How to raise a man

Man up, sit down
Chin up, pipe down
Socks up, don’t cry
Drink up, don’t whine
“Grow some balls,” he said
“Grow some balls”

The mask
Of masculinity
Is a mask
A mask that’s wearing me
The mask, the mask, the mask

Samaritans by Idles

We want Jack to be kind, considerate, and thoughtful. We want him to be present, to live a happy life, a healthy life both physically and mentally.

These are not unique desires for a parent, I’m well aware of that, but it’s something we’ve actively discussed and as the main male presence in his life Iโ€™m already conscious of the things I say and do that could influence him.

Fundamentally I want my son to treat every person with respect, respect to their gender, their sexuality, their race, their abilities, and to understand and respect the language they use and also to know when it’s HIS feelings and issues that are the problem, and that those issues are for HIM to deal with (and that Iโ€™ll always be there to help him with those too).

That’s the goal but how do you do that?

I’m very wary of reciting advice we’ve read/heard elsewhere, or sounding like I think I know it all and this will guarantee Jack grows into a flawless adult (spoiler alert: he won’t) but there are a few simple things I am doing that, hopefully, will help lead him down a path I hope he chooses to take as he gets older:

  1. Being mindful of how I act, and what I say.
    Kids copy so much of what their parents do. How many times do you, as an adult, do something and instantly realise it’s something you’ve inherited from your Mum or Dad. It can be a small mannerism – my Dad used to tap along to music whilst driving the car, tapping his wedding ring on the gearstick, I caught myself doing it the other day – or something more nefarious.
    With the latter in mind I’ve tried to stopping making jokes about, for example, how ‘Mum’s place is in the kitchen’ as not only is it not actually funny, but I don’t want Jack to grow up thinking that attitude is ok.
  2. Acknowledging my mistakes when I make them.
    I think it’s important for Jack to know he’s allowed to make mistakes as long as he knows how to process that and learn from them. I’ll do my best to set an example for him. That means apologising to him if I lose my temper with him, or if I do something he didn’t want me to do.
    The former I’ve already done a few times, when my tiredness and a cranky toddler collide I’ve raised my voice to him and as soon as I’ve calmed down I’ve sat down with him, said I’m sorry and explained why I acted that way and that it wasn’t right for me to shout at him. I’m not sure he understands the words, but hoping he understands the sentiment.
    The latter is a tricky line to tread as whilst, for example, HE wants me to go stand far away in the playground whilst he climbs to the top of the (12 foot high, metal) stairs of the slide, he still occasionally misjudges things and falls over so, no I won’t stand where he wants as I might need to catch him! Again, in a calm voice I’ll explain why I’m not doing what he wants.
  3. Talking openly, honestly, and often.
    Hopefully this will help Jack as he grows, and with practice he’ll come to understand that he can talk to his Mum and Dad about anything, good or bad, and while we will be strict when required, he’ll always know that talking about his feelings is a good thing, and we will always love him, no matter what he brings to us.
  4. Crying.
    As my friends know, I am an emotional guy. I cry at lots of things, songs, movies, TV shows. I won’t be hiding this from Jack. And if I am upset about something, as I can get with thinking about my Dad and how he would’ve doted on Jack, I will cry and tell Jack why. I’ll smile through the tears so he knows it’s ok to feel sad sometimes, and that crying is nothing to be ashamed of.
  5. Loving.
    I tell Jack I love him every single day. I made a promise to him, and myself, that I would do this in some form or another from the day he was born and I’ve not missed a day yet. For now I get to say the words to him, but I know as he grows it might be by text message or whatever mode of communication we end up with in 2035, regardless, I will tell him I love him every day whilst I still can.
    He’ll also hear me say that to his Mum, and see me cuddle her and show affection. I think that’s important too. Love is powerful.
  6. Respecting.
    And possibly the hardest one of all, at least it seems that way, is to teach Jack to respect other people. Flying in the face of mainstream media which, whilst it is changing, is still very misogynistic, I want Jack to understand and embrace consent.
    I can’t recall which TV show I saw it on but so far the best handling of this I’ve seen was a father and son sitting in a fast food restaurant at a counter. They are eating and the father broaches the subject of consent, asking his son if he knows what it means, when the son isn’t sure, the father says it’s simple. When a sporting referee blows the whistle, everything stops. You might question the decision afterwards, you might be annoyed, you might think the referee was wrongโ€ฆ but you stop. That one stuck with me.

I’ve been thinking about how to capture of all this for a while. In my head the title of this post is actually, how NOT to raise a rapist which isn’t far from the truth. I know there will be difficult conversations ahead, one of which will be about rape and how it’s up to MEN to sort that problem out (and presuming he continues to identify as a man then he’ll need to be part of the solution).

I have, of course, no idea how all of this will turn out, I have hope because Becca and I think the same way about all of these things, have personal experiences to bear out our advice, and because we both believe that the more we talk about these things with Jack, and the earlier we start, the more likely it is that he will grow into a good man, that Jack will turn out to be just that.

Which strikes me as something I’ve mentioned before about another man, he was a good man too, so here’s hoping some of him is passed down through me to my own son.


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