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Easter 1999 Guest Editorial for the Otago Daily Times

Issue date: 
Monday, 23 March 1998
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

'A Resurrection of Leadership'

It is easy to think of leadership as something exercised by a few people with particular ability. That, however, is false: we all have the capacity for leadership and we all act as leaders on occasion. Just by being ourselves we become role models that others may follow, whether for good or for ill. This means that each of us has the responsibility to be exemplary, wherever we are and in whatever we do — in the workplace, in community organisations, and most importantly of all, in our own homes. For parental example, parental leadership, is surely the most influential of all.

Our country's most pressing issue is the wellbeing of our young people. I visit many schools and community organisations, and am constantly excited, even inspired, by the quality of so many young New Zealanders. Yet so many others are failing to thrive. The breakdown of family life, of the whanau, the shedding of individual, communal and community responsibility, the weakening of core values like fidelity, integrity, compassion and moderation, all of this has left a frightening number of our children and young people "at risk."

That phrase, "at risk", is starkly — and in too many instances, tragically — accurate. Many of our young people are indeed at risk; at risk of being abused, and emotionally or physically scarred; at risk of dropping out of school, of becoming pregnant; at risk of becoming drug-addicted, of being caught up in crime, of being unemployable; at risk of having no ambition, no vision, no hope; at risk of passing on hopelessness to their own children.

People who work with children tell me that the size of the problem is much larger than is openly admitted, and that most often, young people's problems originate in family life, in the failure of leadership in families, especially leadership from fathers. The number of children growing up without their fathers, and, by definition, without the role models fathers should surely be providing, is frightening. And though it is an overstatement to claim that family cause and social effect are always related, it is true nonetheless that fatherless families are more likely to give rise to the risks I have mentioned. Of course, young people from the most loving of families can still lose their way. And many, many children from fatherless families make their way through life unerringly; an important point to make, because some mothers, struggling on their own, and successfully, see this emphasis on fathering as a criticism of them — which, of course, it must never, ever, be.

Yet fathers and mothers have complementary, usually distinct, roles within the family. Fathers and mothers offer different kinds of emotional support, different views of the world, different ways of doing and thinking and feeling, provide different role models to follow. Having both kinds of support, both models of doing and thinking and feeling, is the best assurance of a healthy, happy family life, and most importantly, of well-adjusted children ready to play their own constructive part in society and in their own families.

This is why, surely, we must teach — particularly by example — greater sexual and financial responsibility, why we must do all we can to reduce the pressures on family life, and always encourage couples to resolve their differences and stay together if they possibly can. It is why we must reassert the ideal that fathers as well as mothers, must give of themselves to create a family life that is fulfilling. For a fatherless family is not just one where the father lives elsewhere; it is equally one where the father lives in the house but has neither time nor inclination to make it a home.

And, and, we must affirm and re-affirm what a privilege fatherhood is, what a joy it can and should be. But that joy comes only through a commitment, of time, love and attention: time to listen and time to share; and a commitment to loving, too, a love demonstrated in tangible, visible affection.

Let us, this Easter, seek the words and the wisdom to say and do and give these things. They are, after all, of the essence of this season, with its proclamation of the ultimate triumph of life and love in the Resurrection.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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