by Kristy Campbell
As I watch my three boys (ages 9, 5, and 1.5) in their daily routines, I observe natural behavior that is foreign to me, and it seems primal and crass. Fart jokes and nose-picking aside, I am witnessing a deeper construct that is taking hold in their development and I’m concerned.
My older son hunches over his meals and shovels food in his mouth as if he hasn’t eaten in days. I continually need to remind him to sit up, put a napkin on his lap, and use a utensil of some sort. My middle son has no awareness on any level of another person around him. He takes care of his own needs and moves through the day in a me-centric bubble. I usually have to remind him that setting the table includes more than just one place setting. And my darling, sweet almost 2-year old son has started to come up to me and kick me in the leg for no reason.
I want to raise my sons to be men I’d want my daughters to marry…strong, capable, sensitive family men. My own husband isn’t that way, but I’m determined to put three young men into the world who are different. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s possible.
I’m in my mid-40’s and most of my girlfriends agree: the most difficult part of being married is communicating with a male. Men of my generation seem to have nailed the “need to provide” and “be financially successful” tasks, but the “need to listen” and “be supportive” requirement is proving to be more of a challenge. When I ask my female friends in their 30’s about their relationship with men, it seems that men 10 years younger got the message about being more attentive to women and have acquired some emotional language. The 20-something women I know are incredibly confident and are finding that although men their age are emotionally adept, they seem conflicted about sharing power. Teenage boys are unto themselves, so using their behavior as a guide for future generational performance would be futile. Which brings me back to my brood and my huge question mark as to how to raise my sons to be men for the future.
Turns out I’m not alone in my quandary. Did you see the Superbowl ads? Or read any of the resulting commentary? I thought the Dockers ads encouraging men to wear the pants again were odd. I mentioned it a girlfriend who passed on Adam Gopnik’s commentary in the New Yorker. In his piece “Out-Peytoned,” Gopnik points out how “all of the commercials … (were) about men being “feminized” by women, and then (urging men) to rebel by buying a gadget (a car, an internet TV service).”
Just what I thought. Men don’t want to talk, to learn emotional language, to use a fork. They want to be cavemen and hang out with other cavemen in their caves. Emotional communication is work and I will be fighting a tide of testosterone if I try to reprogram my sons. And if I do happen to raise the kind of man with whom I’d like to see my daughter walking down the aisle, it will only be a matter of time that his male counterparts will chastise him into “being a man” and wearing the pants again.
As my son slurps his cereal into his mouth, I remember how he turned everything into a weapon when he was younger. The “no gun” policy in my house didn’t matter: toothbrushes, rolls of wrapping paper, even Popsicle sticks became weapons of mass destruction. I do wonder if I’m fighting the same evolutionary predisposition with emotionality, or if it is it a cultural bias that emotions are feminine. At any rate, I’m going to continue with my caveman battle and teach my boys that emotions are not just for girls…or at the very least, get them to use a napkin.