Raising boys to be better
By Jordy Griffin // Illustration by Stacey Walker Oldham
When my wife and I started talking about having children ten years ago, my greatest fear was raising daughters in a world that had boys between the ages of 12 and whenever they fully grow up. But those fears were quelled when my second son was born and I celebrated Mother’s Day under the vasectomy knife.
My concern had dissipated not so much because now there was zero chance of bringing a little girl into this world. Instead, my worry transformed to a new, unnerving shift in my wife’s perception of me as the man who gave life to her womb. As it turns out, the savagely symbolic evisceration of our child-making potential had not settled well with her.
But I’m writing this letter not to advise you on the dangers of Mother’s Day vasectomies. Instead, I’m coming to you from the throes of raising my boys to be better men than I. And it’s a hell of a lot harder than I thought it was going to be back when they were babies.
You remember those days, right? The nights you pretended to be asleep when the baby was crying because, really, what could you do anyhow? Or when you didn’t change the diaper because your sense of smell just isn’t what it used to be? Or the emergency phone call you made to your wife at work when you realized that a poop explosion had plastered a brown racing stripe on the shiny new Furniture Row sofa?
You may have even floated the notion that, while it was hard for Mom now, when the baby was older it would be your turn. Or sunk so low as to encourage your mother-in-law’s pontifications on her own child-rearing days, just when your wife needed it least. Cue sleeping in the guest room for a week.
These acts of strategic incompetence are probably recognizable to all of us. And if not, you might want to check your societally conditioned manhood.
But you were always there for bare-chested snuggles with baby right after a morning feeding. And when it was time to Skype with the grandparents, you and baby took center stage—shameless bedhead and all. For public outings, you gladly strapped on the Baby Bjorn so you could parade around like “Progressive Dad of the Year,” oblivious to the strange, bedraggled woman following behind you like some sort of mom-zombie.
Admit it fellas: You see yourself somewhere in here.
Well, if you’re like me and your boys are well past dirty diapers and eating meals with a spoon so small it makes using chopsticks look easy, your chickens have come home to roost. Now, instead, you’re trying to squeeze out the last of your man-child to make room for the hard business of raising boys who will not end up the on the receiving end of some embarrassing hashtag in 10 years. (This is where I admit that, until my wife explained it to me, I thought hashtags were some sort of code language that my middle school students use to make fun of me.)
Not that we need to completely leave our man-child behind. In fact, he’s the goofy inner child who makes our boys gut-laugh at bedtime with ridiculous stories about the sand-dragon-turned-do-gooder who defeats the evil Lord Spaghetti Squash. Or the unbridled master builder who shows his boys how to be creative with random LEGO parts to avoid buying the absurdly priced Hogwarts LEGO castle on Amazon. And it is the same knucklehead who teaches them the infinite hilarity of farts.
It is not, however, the person we need when our boys experience their first flash of man-anger. It is our job to help them understand and manage it. Or when their brutally instinctive competitiveness compromises the values that we so desperately try to instill in them. Or when they discover the boundlessly intense sexual energy that could potentially lead to an irreparable lapse in judgment some day.
No, this is not the role of the man-child, but rather the role of the man we may fear we cannot be. The man who has all the right answers. The man who knows how to deliver those answers in just the right way at just the right moment. The man who knows how to teach his sons to carry those lessons with them to all the dark corners of the universe they will uncover on their own journey to manhood.
Superman is not a real person. So, we must instead settle for human man. And despite the lackluster title, human man is the much better foil for our boys. He frees us to be truthful about who we are and to model honesty. To admit our mistakes. To embrace humility. And to love their mothers deeply, showing vulnerability. I believe this is a much better path to raising happy, well-adjusted boys.
And know that even if we do our best, we may not be able to completely overcome the forces that relentlessly try to steer our young men down the wrong path. Our boys will make their mistakes, just as we did. They will hurt others, just as we did. They will feel the exhilaration of success and the torturous agony of failure and embarrassment, just as we did.
But if we have the courage to model human man, we will greatly increase the odds that they will be more resilient in the face of the external forces of life. And there will be fewer men out there giving us a bad name. Most of all, we will be able to look our friends’ daughters in the eye and tell them that we did the best we could.
Oh, and by the way, your wife just might forgive you for that Mother’s Day vasectomy (mine did). Because I’m sure if you dig deep enough, you can find your own transgressions to make amends for. Good luck!
Sincerely, This Dad