Jude (7 years): "Dad, why can boys take their shirt off and run around outside, but girls can't?"
Me (35 years): "Uh, ask your mom?"
I'll admit it. I don't have all the answers when it comes to raising boys. I've got one 7 year old that is lit AT ALL TIMES. He's not a snuggler. He is not a cuddler. He's a runner, a jumper, a wrestler, and he is LOUD. And by a brilliant stroke of fate, he hates the Patriots because we live in New England and he just wants to be contrarian. I discipline him consistently, firmly, and calmly but he's still a bit feral. People often look at me like, "Hey buddy, can you reign in your kid? This playground is supposed to be a safe space for our snowflake!" I just shrug and grimace sheepishly as if to say, "Sorry about your snowflake lady, I'm giving it the old college try over here..."
Is My Boy Broken?
Our street has about 8 elementary age girls plus Jude. On a recent spring day when all the parents were hanging on the front porches (because my neighborhood, Roxbury, is the closest thing to Sesame Street that still exists) he was running around shirtless beating his chest like a gorrilla and the girls were running around giggling and yelling, "stay away from the shirtless guy!" It was fun. No one was scared or hurt. The other parents didn't care. The kids had a blast.
But I gathered my thoughts about it later: The sheer amount of aggression built into my boy. This instinctual, raw energy to beat his chest and chase the girls around the neighborhood. This could lead bad places, and it's not 10 years away. Is this where #MeToo comes from. Maybe I need to tame him. Maybe I need to reign him in. Is my boy broken?
Masculine energy exists. Aggression and expansion. Chasing and Wrestling. Striving and Creating. Building and Conquering. Protecting and Rescuing. Procreating and Commanding. It exists either through several billion years of evolution or through the wise and loving decision of a Creator, but regardless of how it got into us, here it is. It's hardwired into our DNA. The question that shapes our boys is what we are going to DO with that energy.
If you believe that your boy's masculine qualities are evidence that he is broken then you will downplay, minimize, redirect and feminize your boy's strength in an attempt to rescue them and protect society. But if you believe that your boy's masculine qualities are good then you will cultivate, shape, direct, and discipline them for the benefit of your boy and society.
What's Really Broken?
The fact that your boys have this masculine energy doesn't mean they are broken. The fact that they are self-centered makes them broken. The fact that they have no self-control makes them broken. The fact that they are raised to see other people as existing for their benefit makes them broken. The human heart is broken from youth and requires training and transformation in order to be whole and others-oriented. When you add this brokenness to masculine energy you get heartache, regret, selfish men, and occasionally jail time. You can't leave that much energy unharnessed; it becomes destructive.
That's why it's more important than ever that you teach them when they are very young that being a boy is training for being a man. We must teach our boys what it means to be a man. And if you're not 100% sure what that means yourself, then memorize this sentence:
God made you strong, so that you could use your strength to serve others.
When you train your boys to serve women by carrying things for them, holding the door, speaking kindly to them, and protecting their sisters at school you are not reinforcing the Patriarchy. You are training boys to use their strength to serve women instead of abuse them. The hope is that when they are full grown they won't just carry a woman's luggage, but they will lay down their life for her. When you channel your boys attention into building things in the real world, or working hard with their hands to earn money, or writing stories about adventure and sword fights and explosions you are honoring the way they exist as boys while shaping them for a future as men. You have a responsibility to channel strength toward protection, competition toward provision, fighting toward defending, procreating toward family building. Our boys and our society depend on it.
If on the other hand you assume the problem is being masculine rather than the brokenness in your boy's heart, you'll attack the things that makes your boy strong rather than the brokenness that perverts that strength. Asking boys to be less masculine is counter productive: eliminating winning and losing from sports, never-ending group projects that emphasize social skills over hard skills, writing stories only about their emotions, outlawing tag on the playground, repeating that boys and girls are the same like a mantra. None of it works in the long run because our boys are not taught how to harness their strength, urges, and impulses for good so they harness them for selfish, destructive purposes. And our society loses out because we don't get the husbands and fathers this world needs. We end up with a bunch of selfish, entitled fully grown male children who know in their heart of hearts they are strong and powerful men but have been told the are exactly like women. So what do they do? They latch onto the most toxic ideologies on the internet which promote men over women instead of men serving women. They become misogynists when they realize no one has told them the truth and they run to the internet to find something that more deeply resonates with what they know to be true: they are powerful.
We must tell our boys the truth! God made you strong so that you could use your strength to serve others. Our boys are loud, smelly, and high energy... and they are full of potential. Your boys aren't broken.