We want men to be able to problem-solve. We want them to empathize,too, and know when not to solve a problem. Aaron Anderson, a father, wonders what can parents of sons do?
Until four years ago, I was the proud father of two beautiful, energetic little girls. I thought it was tough to have girls. Even though they were only three and five years old at the time, I was already envisioning all the girl problems they’d have: boys who only wanted them for sex, trying to fit in with mean girls, etc. But then something happened that blew all my trepidation away: I had a son.
My son is four years old, now, and I have to say that raising my son has been a lot harder than raising my girls. There are so many differing ideas and unspoken expectations on men in society that I feel trapped in an endless merry-go-round of competing beliefs. And I have no idea what to do. More than anything I want my son to be courageous and strong so that he can handle all the problems of life and make it through them okay. But as I teach him the principles to help him accomplish this, I am enamored by people who tell me that I’m “too traditional”, “archaic”, and “doing more harm than good”.
But I also want him to be sensitive and kind to others and have no limits of empathy. So I try to help him use nice words and talk about why he’s angry. But then I see him interact with other boys on the playground and see him getting pushed around because he uses his words and other boys use their hands. Then I get enamored by more people telling me my son is “too soft” and “you need to teach him to stand up for himself or he’ll be a sissy”.
As I have tried to navigate this dilemma of competing beliefs over the last four years, I realize that I am feeling a lot like Goldilocks: It’s either too hot or too cold. But unlike Goldilocks I’m struggling to find the middle ground that is “just right”.
As I have struggled trying to teach my son ways that are ‘just right’ it has made me realize more than ever that expectations for men in our society vary so widely that there’s no way I can “raise a son right”. People still expect men to be strong, tough and protective. They expect them to be physical and willing/ready to fight someone at a moment’s notice. Yet they’re also expected to be sensitive, kind and caring; able to see others’ feelings and empathize with them. Men are expected to be fixers but also know their place in society and not try to fix certain things.
Raising my son has brought to question my own masculinity
As I raise my son with the values that I feel will be most important for him, I realize that I am teaching him the values that I have which have helped me become a successful adult. I’m teaching him the ones that have been most helpful for me. And I see for the first time ever that I am also being struck by society’s double-edged sword of masculine expectations. I’ve always backed down from fights. I have always had more girl friends than guy friends. I enjoy talking about feelings. And I get my fair share of ridicule for it.
And when I sit down to watch football game or take time away from the kids to work on my hotrod, I also get ridiculed for being “too much of a guy”.
In my profession, men seek me out for counseling because they want a male counselor. And because I’m a guy, they expect me to be on their side when they chide their wife for being angry at him when he sexts with other women. Then, when I don’t, they leave me comments on my business page that I am “biased” and “unfair”. Apparently I’m not living by the man code – no matter what I do.
How am I supposed to raise a son when I don’t understand what societal expectations are for men? Will I forever be stuck in limbo trying to teach him mixed messages of what it means to be a man in today’s society? And what message does this send to my son as he looks to me for guidance and I (and society) can’t give him any consistency?
After some consideration, I have decided that I no longer care what expectations there are for men. I don’t care because someone somewhere is going to chide me for not being “man enough”. I’ll raise my son to be the strongest, kindest, gentlest, most courageous boy he wants to be. And when he looks to me for guidance I’ll tell him to keep doing whatever he’s doing – as long as it makes him happy.
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Photo: Afghanistan Matters/Flickr