A Letter to My Two Sons and Other Young Men

photo by imoldman

Laurie Petrou gives a list of 10 things she thinks her sons (and young men everywhere) should know.

I remember reading a fantastic letter to Dan Savage in Savage Love years ago, wherein a pimply and skinny teen asked Dan for some advice on getting laid and getting a girlfriend. Dan’s advice has stuck with me ever since. Dan basically said, and I’m paraphrasing: you’re not going to get laid any time soon. In the meantime, get interesting; become the most awesome guy you can be, so that eventually, someone will love you AND want to jump your bones.

I have two young sons and scores of young men in my life. I often think of them, of their futures, of the different stages at which they all stand, in relation to their long lives. Of all the things they have yet to experience. I have many hopes for them: that they will be gentle, that they will be leaders – not necessarily in their chosen fields, but in humanity; that they will stand up for others, that they will make change and do good in the world; that they will have scores of experiences and become kick-ass dads along the way.  And so, here is my advice to the young men in my life:

1. Share. Share your toys, share your food, share your wealth, share your ideas. The world is a much warmer place when we open up what we have to others. Don’t be a hog.

2. Turn it off. Turn off your ipod, your iphone, your ipad, your laptop, your tv, and whatever screen/distraction is making the person in your life say, “Are you listening to me?”  Read. Write. Draw. Doodle. Learn how to use some tools, whether it’s Lego or a saw. Lift up your head, see what’s around you and make something. Be creative.

3. Get Outside. Find out about your environment. Walk around your neighbourhood, listen to the local birds, play a sport, go for a hike, a walk, a bike ride. Find a place that does outdoor yoga. Meet your neighbours. Bring the elderly ones something a few times a year: fruit, breads, your company.

4. Listen. Listen to your siblings, listen to your friends. Listen to your parents, too: don’t just wait for them to stop talking. When you meet someone who you really, really like, listen to him or her. They will find out about you in time; this is your chance to learn about others. Listen to all kinds of music: you are young at a time when all genres are at your fingertips. You may want to get a turntable also: there is just something about vinyl.

5. Develop a style. Don’t worry about wearing what everyone else wears. Find your thing. Change it up. Experiment. No matter what, we’ll all laugh at the pictures later, so have fun with it. Easy on the Ed Hardy, though, please.

6. You are not entitled. You are not entitled to touch anyone, to feel superior to anyone, to get jobs or praise that you have not earned through trust and merit. You are, by the nature of your gender, privileged. Don’t add entitlement to that as well.

7. Be humble. Your time will come. Many of your peers have been told that they are the most special person on Earth. Stand out in your humility. Credit others. Downplay your successes. Learn from your mistakes. Own up to your choices. Apologize.

8. Read. This bears repeating. Read the news, read award-winning fiction, read travel books, books about politics and music and international diplomacy. Just read. A beautiful book will have a much longer impact than those texts you just read.

9. Be gentle, be aware, be a leader, be the one who says, stop. In the wake of another example of the total disregard of a young woman at a college, it is more important than ever to coach our youth to stand up for others, and to recognize the inequalities and injustices around them. Do not be a bystander. Make change. Lead with humanity and kindness.

10. Become involved. Whether it’s in theatre or sports, local politics or an international charity, become involved. Join a band; make a documentary; write an article for The Good Men Project; try out mountain biking and make a spectacular and muddy wipe-out. Life is for living.

My wish for all of you is that you will become interesting men, and that someone will find you lovely, lovable and loving. And who knows? Maybe then they will want to jump your interesting bones.

photo by imoldman / flickr

About Laurie Petrou

Dr. Laurie Petrou is an Associate Professor at the RTA School of Media, Ryerson University. She is the author of Between (Pedlar Press) and most recently the creator of this video piece on masculinity, Boys will be Boys


  1. I think no. 6 is possible the most important of all the points. But exclusively in terms of (the male) gender. Entitlement is just not attractive – at all – no matter who you are. If you have privilege is some form or context (and very few people do not), you’d do well to reflect on your privilege and make sure you do not let it feed a sense of entitlement.

    Se classic example to illustrate this is probably the enormous sense of entitlement that some young, wealthy people can develop if no-one is there to guide them. But there’s certainly people from all walks of life – men and women – who are infected with this.

    As for the specific case of entitlement and male privilege – well, there *are* privileges that men have, and it *is* a good idea to look at yourself and make sure you’re not feeling entitled. That does not mean that all men have an awful sense of entitlement, or that all men are bad or are abusing privileges. It just means that it’s something young men should look out for – because when it happens, it’s not pretty.

  2. …. I will note, however, that as a Ryerson professor, I am aware that there are gender struggles across the university. I know, for instance, that female profs make less across the board than their male colleagues, and that our female grads will make less starting out than their male peers. There are challenges for all. I definitely agree that Ryerson needs safe places for young men to talk as well, so thank you for pointing that out. I appreciate all these great comments!

  3. I disagree with numbers 6 & 7. Number 6 because in many respects men are not automatically privileged in many areas. Overall, I think they sometimes have to work harder in areas traditionally populated by women and vice versa. Number 7, I agree with the title, be humble, but never downplay your successes. Share credit, sure. But you need to own yours stakes as well as your triumphs, or else people will never see the full picture.

  4. paul kidwell says:

    Never return a dish empty.
    Courtesy is the only thing to expect in life. Everything else is negotiable.

  5. Point well taken. Thanks for your comments.

  6. 6. You are not entitled. You are not entitled to touch anyone, to feel superior to anyone, to get jobs or praise that you have not earned through trust and merit. You are, by the nature of your gender, privileged. Don’t add entitlement to that as well.

    Always taken on faith right?

    I have more room, as a woman, to feel righteous about touching someone of any sex without reprisal or accusations of harassment. Especially children.

    I have more room, as a woman, to feel superior to men, and culture (both left and right of politics) will often support me, saying “I’m more moral” because of it, and can’t hurt others in an inherent fashion, because I’m just too good (morally) to do that.

    I’ll get praised, as a woman, for doing the same thing men have done before and that they don’t get praise for (being good at videogames, for example).

    I don’t see how men have so much privilege that women don’t have equivalents in other areas of. And since pre-transition, I didn’t benefit from the male-specific areas of privilege (in the realms of ambition, intimidation, being overestimated in strength, being invisible), but nowadays I am benefitting from a lot of female-specific areas of privilege (being considered worthy of concern when victimized, being considered attractive by default (with the same looks and no fancy stuff), passivity being an okay strategy for dating (as opposed to a ticket to permanent celibacy), being visible).

    So I don’t see how it’s oh-so-good to be a man and oh-so-bad to be a woman, my experience says otherwise.

    And yes, being visible and invisible are both privileges, both have good points.

    • this

    • JustAMan says:


      Oh, the irony of having a professor at Ryerson University make point #6, and not see the other side of the coin as you just did so beautifully Schala. I refer to the decision of the Student Union at Ryerson to require men to pay student fees while simultaneously denying men a safe place to talk about their issues.

  7. FlyingKal says:

    Don’t take for granted that anyone will be privilegied or (feel) entitled to anything based on their gender alone.
    There are many situations in life where roles are reversed.

    Also, be the one to stand up and say stop.
    But not only on behalf or to the benefit of others, but even more important when wrong are done to yourself.

  8. Randy Strauss says:

    That was wonderfully stated, Dr. Petrou. I’ll second Danny’s addition. Don’t do things you dislike or know are wrong just to fit in.

  9. I’d add another.

    When it comes to being interested in something make sure it is something that YOU want. Don’t engage in an activity because you think it will get you attention. Don’t do something because other people say you should do it. Don’t abide by other people’s standards of what a man it. Don’t do it for others, do it for yourself.


  1. […] These are comments by Danny, Randy Strauss, Flying Kal, and Lars Fisher on the post “A Letter to My Two Sons and Other Young Men“. […]

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