To me, the passing grade of raising three sons is a three part question: 1. Did they graduate high school? 2. Do they have all their limbs intact? 3. Are they kind and polite to everyone they meet? If the answers to that question are 'Yes, yes and yes' then I feel like I've done enough to earn a passing grade when it comes to the whole 'being a Dad to three sons' thing.
But that's not enough these days and it's really pissing me off. Never mind the latte drinking liberals and all their talk about 'toxic masculinity' and 'rape culture.' Never mind the gun toting conservatives that sneer at 'beta males' and 'soy boys.' No, the real toxic masculinity is the current debate about masculinity in America today. Consider the options being presented to our boys: you're either a ball of barely contained rage ready to explode into white privilege, entitlement, rape and possibly school shooting or a weak kneed, lily-livered, guilt ridden hollow shell of a man who isn't worth of the title of being a man.
Yes, those are the messages being sent to boys today and as a parent and a father to three sons, I'd like to point out that they're not fucking helpful.
I'm going to be thirty-five this year, so I don't really have the wisdom of age going for at this point, but I'll go ahead and say that I'm a fully functional adult male with the large majority of my shit together at this point. I'm still learning about life and what it all means and it's entirely possible that ten years from now when I read this again, I might cringe mightily and want to delete it, but I'm not going to. Right here, right now, this is what I've got on the whole 'being a man' thing:
First, there's no wrong way to be a man. Be yourself. Don't tie your self-worth to anybody or anything else, because it will only make you feel like shit.
Second, never, ever apologize for liking what you like. The Elder Spawn used to like wearing his favorite pink t-shirt and having Mom goth up his nails a bit when she was painting hers. Then some little shit on the playground told him that 'pink is a girl color' and 'painting nails is for girls' and now he doesn't want to do it anymore. I'm pretty sure we've reassured him that it's okay for him to like what he likes, but messages like these are being sent in kindergarten. It's disheartening.
Third, no, I'm not going to teach my kid how to fire a gun*. Not because I'm hardcore against the idea, but because in order for me to do that, someone's going to have to teach my ass how to fire a gun and I just don't have that kind of time. What I am a big believer in and what I wish the educational system would do better at is letting boys have an outlet for their massive stores of energy. You wouldn't believe what a simple game of pick-up soccer or just twenty minutes riding a bike around the front of the house will do to improve attitudes and behavior in our house. Maybe your outlet is taking your boy down to the range. That's fine, I've got nothing against it. But the importance of giving that energy someplace to go on a damn nearly daily basis cannot be emphasized enough. Get them in sports. Get them in activities. Give them something to do!
Fourth, read to your kids. This one doesn't just apply to boys, but if you instill a love of books in 'em early, then they're never going to stop reading and they'll be curious about the world around them. If you can get them to realize that they should never, ever stop learning, then you've done right by them.
Fifth, my dudes are pretty young for college right now, but 'don't go to college unless you know what you want to do when you get there' is something I'm probably going to tell them a lot. (Because between the Missus and I, we paid about $13,000 on student loan interest. Just the interest. If you don't have a clue what to do in college, it's a damn expensive way of finding your dream.)
Six, be kind. I honestly think that kindness in boys is a trait that's either sneered at or overlooked, but it's also a trait that will get you the furthest in life.
See, look how easy that was? Six simple ways to try and raise your sons**. I didn't mention rape. I didn't mention guns or feminism. I didn't mention the word 'cuck' or snowflake or liberal. I know it's trendy to talk about 'the crisis facing men' and 'the war on boys' these days and for sure, in a changing world, there's evidence that men are stressed out and kind of in a weird place these days. But if we're really serious about raising boys and turning them into good men, then we need to start by taking a hard look at the messages we're sending to them. We need to look at what they're internalizing- because they start picking up on things at a really young age.
In order to real stop toxic masculinity, we need to stop feeding our sons poison. I haven't read a lot on this issue, but what I have read only convinces me that every message from every point of view I've seen so far recognizes that there's a discussion worth having, but thinks op-eds written in poison are the best way to start. We can and we must do better than this.
*Oh boy, this article I have all kinds of problems with. Am I going to prepare my sons for war? Men are inherently violent? It's not better than Michael Ian Black's thinly veiled assertion that there's a school shooter inside every boy, just waiting to get out. The author is obviously a pretty hardcore dude and if he wants to raise his kids to be pretty hardcore dudes, that's fine by me. But get the fuck out of here with that nonsense and keep it away from my dudes.
**This list will, undoubtedly, get longer as they all get older. But right now, these are the six things I sort of know for sure so it seems like a good place to start.