Friday, March 02, 2007

(ssshhhh, it's a double post)

Raising Men

I found this wonderful wonderful post at Wittingshire.

When my boys were three and four, they spent a good bit of time patrolling the perimeter of the back yard with stick guns. One day they were making particularly gruesome sound effects and my feminine squeamishness, which I try to keep tamped down while mothering boys, got away from me. "I really don't like you pretending to shoot people," I told them.

"We're not pretending to shoot people," my older son said. "We're shooting pretend people. Dangerous ones."

Oh.

As one who has both boy and girl children, I can tell you they're different from birth. My daughter is something of a tomboy, and still she's nothing like her brothers. She has never hit anyone over the head with a zucchini, for one thing. She has never knocked her father's legs out from under him and laughed when he fell on her with bone-crushing weight. She has never lost a toenail or fingernail, climbed higher in a tree than the cats will go, picked up unidentified insects with her bare hands, or picked them up again after being bitten the first time. She has never captured a big black spider in my good Tupperware and left it for me to find unexpectedly while putting away leftovers.

My boys--sweet and well-behaved as they truly are--do those things regularly.

My job as mother is to keep my mouth shut unless death or dismemberment is imminent. "They're boys," Jonathan says, when I come to him worried about their latest escapade. "That's what boys do."

Now, my boys memorize poetry. They clean up the supper dishes, with a little reminding. They tell their sister that they love her, and they prickle with indignation when other boys talk about girl germs. They're not Neanderthals. They're going to be good men, strong and tender, trustworthy, confident, brave.

They aren't learning this from me (except by my refusal to squelch it). They're learning it from their father, grandfathers, uncles; from the men at church who greet them with outstretched hand and expect them to answer audibly and shake firmly, from the men who lead worship; from the male friends who take them up in cherry-pickers, bulldozers, fire engines, and out in boats, who stop by to show them a new motorcycle, who talk to them with great seriousness about dinosaurs, asteroids, and snakes. Thanks to these men, my boys are going to know how to be men--not bullies, not henpicked eunuchs, but men.

Unfortunately, they have many friends who won't know how to be men, who are already less than confident in their maleness.

Some of these are boys whose mothers watch anxiously the whole time they're playing lest they hurt themselves, who forbid toy guns and swords and urge their sons to play "games everybody wins," which to a boy means a game nobody wins, that has no point.

Some are boys whose fathers are gone and who carry the weight of guilt not their own, who feel somehow complicit in other men's abandonments, other men's unreliability, other men's cruelty.
Some are boys whose energy is treated by teachers and parents as a curse, whose enthusiasm is treated as naivety, whose curiosity is treated as a distraction.

It's almost as if some people don't like little boys.

I do. I like their energy, their toughness. I like their forthrightness, their ruthless logic, their dislike of cant. I like their natural gallantry, their instinctive desire to protect those who are smaller and weaker. And I like that they include me in that group, though I am yet, for another few years, larger and stronger than they.

So I sympathize with Russell Moore, who "is aiming to raise up violent sons." Moore is being deliberately inflammatory, of course, but in a very real sense he means what he says:

I am not seeking to raise sons who are violent in the amoral, pagan sense of contemporary teenagers playing Grand Theft Auto video games or carjacking motorists. I want them to be more violent than that.

I want them to understand that the Christian life is not a Hallmark Channel version of baptized sentimentality. Instead, it is a cosmic battle between an evil dragon and the child of the woman, an ancient warfare that now includes all who belong to the Child of the Promise (Rev 12). I want them to forgive their enemies, not because they are good boys, but because they understand that vengeance against the Serpent comes not from their hand, but from that of the anointed Warrior-King (Rev 19), whose blood-soaked garments don’t often transfer to the imagery of a Precious Moments wall-hanging. And I want them to exercise self-control of their passions, not because it is polite, but because they are called to struggle against the Evil One, even to the point of cutting off their own limbs rather than succumb to devices.

And as Gary of Both Worlds says:

Men are in the image of God. And our need to prove ourselves on some field of combat, to confront danger and, yes, to win a beauty, reflect a side of God which few hymns uplift. Men and boys are often bored in church because many churches have become overloaded with feminine sensibilities and sensations.

So men and boys light out, like Huck down the Mississippi--not irresponsibly, but in search of something. Into the unknown, or the backyard, we go, Aslan at our sides. There be wild things here, and adventures to be had.

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5 comments:

thomasw said...

"Men and boys are often bored in church because many churches have become overloaded with feminine sensibilities and sensations."

~~~ah that's why? i've often thought about this, in particular that men like to say words and not sing them. this clears this issue up for me in the name of manliness.

elizabeth said...

thanks. well worth reading. CS Lewis really saw this too i think - i think sometimes too though that our society forgets what it means to be a woman too; we are tough, though i believe in a different way...

i've read somewhere that men often like the Orthodox church because, in a real sense, it allows them to be men; and there are such huge calls to work out ones salvation and all these crazy life changing stories of saints who for sure were strong and determined to learn to love God, God who is big, real ...

thanks for sharing...

jaime said...

Thank you for posting this Victoria! It gives me courage. I have to say that I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the fact that I have not one but two! boys! It puts very clearly what I hope for our boys and gives me reassurance about their "boyishness" (of course John is only 4 months old, but I'm already anticipating the havoc two boys can wreak.)
Anyway, thanks!

Simply Victoria said...

puppies. it's like having puppies in the house. they are unendurabely cute, but do they make a mess! (which is why, God in His infinite mercy and wisdom, made them cute and helpless, so as to appeal to our maternal instincts)

Paul said...

Rousing.