equal opportunities, but I know it doesn’t always pan out that way for everyone. This is how I play my part in sharing those opportunities more evenly.” 

Wyse mentors young people aged 17 and older. “They’re referred to me from the probation service and we meet up for an hour once a week,” he says. Many of them do not have positive male role models in their lives. “This makes building up trust difficult,” says Wyse. “It can be hard to get them to talk because they don’t have the social skills or the experience of doing so.” 

Wyse typically brings the young people out for a meal, a game of pool, or a walk the first few times he meets them. “I just want us to chat in peace and quiet and get to know each other,” he says. “My aim is to understand their interests and goals so that I can begin to help them achieve them.” 

The young people he meets can be reluctant to share this information. “Often, they have never shared their ambitions with anyone for fear of getting knocked,” says Wyse. “These goals can be ordinary things like getting a job, a car, or a place of their own to live. But these men have such low self-esteem that they don’t think it’s realistic to even voice them.” 

According to Wyse, winning the young people’s trust to the extent that they share these ambitions can be a turning point in their relationship. “We can then start telling them that it’s not impossible to achieve these targets,” he says. “We can identify ways to do it and guide them through the steps involved. A lot of them go on to change their lives as a result.” 

Father figure Anthony Wyse, Narraghmore, Co. Kildare. Photo: Alf Harvey.
Father figure Anthony Wyse, Narraghmore, Co. Kildare. Photo: Alf Harvey.

This is not to say that all of Wyse’s mentoring experiences have been entirely positive. “There are different degrees of success,” he says. “Some young people just don’t engage. But many do and over a period of months, the work we do together can make a difference to their lives.” 

It’s this difference that is most rewarding for Wyse. “There’s great satisfaction in seeing someone change over time,” he says. “By giving these young people the space to be listened to and explore their options for just one hour a week, their self-esteem and confidence begin to grow. I feel as if I’m giving them a tool to help them to go further in life.”

All adults have a role to play

Dr Ernesto Vasquez del Aguila is an assistant professor in social justice at University College Dublin whose work examines global masculinities. He believes that we benefit from having strong role models.

“Young people need to see the responsible but also caring and compassionate men, and the ones who love sport and also love art, music, and literature,” he says. 

Vasquez del Aguila would like to see more opportunities available to young people to help them make intergenerational friendships so they can learn from older men.

“Fostering spaces for social interactions between adults and young people from different backgrounds is an effective approach to creating positive role models,” he says. “These meaningful intergenerational friendships not only create solidarity and promote kindness and compassion across generations but also provide people with the opportunity to learn from real role models.”

Vasquez del Aguila says we can all be role models. “Providing positive role models for young people is a task that involves everyone. Not just parents but teachers, aunts, uncles, sports players – we can all show young people that it is possible to be happy, healthy, and to thrive in life by being true to ourselves.”

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