Olan Suddeth

Dad. Computer geek.
Homebrewer. Disney nut.
Would-be crafty guy.

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Teaching My Sons to Be Real Men

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Silas the pirate
Why can't life stay this simple?

A week or so ago, I was driving my seven year old son, Silas, to baseball. We were talking about this and that, as usual, when he mentioned to me that he had found something he liked, but didn't know how I would feel about it. I reassured him that I was sure that I would be fine with it, so he explained to me that it was a new game he had installed on his tablet... where the point was taking care of little "cute" animals. Feeding them, bathing them, playing with them, giving them different toys or looks, and so on.

My first reaction was to laugh - not at him, but at the idea that I would have a problem with that. After all, I *am* the guy who blogs about sewing burp cloths, baby blankets, and sleeping bags for dolls. I'm the grown man that ranks getting his photo taken with Friar Tuck at Disney World as a true "magical moment" of his life. Had he forgotten who he was dealing with?

But as we talked, it became clear that he was worried that liking something like this would be too "girly", that it wasn't "tough enough", that it would be received as a fault in his character. Realizing that made me a little sad.

This is a kid who will sacrifice his body to lay out to stop a baseball, who will take a ricochet off his chest (or face!) and never think about being hurt - even if he is bleeding - until the play is over. But this same kid brings his stuffed bunny rabbit to the ballpark to play with after the game is over. Who snuggles his baby sister. Who loves animals and imagination and hugs and sitting in my lap. But society will tell him that these are not ways that he should behave, that showing affection and tenderness is weakness.

How exactly is he to become a caring, nuturing father figure if we teach him that caring is a bad thing?

So right then and there, he and I had a conversation about what makes a "REAL MAN".

I explained to him that there were some pretty set ideas out there as to how men should behave. How men are supposed to be tough, and interested in things like sports, and wearing camouflage, and hunting and fishing, and working on cars, and on and on.

I revealed to him that I didn't own any camo. That I like to fish (though I always catch and release), and I have zero interest in hunting. How I enjoy sports, and I love being handy around the house - but that I'm pretty hopeless with a car beyond changing tires, oil, or brakes (and I prefer to avoid any of that).

And I then explained that absolutely none of that made you a man.

A real man, I told him, was honest and trustworthy. If a man tells you that he will do something, you know that you can count on him.

A real man takes care of his family. He provides, he supports, he cares, he spends quality time with them.

A real man works hard - and that work can take almost any form. A construction site, a classroom, an office desk. Whatever his job, a real man does it to the best of his ability.

And a real man is comfortable in his own skin. He doesn't apologize for his interests or hobbies, and doesn't care what other people think about them. A real man does what makes him happy, and respects the right of other people to do what makes them happy.

I used fashion as an example of this. I told him that even though men had been tailors for centuries, if you were interested in clothes, some people would mock you for that. And yet, Ralph Lauren and Christian Dior have made enough money that no one would question their manhood, now would they?

I pointed out how his brother, Jonah (age nine) is a huge fan of the Godzilla universe. Since I personally have a tough time getting by the rubber suit effects from the classic films, does that mean that I should think less of Jonah (or any other Godzilla fans)? Of course not. Jonah enjoys the movies, the stories... and shouldn't feel ashamed or like he needs to hide that from me or anyone else.

I enjoy plenty of nerdy things, childish things, even "girly" things (like sewing and baking). Yet I have fathered more children than are in three or four typical families, and I take care of their needs; I don't believe that I need to demonstrate my manhood to anyone.

When we were done talking, Silas felt better about liking his cute animal game, and hopefully, learned to value his own happiness a little more than the opinions of people who would never be impacted by his interests.

You know, like a real man should.

Tags for this post: Parenting


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