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.
- Sons of Divorce Fare Worse Than Daughters (well.blogs.nytimes.com)