Tor Constantino believes some of life’s greatest lessons for manhood come from seemingly insignificant, man-to-man moments.
My wife and I have a two-year old son, T.J., and we also have two older daughters ages 10 and 13 years respectively.
For anyone who’s wondering, make no mistake about it—boys are different than girls and they require different parenting skills at times.
Case in point—during dinner last evening my wife told us how she took our boy to a local playground where he met a three-year old girl named Audrey. The two preschoolers soon hit it off and were playing great—running, swinging, climbing, crawling, sliding.
But my wife soon noticed that T.J. made every activity a competition with little Audrey saying things like, “I race you” or “I gonna win.”
Each time the kiddos got to the respective slide or tunnel, T.J. would move his body in front of young Audrey to be first—and she let him. Now we ALWAYS stress with him the need to take turns and to play nice with other kids.
My wife reinforced those positive messages on the playground to T.J., while simultaneously apologizing to Audrey’s dad. Our son doesn’t always get it right but he’s only two years old—he will as he matures, we’ll make sure of that.
However, my wife brought up the point that we’ll have to train him to not only be nice—but to be chivalrous, respectful and kind to women as he grows. She noted that chivalry wasn’t a specific area of focus while raising our girls.
While we’ll expect our daughters to hang out and be friends with chivalrous boys and to look for those types of positive behaviors as they build relationships—chivalry tends to be a trait that we only teach boys.
I will have to teach our son Manhood 101 stuff—which got me thinking about the best piece of advice I ever received from another man.
My wife made it clear that she expects me to take the lead in this particular area, and to proactively point out to T.J. when I exhibit chivalrous and polite behaviors to her or the girls (e.g. opening doors, allowing them to enter a room first, dropping them off by a door in the rain, giving them my coat or umbrella in surprisingly inclement weather … etc.)
In addition to respecting women, I will have to teach our son other Manhood 101 stuff too—which got me thinking about the best piece of advice I ever received from another man.
That man was my grandpa.
My maternal grandfather died in 1982 when I was 12 years old. His name was Matthew Nichols, and his passing was the first significant loss of my life because I loved him so much and he had such a positive impact on me.
He never graduated high school and was a self-taught electrician by trade, yet there were several invaluable life lessons that I learned from him.
I got in big trouble because my two best friends and I decided it would be funny to go behind the school and pee on the building.
One such lesson occurred when I was in the first grade at Hawthorne Elementary School in Wilingboro, New Jersey.
My teacher was Ms. Ringenwald, and one day during recess I got in big trouble because my two best friends and I decided it would be funny to go behind the school and pee on the building.
I went along and did just as they did. We thought it was the funniest thing, until one of the recess aides found us and saw what we were doing.
Not only was I banned from recess for two weeks, I was roundly and soundly spanked when I got home from school that day by my parents—strong adherents of corporal punishment.
To add to my embarrassment and shame, our grandparents were staying with us. I remember crying on my bed when my grandpa came into my room and unexpectedly turned the thermostat on my wall to 60º, forcing frigid air to pour into the already autumnally cool room.
He sat down on my bed and waited for me to stop crying. Then he gave me a hug. We sat there in silence for a minute, when I told him that I was getting cold.
He then explained something to me that I have never forgotten. He said that a thermometer goes up and down based on the temperature of the room that it’s in—even as a first grader I understood that concept.
He hoped that next time I would be more of a “thermostat” – setting the tone and expectation for conduct rather than merely following the bad behavior of another.
However, he went on to say that the thermostat actually determines the temperature within a space—just like the chill we were both experiencing at that very moment in my room.
Grandpa then told me that even though he loved me, he was sad because I chose to be more of a “thermometer” at school that day by lowering my conduct to the bad decisions of others.
He hoped that next time I would be more of a “thermostat”—setting the tone and expectation for conduct rather than merely following the bad behavior of another.
He then gave me another hug and turned off the air conditioning as he left my room. The blowing and the chill across my skin stopped immediately. His lesson made sense and it’s one I’ve tried to follow ever since.
That inconsequential moment in time had a profound and enduring impact on my life. I’ve applied my grandpa’s advice when I’ve observed or been confronted by bullying behavior; when faced with ethical questions on the job as well as when making life-affecting decisions for my family.
Set the tone, don’t follow the bad decisions of others. It was the single best piece of advice I ever learned, man-to-man.
I’m anxious for the moment to share it with my own son, man-to-man.
Question: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from another man and who was it?
I never got a single piece of advice but aI picked up a bag of advice walking through life. MAN UP in all situations. I was bullied at school for years but it stopped in my forties when I asked people outside if they tried to belittle me. You would be surprised the number of assholes that are like wimps at the prospect of having to square up . I would rather get my ass kicked down the street than be subjuggated. Be prepared to fail and be prepared to get up and try again. Face your fears if you… Read more »
I’m firmly convinced that boys and girls are different from the beginning regardless of “gender indoctrination.” Women shopping is a modern reflection of our ancient foremother’s gathering behaviors. Men sitting shoulder to shoulder at a sports bar watching ( or playing ) a game are in competition with an enemy tribe or against a woolly mammoth. ;P
I’ve just discovered your writing, via a blog called We Are THAT Family, and appreciate your insights (I’ve read three articles this morning). Thank you for being brave enough to wade into the waters of public opinion and bring us encouraging words. Really enjoyed the thermostat analogy!
I absolutely believe in chivalry. My son is currently only 7 months old, but when he eventually asks the first young lady out (assuming he’s straight), I expect him to go to the door to pick her up, look her father in the eye and shake his hand, hold the door for her, pay for dinner, let her pick the radio station if she likes. My husband gets the door for me every time, and I say Thank You, every time. I will say, we both choose to subscribe to pretty traditional gender roles. I cook, clean, and such, he… Read more »
That’s an interesting point, John. If I were to expound, I would’ve gone into the author’s assertion that boys and girls are just naturally different. How true is that assertion? Are boys naturally more competitive? It’s impossible to say what tendencies and differences are natural in men and women because we’re SO socialized from an early age. I think some things are more typical of one sex than the other, but definitely nothing’s exclusive. So, if boys tend to be more competitive, we should make a little extra effort in their case to ensure that they know the difference between… Read more »
Actually, the “competitive situation” I wrote about was merely to create a context and demonstrate a social norm that my toddler son has yet to learn – it was not a broad generalization that boys are more competitive that girls, which you comment implies.
I don’t know, reading it again, I get the same inference, that you were using competitive behavior as an example of “boys will be boys.” It’s not important, as I’m not denying that it could be true, at least on average. And even if I disagree with your understanding of chivalry and its validity, I’m sure you’ll instill good values into your son, since you’re clearly a thoughtful person. Plus, I really do like the message of the article regarding your grandfather’s advice.
Paul, I appreciate you taking time to even post one comment – let alone three! BTW, I think the word count in your comments is probably longer than my actual article 😉 thanks again!
I love this lesson and want to find ways to adopt it in my work with both adults and kids. It is a great way to discuss how much power we have to make our own choices. We aren’t bound to follow others, but choose to do so. The chivalry part that Paul mentions is harder for me. I was brought up by a father that taught me courtesy and respect as he understood it, though I don’t know if he thinks of it as chivalry or not. He did teach me to open doors for women, carry the umbrella… Read more »
Well said John – thanks for taking the time to read and share your perspective and insight!
It’s not my most powerful lesson in manhood but my most memorable in leadership as a man: “Neither do you lead your people in a world you do not know nor hope of building for them.”
Good lesson Michael – thanks for sharing it!
I’m just gonna come out and say it: I think chivalry is a sexist concept that at the very least ought to be reined in in its scope of definition, and maybe just ought to disappear entirely. Boys should be taught to treat ALL people with respect and girls should be taught the same. That’s it.
Where it annoys me the most is that chivalry isn’t necessarily appreciated so much as it is expected of men. The wife’s expectations of her husband leading the way by showing chivalry to her and her daughters seems to illustrate exactly that.
Very courageous of you to speak your truth like that Paul. I am gonna say I agree with you and I say that as a woman. All these expectations and conditions of gender roles have gotten us into a bit of a sticky mess.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Emma, but my point about “chivalry” is more about respecting women – which is a word I intentionally included. Gender roles or not, a lot of the societal problems we face are do to a lack of respect for women. Thanks again.
You’re entitled to your opinion Paul – my wife and I want to ensure that our son has a healthy respect for women, which I need and want to model. There’s nothing wrong with that…