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Friday, September 10, 2010

Bringing up Men in an age of sissies.

I've a good friend (let's call him Red) who has married a good woman, with two boys. At ages 12 and 9, they're decent kids, but they've been reared for the previous several years by their mother, alone, and before that, with an ufortunate man. Red's new bride is delighted to see the boys now have a positive male role model, and my buddy Red is more than happy to step in and provide them direction in that role.

Long before Red proposed to her, he began helping the boys. After they got married, he began working in earnest to show them how to grow up to be Men. There are little things, like how to shake hands like a man, and how to wear clothing. Then there were bigger issues, like not coming inside and just sitting on the couch to watch television all day long, simply because it's hot outside. (It's Texas. You can expect triple digit temperatures in the summertime. Drink lots of water, and get back to playing outdoors.)

The younger boy has shown an uncommonly strong love of WebKinz. Okay, says Red. Fine. But try not to be silly about it-- boys at some point shouldn't carry around dolls. And when that doll is a wolf, a boy traditionally names it "Fang," or "Spike," or "Timber"-- not "Jenny." Red isn't trying to impede the boy's creativity, but he does insist that the doll get left home in the boy's room when they're out and about town.

Wailing and gnashing of teeth were observed.

Looks like Red has his work cut out for him.

The other day, Red reported to me that his boys were coming in the house, whining about what to put on an ant bite that each had sustained. He was incredulous. "You could rub some dirt on it," he answered. "If that doesn't work, maybe we could find you some cream for it, from your Mother's bathroom!"

Red isn't intolerant. If the boys grow up to actually be gay, he's fine with that. But he will be DAMNED if he will let them grow up to be wussies.

We have discussed how the world has changed since we were kids. Nowadays, boys are taught that there is zero tolerance for violence, so that even throwing a punch back at someone who has punched them in the face is grounds for expulsion. Boys are taught to cry more readily, and come seeking the ready attention of their mothers, rather than learning to deal with adversity themselves. Red's wife is a very, VERY good mother. She gives her boys lots of mothering. The problem is, they've been receiving double doses of mothering, without much fathering, in the past. Red is trying to overcome that. He figures that he doesn't have much time.

The good news is, the boys have taken to him like a duck to water. They will literally follow him around, doing work with him. They learn lessons from him about telling the truth (this has been an issue with them), treating their mother and other women with respect (also an issue), and speaking plainly. Of course these aren't exclusively the providence of men, but some lessons seem to take better to boys, when taught them by a grown man whom they respect, and who walks the walk. Talk is cheap.

I reckon that Red is just doing what's right, and no more. But because so few seem to do just that, it makes him stand out some. I'm proud to call him my friend.

We've been talking about culturally manly things to do. He takes them fishing, and they do the sports thing. I mentioned that he needs to watch some John Wayne movies with them. Maybe The Cowboys, and The Searchers, and The Sons Of Katie Elder. I like The Wind And The Lion, partially because it's actually a movie about men, rather than just cultures.

Any other ideas I can pass on? Favorite books? Important activities?

I myself was fortunate to have been reared with a definitive positive male role model.

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34 Comments:

At Friday, September 10, 2010 6:02:00 PM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

Weebot lives everyday with Evylrobot and yet we still have some of these hills to climb. Red is doing the right things here. It's hard to step in with partially grown boys and direct them into being men. I like the movie Secondhand Lions. The boy has been somewhat raised by a single mother but learns to be a man from some older uncles. He's older than a boy should be to learn many of the lessons he learns there.
I've also found that spending time with the gunnie community is highly beneficial. There is an undercurrent of personal responsibility that a by can't help but start to pick up on.
With our son, we find that trusting him with just a little bit more responsibility than we really think he is ready for works great. It turns out that we are generally underestimating him. Now I wouldn't do that with anything that could really put him in harms way, but there are little things. Weebot got his firs cell phone recently. He spends more time on it than I would like, but he hasn't broken it, lost it, or used it in school when it isn't allowed. In fact, he has been very responsible with it.
Raising men is a difficult task in this day and age. They are shielded from things like scrapes and bruises when they should have the opportunity to do something reckless enough that gives friends the opportunity to sign a cool cast. Risks like falling out a tree seem scary to moms, but a broken leg or arm is far preferable to a visit from a uniformed officer asking you to identify a body because they didn't learn early that risks come with consequences.
And I've now reached the point where this should become a post of its own.

 
At Friday, September 10, 2010 6:03:00 PM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

Oh! Tell him to buy a couple of copies of the Dangerous Book for Boys. It talks about essential gear and starting fires and all the scary boy stuff.

 
At Friday, September 10, 2010 6:12:00 PM, Blogger suz said...

Volunteer! Help the elderly around the yard, walk dogs at the animal shelter. Show them that kindness and compassion are NOT signs of weakness, but strength. The power to build someone/something up, is among the greatest powers around. Do good and be proud of it!

 
At Friday, September 10, 2010 6:16:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

I agree with every word written so far, above.
Especially the part about intentionally over-burdening them with responsibility, and watching them closely. This is analogous to intentionally going to failure while working out with weights, or playing tennis or chess with someone who is better than you; you can't help but advance.

Great responses! Keep them up!

 
At Friday, September 10, 2010 8:26:00 PM, Blogger Priest said...

A few things my family did:

-Take every opportunity to expose them to other men. One good role model is great, ten is better. And it's extremely informative for them to watch how REAL men interact with each other.

-Get them involved in some sort of boy's group with run by real men if it's available. My experiences with Royal Rangers growing up were invaluable, and I hear Scouts are just as good if you find the right Troop Commander.

-Get 'em involved in some kinda martial art. Not so much for the Yes Sensei/No Sensei crap, nor for the rote memorization but for the time to familiarize themselves with their bodies and have a respect for getting hit and hitting back.

-Movies? Audie Murphy, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Cary Grant are all good actors and have some great films that I watched growing up.

 
At Friday, September 10, 2010 9:08:00 PM, Blogger Medic3 said...

Books! Old Sci-Fi...when men were allowed to be men. Heinlein's boys' fiction, James White's Sector General, E.E. Doc Smith's Lensmen (and related), Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.

Specific instructions in social interactions and why they are customary. Addressing elders as Mr./Ms. [Last name]. (Or as Mr.Ms [First name] if invited to use said first name).

 
At Friday, September 10, 2010 10:19:00 PM, Blogger Old NFO said...

Jack London's book Call of the Wild for one, another Jeff Kinney- Diary of a wimpy kid, and Orson Card's Enders Game.

Those are the three I've given my grandson to read.

 
At Friday, September 10, 2010 11:00:00 PM, OpenID Farmist said...

+1 on The Dangerous Book for Boys. Also, the Adventurous Boy's Handbook. Even if they don't get into Boy Scouts, a copy of the Boy Scout Handbook can also be helpful.
The more good role models such as Red and yourself, the better.

 
At Friday, September 10, 2010 11:28:00 PM, Blogger Farm.Dad said...

Not Necessarily for boys . Take the kids shooting , Lessons and values learned form male and female gun folk will both last a life time and " make a man of ya " ( ie the honorable attitude we value in men ) no matter your plumbing .

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 1:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading suggestions:

Robert Ruark, any of his Old Man and the Boy stories.

Louis Lamour, anything. There is an excellent collection of his short stories out now (seven volumes and counting) that would be great. Ponga Jim Mayo, Chick Bowdrie, great role models. Rough edges but a strong moral core.

Anon.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 2:18:00 AM, OpenID bluntobject said...

Woodworking or metalworking -- something that involves enough work to build calluses and shrug off the occasional scrapes and bruises, demonstrate that careful attention to detail makes a big difference, and generates results they can show off with pride. Also, they'll be set for Christmas presents for the next five years.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 9:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All my kids read Rudyard Kipling and the youngest wants his own complete set.

Kenneth Roberts is another novelist I recommend all the time. He wrote about the American Revolution from both the Revolutionary, "Rabble In Arms" and Tory, "Oliver Wiswell," sides.
Also did a book, "The Lively Lady," on privateers in the War Of 1812.
The books have mostly been chucked out of the libraries so used bookstores are the place to find them.

The Appleseed Project is a good place for family members to learn marksmanship and get connected to early American history too. My son and I went to one and both had a great time.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 10:45:00 AM, Anonymous KCSteve said...

Do they have their own knives yet?

Depending on their ages the knife may have to be 'held' by the parents and handed out for specific times / tasks, and with the world today I would strongly recommend that the parents track it until the 'you can never take this to school' lesson is firmly implanted.

Knives and fire are the core of what makes us Human, rather than just a hairless ape. Fire is the first technology and the knife is the first tool. You can't really be Human if you can't control both.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 1:20:00 PM, Blogger ZerCool said...

While I'm hesitant to solidly recommend the Boy Scouts of America given their current bigoted stance, a good troop can take a young man a LONG way.

Even if there isn't a good troop around, a copy of the Boy Scout Fieldbook (preferably an older one, no later than the 80s if at all possible) is worth its weight in gold.

Tom Swift and Hardy Boys are classic fiction for young men.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 1:22:00 PM, Anonymous Stingray said...

Car work. Changing oil, tires, and working up to bigger projects if available rank high in my mental list of How 2 Good Human (given as I expect large areas of crossover between being a Good Man and being a Good Woman). Helps show getting dirty isn't the end of the world, that the proper tool makes the job a hell of a lot easier, but isn't strictly necessary in every instance, attention to detail, improvisation, and that just stopping to look at the damn problem can get you a good chunk further along to solving it. Also tends to hammer home the magnitude of consequences if you *don't* do it right. Anything on a similar line of "this is actually fairly simple once you get a few basics down" would work.

Also, cooking. Any good man should be able to, at a bare minimum, scramble or fry some eggs, cook a steak (to a specified doneness, not just "Well, it doesn't seem to be mooing anymore..."), and make some sort of bread-like substance, be it biscuits, cornbread, sourdough, or whatever. Again, little things pile up to big things, and besides, good food is an excellent panty-remover for later in life.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 8:03:00 PM, Anonymous Bob S. said...

I'll second the Scouting Advice.

I had some of the same issues when I married Kimberly. Luckily the boys had little time without a father in their lives, many good men who stepped up, and a mom wise enough to get them involved in Scouting.

With Scouting, there is not only the Father Figures but the older boys who act as positive influences.

Not many of the Scouts will put up with whiny type behavior and at the same time, they'll encourage personal responsibility.

There will be plenty of opportunities for father/son interaction and for the father to show - not just talk-- about what it means to be a man.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 9:52:00 PM, Blogger Zdogk9 said...

Robert Ruark, "The Old Man and The Boy"
Hemingway, "The Nick Adams Stories"
"The Old Man and the Sea"
Shooting will teach them to be honest with them selves. Fishing will teach them patience, and give them the ability to tell a good story.
Build something with a FUN end product, say a skiff or a kayak.
Let his friends spend time with them. 55 years later I still remember neighbors taking me fishing, or up in the woods to make firewood. 57 years later I can look at the scar from my first pocket knife. Teach 'em to whittle, it might not do them much good now but when they reach my age they'll find it a nice way to to spend a spend an afternoon sitting in the sun with their hands and minds occupied. They will probably be inclined to pass it along also.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 11:43:00 PM, Blogger Overeducated Twit said...

The Art of Manliness is a great resource for this sort of thing.

 
At Saturday, September 11, 2010 11:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"so that even throwing a punch back at someone who has punched them in the face is grounds for expulsion"

Oh no, it's much worse. Just being the victim of an attack by a bully is grounds for punishment, even if you make absolutely no move to fight back. Twas something I found out the first time I was attacked in school. Wish I had known that I was going to get punished for having the temerity to be a victim.

So, teach them to go for broke, and to NEVER FIGHT FAIR.

 
At Sunday, September 12, 2010 12:36:00 AM, Anonymous LabRat said...

Skills of any kind are a good foundation for a child of any sex. Tracking isn't exactly gender-specific, but reading a local ecosystem out of the prints around a waterhole is something I learned when I was young from an older mentor that I can still do and most still can't that gave me a window onto the wider world that I wouldn't otherwise have had.

Likewise, exposure to healthy adult men and how they interact with each other is good, but exposure to healthy adult men and women who aren't family and aren't in a romantic relationship is something I think far too many kids miss- how the sexes work as respectful, affectionate friends and colleagues gives additional data that is rather crucial to avoiding a variety of unhealthy mindsets.

Dunno how to teach a kid to be a man, but I like to think I have a few clues as to how to be a reasonable adult.

 
At Sunday, September 12, 2010 2:30:00 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

This is great stuff. Keep it coming. There is gold, here.

Ladies, note that everyone's comments are welcome. Jennifer and LabRat's comments are of huge worth, here.

 
At Monday, September 13, 2010 7:53:00 AM, Anonymous Bob S. said...

Another suggestion is to play sports with the kids.

Operative word -play; make it fun, make it about spending time with other men (mostly, if girls want to play, let them).

But teach them skills, teach them to keep trying to get better regardless of skill level or ability.

Teach them when something happens you don't agree with, you discuss it and then move on.

Teach them that not every scraped knee or bump and bruise needs immediate attention from mom but also recognize that bumps and bruise hurt -- they just shouldn't keep you from doing things.

 
At Monday, September 13, 2010 10:23:00 AM, Anonymous pax said...

Books: look at The American Boy's Handy Book, a great little companion to boyhood a few generations ago. Written in the 1890's by one of the founders of the American Boy Scouts, it provides a whole bunch of "do it yourself" projects for boys -- especially for boys who have a grown man around to help them sort through the projects and discuss the classic but outdated language with them.

Take 'em backpacking. That gives you good reasons to use knives, learn to build fires, disregard minor discomforts, and learn to cope with a little dirt.

Look into the Civil Air Patrol for a group reinforcement of virtues including good manners, good grooming, honor codes, and learning to be capable and self sufficient while still working well with others. As the civilian auxilary to the US Air Force, it's very pro-military. Both boys and girls are eligible to join as cadets starting at age 12. (And it's a great way to reinforce treating girls with respect; a good CAP cadet program does a great job of enforcing appropriate and somewhat formalized behavior between the sexes in group settings.)

A word for your friend's wife: as her sons head into the teenage years, the best form of motherly support she can give them will often consist of asking the sympathetic question, "What are some ways you could solve this problem?" It's very, very important that her sons begin to realize that while other people (such as mom) can "feel" for them, it will still be up to THEM to solve the challenges in their lives. She can begin now to help them develop that knowledge by focusing on helping them find their own solution-options when something has gone wrong and they come to her for sympathy. Younger children often need to be bailed out, but pre-teens and teenagers most often need help finding their own solutions. This is, of course, the form of sympathy most men offer to each other -- help figuring out how to solve the problem -- and it is very different from the sympathy most women offer other women. As a mom, she can be the bridge between these two types of sympathy for her sons, helping them learn how to look for solutions rather than just griping when things go wrong.

 
At Monday, September 13, 2010 12:33:00 PM, OpenID cybrus said...

Books? I'd recommend Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

My son is three years old now and every time he has a problem, I ask him how he would fix it before I help him. If he comes up with an answer, even it's wrong - especially if it's wrong - we try his way first and then see if it works or not. After that, I'll either show him the right way to do it or a different way to do it.

Also - I'm working on getting him to address our friends as Mr/Mrs - but it's difficult because none of them expect it and actually seem confused/offended to not be addressed by their first names. I chalk that up to society not expecting kids to actually grow up but just to age....

 
At Monday, September 13, 2010 5:09:00 PM, Blogger Chip said...

Anything written by Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey. Have them volunteer at homeless shelter or a food bank. Teach them that a job worth doing is worth doing right. Character is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Joing scouts is a personal issue for many, but the Scout Oath and the Scout Law will take a person a long way. My boys are all young men now and I couldn't be more proud of them

 
At Monday, September 13, 2010 6:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Visiting war memorials and static displays - ships, tanks, aircraft - are a fun way to illustrate the manly art of war.

Self defense? Krav Maga - hands down the best. Avoid conflict if you can, if not fight to win. Superb offerings for kids, too.

Swimming - as in year round. It is strenuous and body building without hurting growing joints and muscles. It also starts to provide a hint of body consciousness around mixed company but it then overcomes it in time. And you can often do it at little expense with local groups.

KNIVES - every boy should have one and know how to use it properly - and know how to keep it quiet and keep it at home when he should.

Which comes to secrets and privacy - it is important that they learn now that not everyone should be privy to every detail of hearth and home. Being strong enough to smile in the face of a nosey question is a skill rarely acquired early enough.

And perhaps even a trip or two to the local Legion meetings...just to see old warriors and hear their tales.

Oh - and as one guy says - get them old toasters and clocks to tear up. They need to know how things work and way - and how they can sometimes bite back. (An appreciation for electricity's capriciousness can't come early enough.) As for mom...finding a good man was a very good start. Supporting his decisions regarding the boys when they fuss is a sign of respect that they will learn and appreciate.

 
At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 1:18:00 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

I'm very much on board with knives for boys. But to tell the truth, I also get them for my girls.

There are few better ways to show responsibility than taking care of and using a knife properly. I gave my elder daughter one, and she carries it in her purse, until she goes to school. Then she takes it out, and returns it to her purse after getting back. Sounds fraught with peril, doesn't it? I mean-- the school might kick her out if she gets caught with it when she accidentally takes it to school! Yet another example of how she learns responsibility. She's doing great.

 
At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 12:13:00 PM, Blogger Justthisguy said...

Not just "jock manliness" but also "nerd manliness." Make them up an old-fashioned chemistry set of the kind that's not allowed now. Being in Texas, they'll also get to be hauled off in chains for possession of chemical apparatus. This will teach them how the system really works.

 
At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

Kind of dark, there, JTG.

 
At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 2:09:00 PM, Blogger W1KAS said...

I'll second American Boy's Handy Book. I loved that book as a kid.

Take them camping, hiking, exploring, shooting, hunting...

 
At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 4:01:00 PM, Blogger K said...

Teach them the importance of finishing what you start. No wimping out, no quitting. My kids were allowed to sign up for just about anything that interested them, but I got final say on when they could quit, not them.

 
At Tuesday, September 21, 2010 10:42:00 AM, Anonymous Blackwing1 said...

Movies? Try “The Man Who Would Be King”, with Connery and Caine, a very-little-appreciated flick that is an essence of a great buddy film.

I’ll give another one-up for the Heinlein “juveniles”. “Tunnel in the Sky”, “Red Planet”, “Space Cadet”, “The Rolling Stones”, “Citizen of the Galaxy”; they all impart excellent values in stories that still hold up well. Cheap used paperbacks of all of them are readily available.

Learning any sort of practical, or even impractical skill is a big plus. As RAH said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

 
At Monday, September 27, 2010 10:29:00 AM, Anonymous Evyl Robot Michael said...

Boys can be difficult, but I've seen a lot of awesome advice here. Currently, ours is having difficulty finishing tasks and acknowledging personal shortcomings. The bathroom floor was covered in water this morning. When we asked about it, he said he 'tried' to clean it up. I asked if the water on the floor cared about whatever effort he had put in, or if the wooden cabinet would take that into consideration before it rotted. He conceded that the excuses didn't really make much of a difference and that his excuse was weak at best. A few paper towels later and he completed the task. Completing tasks is something that children definitely need to be taught. Unfortunately, I don't always model that very well.

I'm sure girls are equally difficult to raise, but I can't speak from experience. (God is good.) Red certainly has his work cut out for him. I'd advise you to give him plenty of encouragement, because I predict many moments of frustration ahead of him. It's always good to think back on the kids' more triumphant moments when they are in a more struggling phase. (Like making excuses for why they are putting in a half-ass effort on what seems like everything.)

Our kid has a wicked sense of humor, and you should hear the kinds of one-liners he'll pop out from time to time. When he's feeling less confident, these come with greater rarity. That's one of the reasons I love to hear his jokes - even when he is struggling with stuff, he's got the confidence to sort the world out with his humor. Too often, parents think they have to break their kid like a horse. In reality, kids need to be directed and coached to make the best use out of their individual, God-given talents, and to strengthen areas where they may have weaknesses. I know that's vague, but that set of tools will serve a person for a lifetime, male or female.

In a world of 'disabilities' and 'disorders', medications and excuses, the ability to identify a weakness and work to overcome it is becoming a lost art. It's a darned shame too. Such precludes the next Moses, Abraham Lincoln, or Ludwig von Beethoven.

Anyway, I've got work to do, and I've been long-winded enough, so I'll leave your comment section alone for now.

 
At Thursday, September 30, 2010 9:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look into Raising a Modern Day Knight

 

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