No, Mom, I’m NOT Being Too Hard On Your Boy

Boys are drawn to men. We’ve got something indefinable they need, a nutrient they can’t get from women, no matter how hard they pull on that nipple.

This missing nutrient is a big reason our society is so violent, chaotic and insane. Boys need men to show them their strength, and to keep that strength in line. Not enough boys get that laser-sharp teaching.

I’m rough with all the boys who come to me. On purpose. If a boy feels loved, he revels in the rough-and-tumble.

I’m not talking abuse here. But there’s a reason that lions cuff their cubs when the play gets out of hand.

Sometimes a mother witnesses this sharpness, and it hits her hard. She worries that her son is too tender for this. It’s a valid question.

This is how I answered one such mom recently:

Thanks for calling me today, and for voicing your concerns. I appreciate how attuned you are to your son’s emotions, and how much you love him.

Believe it or not, I love him too – but in a very different way.

The kind of unconditional, all-accepting love that you want for your son is only ever going to come from one person.


That’s a mother’s love. It’s unshakable and eternal. He will always be precious and perfect to you. You will always be his comfort and his sanctuary from the world.

This is as it should be.

Every man needs a mother behind him.

I believe that every man also needs another kind of love: challenging, confrontational, tough. A love that accepts no excuses and so calls him to become his greatest self.

This kind of love is what’s shared between men, father to son, brother to brother, friend to friend.

Women cringe at this kind of love. They often feel it’s cruel, harsh, ugly, rough and tumble. And it is.

But without it, boys never become men.

They remain soft and complacent, sure of their worth, even if they never do anything to deserve that worth.

The world will not judge them or treat them with a mother’s love. This is a fact of life. If a boy is not prepared to take his place in this world as a man, he will never succeed.

And if a man doesn’t have a mother behind him, to love him entirely for being himself, he will never be happy.

So both these kinds of love are crucial. Both are necessary.

In traditional societies, boys are raised by women until puberty. And then, one day, they are taken away from their mothers to learn the ways of men.

Our culture does a shitty job with this transition.

Most boys are unprepared for the harshness, competition and indifference of life. They lie around expecting to be fed and coddled. The world does not have time to coddle them. I very much doubt their future wives will want that job either.

Your boy craves the kind of discipline and honesty that I am willing to share with him. To be honest, so do most of the young men who are drawn to me. They push and prod until they get it from me. When I withhold it, they get lost and angry.

Your son is first in line, challenging me to get tough with him. He wants unvarnished truth. He wants to be challenged and bruised. He desperately wants to grow.

I couldn’t promise what I think you wanted from me: to be kinder and gentler to your son, to guard his “tender heart,” to keep him from experiencing pain.

Your son wants his shell to be broken open. He wants to see himself with clear, cool eyes. He wants to be disciplined and challenged and held accountable. This is admirable. These are good things.

He also wants a mother’s warm embrace and undying love. Luckily, for that he has you.

So you give him what is yours to give him. And I’ll give him what he wants and needs from me.

Together, we can offer him all the love he needs to make this beautiful, dangerous passage to adulthood.

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  • Aquariantemple

    excellent insights, David! it’s why single parenting is not ideal. i can nearly always tell when I work with someone..especially a dude, if the father was over-bearing, violent, or completely checked out. it leaves traces.

    • David Cates

      I’d love to hear about the traces you notice…

      • Natalie Lamb

        The traces I see: lacking in empathy, inability to communicate effectively, reactionary, cut off without being able to heal/complete an argument, causing an arugment to reacreate the stressful environment theey are used to, a lot of drama in their lives – that they don’t recognise as such, they flip between victim/perpetrator, moody and blame others for their behaviour, punishing, find it hard to co-create, like to be right, play off people against each other, act like a teenage boy, don’t take responsibility for their lives….

        • David Cates

          Wow, Natalie. Quite the insightful list. I’ve seen a lot of those symptoms in perpetually-adolescent boys. Breaks my heart…

  • Marc Quinn

    Fuckin’ beautiful, David! I so appreciate you writing this. You always cut to the core, mate! Thank you!!

  • Craig Filek

    okay – so, what do daughters need from their fathers?

    • David Cates

      Great question, Craig. I think you just gave me the idea for another post.

    • Erin Michaela Brandt

      The book “Fathers and Daughters” by William Appleton (from like 1981, on Amazon for about $1.81) is life changing. I’ve read it at least 4 times. The core book I think every father and every daughter should read.

  • Boysen Hodgson

    Rock on. Well Done. Thank you David – May I broadcast through the ManKindProjectJournal(.org)? I would like to share this with more people – link back to your site included. (that means it will hit our twitter feed and our Facebook Page)

    • David Cates

      Go for it! Whatever serves…

  • Josh Sharp

    I think this posting is based on a perspective that Humans fall into a Male and Female energy dichotomy. One is either one of the other. I think this misses the perspective that the best thing to have is BALANCE between the two forces, whether with your partner (and deal with the seeming duality/conflict with Equanimity) or alone, within yourself. What does it mean to be male, female, with a penis, with a vulva? There is no “NORMAL” delineation or balance for all persons. I think we each have our own balance or in-balance. My son does process things differently than my daughter but I try and meet them each where they are, not based on what gender they are. There are opposites in this reality, but let us not forget about the infinite possibilities in between.

    Also, may I point out that what you are describing is the Male Energy’s focused drive as opposed to a Female Energy’s opening up. I seek to master the balance between the two and to teach the ways/lessons I’ve learned to both of my children so that they may find their answers. After all, you are that which you place your attention on.

    • David Cates

      Josh, I really do appreciate your perspective. In my own life, my responses to people are more modulated than this. Most of my blog is about bridging the M/F spectrum, within and without. I’m with you on that.

      But there are some core energetics here that are most visible to most people when presented as extremes. Midnight is different than noon, and it’s helpful to talk about the differences.

      Do you have any practical suggestions for how I can highlight these essential differences without creating gender stereotypes? I get frustrated with all the politically correct, gender-neutral, everyone-is-equal languaging.

      The responses I’ve received from my readers suggest they’re intelligently living in the real world, and not in cartoon caricatures. They know I’m talking about maps and not territories.

      Seriously, help me out here. How can I make these crucial points without adding a string of exceptions/qualifications/caveats to every sentence?

      • Josh Sharp

        I think the best thing to do is try your best to model a balanced life and help guide your child to their own balance. I agree that the language can be frustrating and it just works for ME to think of these things more fluidly. Which is basically Tantra. Balancing/Reconciling opposites. I think we need new language that refers to the Male and Female energies without a gender connotation. Something like Yin and Yang for the modern times.

        • David Cates

          Thanks, Josh. I’ll keep that in mind when I’m trying to stir the pot here! I agree, a more contemporary yin/yang would be very useful.

  • Jayson

    YES!!!!! well said brother!

  • Joshua Levin

    Another concise masterpiece from David that presses on and lights up another crucial cultural acupressure point. DC–your (next) book might just be a compilation of blog posts. Whatcha think of that?

  • Joshua Levin

    Also–what type of work do you do with “all the boys who come to [you]“? What’s the context?

    • David Cates

      Show them what I can about the core energetics of the deep masculine. Help them rediscover their own uniqueness. Teach leadership skills, right relationship, sexual healing, how to be more fully embodied, leading from the heart.

      • David Cates

        “Boys” is a bit of a stretch here. At my age, everyone under 45 is a “boy”. Still, the ones who most actively seek me out are often twentysomethings who’ve left home and school and hit the world hard… realizing they’ve been taught not much useful about living satisfying lives.

        As we gather momentum and more families get involved, I hope to start this learning process much earlier.

        • Joshua Levin

          Aha. “Boys” had me thinking teens. And while I’m on the topic…I used to mentor at-risk teens. And there’s the Outward Bound model. I wonder what’s the new context/model for reaching teens with the curriculum you have to offer.

  • Alexander D Fuller

    wow. feeling really boxed in. i think we’re all on a masculine/feminine continuum. i feel both these impulses toward my son you have designated to merely father or mother. i also include my son in this energetic continuum. consequently, my first step will always be to, first, pay close attn to what he as an individual manifestion is needing.

    • David Cates

      Please don’t feel boxed in on my account, Alex! If your son is getting everything he needs – structure, discipline and challenge as well as love, nurturing and space – that’s great. Doesn’t matter who it’s coming from. And hey, this is all just my observations and opinions. I’m talking generalizations because this is what I see with the majority of families today. If your family doesn’t fit this, good for you! My dream is to have ALL families move beyond these extremes. We’ve got a ways to go…

      • Alexander D Fuller

        thanks David. love it! i hear a voice crying out in the wilderness, “people of the world, smash the boxes you’ve been forced into! find your own boxes, create your own! …..but don’t get too attached to those either…” :)

  • Garystamper

    Right on target, David. This should be shared with mothers of boys everywhere.

    • David Cates

      Thanks, Gary. Feel free to pass it around! Or have it tattooed on your arm… ;)

  • Dana Sheridan

    david… thank you dearly for this insight… i wasnt getting it before… i got it now… amazing… <3

    • David Cates

      Lucky son you’ve got, mom!
      Thanks for being open to another perspective.

  • Kristen

    This is very interesting. Thank you.

  • Kristen

    Actually, yes. I have seen WAY too much of this. SO many men that are fully grown, and yet they haven’t made the transition from boyhood to man…”soft and complacent, sure of their worth, even if they never do anything to deserve that worth.” “They lie around expecting to be fed and coddled.” A lot of them never received proper mothering either. But I see now why the motherly unconditional love doesn’t work on its own. I have often felt they need to work with a man to call them into accountability and manhood. (I, of course have had my own healing curve in raising myself). Do you help adult men make the transition from boy to man? Thanks.

    • David Cates

      I agree, Kristen. Men need men to learn how to become a man. One-on-one can be helpful, but it really does take a group – a “village” for lasting results.

      One of the best programs I’ve seen for helping men step up into manhood and accountability is the Mankind Project. Highly recommended!

  • Christine

    David– I have a 13yo son. Your writing helps me to understand–what has been vague is becoming clearer. My son is lucky he has some strong men around to guide him, but I may end up sending him to you someday…

    • davidcates

      I’m here. And so are other men around the country…

  • Jayson

    And, another post I wrote a while back in the same vein: Why Men are Still boys:

  • Joshua Gribschaw-Beck

    Awesome post! I love it.

    Ok…so here’s another question for you David. I am curious about your opinion for women (or younger girls) growing up in a masculine ran world? Do they need some of this toughness from their father’s (or male energy) figures in their lives? it that women are getting more involved in our society to bring the nurture energy back to our economy?

  • Tony Moss

    David, Infinite love and appreciation to and for you. Tony

  • Yvonne

    Thanks David for articulating this so well. I teach the qualities of femininity to young women, in order to help them find lasting love. The balance between masculine and feminine energies is what I believe, lies at the heart of true happiness and is a lesson lost to today’s generation. Thanks for what you do and for voicing it so well.

    • davidcates

      Thanks Yvonne! These gifts need to be awakened in all our children.

  • Graham Phoenix

    David, I so agree with and support what you are saying. Boys need their Male Role Models, as well as the Female ones, to function fully as a human being. I also agree with Natalie, there are plenty of examples of Fathers who were too much. I had an over-bearing father and I see the consequences to this day. This is not, however, a reason to be soft and gentle. I disagree with the comments that put us, individually on a masculine/feminine continuum, that leads to men and women who are confused about life. A masculine/feminine balance is essential for any child and I see that coming from a balanced relationship in the parents, guardians or other family members. I do not believe it can be provided by just one person. Thanks for the post.

  • Rudi Narine

    Brilliant! Thank you, on behalf of myself and my 7 year old son

  • John

    Great post.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this is so true, thanks David!!

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  • Jack

    As the son of an alcoholic father who never bothered with me. I have to say that I really did at different ages feel that I missed having a Dad and I still do. There are so many things I would like to do with him, there are so many things that I would have loved for him to give me, but he never will because he choose drink over me. 

    Today I am told I am a very well adjusted person, and I am happy with myself and people are always shocked when I tell them how I grew up or why they never hear about my Father. But I must admit I really did and I really do miss having a Father figure in my life, even though I have never had one I can see how nice it would be. 

  • Casey Choate

    Great post David. I myself never knew my father and never really had a good male role model. Sure, my mother had a couple of men in her lives, but none of real substance.

    The first one was like a Nazi and expected way more from than I was cable of. He was a real asshole actually.

    The 2nd one tried to actually love me in the way you spoke of. Being tough with me and teaching me life lessons. I really appreciate the short time that he was in my life. I was so wussifed by then though, that I would fake cry to my mother whenever he was horse playing with me and she would get him to stop. He would then get a little upset about that.

    I am worried now because I am seeing a woman who has 2 children, an 8 year old girl and 6 year old boy.

    I have a feeling that she is over protective of her children and will not like it if I try to bring some roughness into the mix with her son. I’m scared that I will get the same reaction that form her that my step dad got from my mother.

    Do you have any advice you can give me around this?