Summer is not just a time for swimming, going on vacations, and catching up on television series you might otherwise miss.
For parents of boys of a certain age, it is the ideal season to see them undergo a rite of passage, as we like to exaggerate, from “boyhood to manhood.”
Technically these 12- or 13-year-old are still going to be boys even after they are circumcised. Maturity does not come with a single procedure, not even with the onset of some tell-tale signs of adolescence. Heck, some 40-year-old “men” can think like infants—acting on pure instinct and ready to strike back at you (or holler) when you take away their “toy”!
Still, this entire season has gotten me into thinking how difficult it is to raise boys in a society such as ours—gender-sensitive on the outside, but still convention-bound, even oppressive, in some hidden, intimate places.
The task is daunting enough for fathers; imagine how much more difficult it is for mothers to raise their boys, sometimes singlehandedly, as boys ought to be raised.
They say it is difficult to raise girls because you always have to strike a delicate balance between protecting them and empowering them. True. But as a girl myself, I’d like to think I know how they feel. I’ve been there—and not too long ago, thank you.
For example, though I am in my late 30s, I still feel like a girl beneath the serious career woman facade. Insecure but inspired, bluffing and blushing, upbeat and undaunted, smart but often silly, too. I don’t find it hard to relate to what my girls may be going through.
Boys, however, are from a different territory. They are the species we sometimes cannot figure out. Talking to them about “the birds and the bees” is kindergarten. The real test is: How can we make sure that our little boys grow into men we can be really proud of?
By this I mean men who treat women well, who are secure enough not to be intimidated by a woman’s accomplishments, who break out of stereotypes and relish their own participation in household chores—and in deep conversation. Men who are kind, considerate, funny and profound all at the same time.
It’s a work in progress, but these reminders may come in handy:
They are not kings and princes. It has been said that the behavior of men can be traced to how they were raised as boys. If they grow up believing that they can have anything they want, they will develop a sense of entitlement that will show itself in how they relate to other people. Early on, parents should disabuse their kids of the notion that the world revolves around them, and all other people exist just to cater to their needs.
Men and women are essentialy different. The genders have their respective strengths and weaknesses, just as each person has his or her unique challenges and capabilities. This is not to say one is superior or inferior to the other—just that everybody is unique. Learn to respect that diversity. Do not be a bigot.
Women are partners. They are not slaves, subordinates, fangirls or cheerleaders. They have opinions, ideas, thoughts and feelings as important and as valid as your own.
Some women are more driven than men, just as some men are more driven than other men. Women are not selfish for wanting a career, demanding happiness, or asserting their influence. Deal with it.
Self-esteem comes from your core. It does not come with money, possessions, prestige, or associations. You are not at all better than the next guy just because your paycheck is thrice as big as his, or that you attended a more expensive university, or that your wife is prettier than his. Trophies are an illusion.
The goldern rule is called just that for a reason. It is the basic tenet by which all men and women should live: Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you. Double standards that dictate some rules may be bent a little for men? Junk them, too.
Authority is not in the loudness of your voice but in the impact of your actions. Remember that saying about the empty drum making the most noise? Don’t be that drum. Work quietly, perseveringly, and the rewards will be far better than what you have imagined.
Nothing puts things in better perspective than empathy does. Every time you are upset, put yourself in the other peron’s shoes and imagine what he or she must be feeling/ thinking/ going through.
The transition from boyhood to manhood does not happen over one summer. It is developed through months and years of conscious consideration of the uniqueness and dignity of others.
Here’s to our cute little boys growing into respectable young men!