“Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.” – Plato
For the third time that day, William slowly walked down the long stone hallway, past the statue of Michael the archangel, to the principal’s office. After two bouts of “horseplay” ended with a good talking to and one paddling, he dared to pull Emily’s pigtails. Now, as we all knew, the funeral dirge had begun. His father would be called and William would soon wish for the comparative gentleness of the principal’s paddle. Even Mrs. Walters, our fifth grade teacher, and little Emily seemed to empathize.
After an eternity passed, William returned, still sniffling slightly – spirit intact, but will broken. He was strangely angelic for the remainder of the day.
Fast forward a couple of decades. The wind leaves my lungs and my back pain is sharp, but I blame myself. You never turn your back on the ocean or little boys at play. I was the dragon and Ian was the “brave knight.” Having saved the princess (his sister, Temperance) and cut off my head, I assumed his mission complete. I assumed wrongly and, coming around to confirm the dragon’s death, he plowed knees-first onto my back. Despite my soreness, which I am ashamed to admit followed me to the next morning, I would have it no other way.
Plato was right. Boys are quite “unmanageable”. In fact, many of the symptoms of boyhood match those of ADHD. And, sadly, both are treated as equally undesirable conditions. Feminism and the rampant egalitarianism of our day make easy scapegoats, and perhaps they deserve the lion’s share (lioness’s?) of the blame for the war on boyhood, but they are far from the only culprits.
In fact, it could be argued that, were it not for the machismo that also saturates our society, the extreme feminist and egalitarian movements would have little to work with. As always, it is difficult to tell which came first, the stereotype or those who live it out; but the macho “thug” has done great harm to true masculinity.
The thug responds to everything in violence and anger. Known for his skills in scratching, grunting, and cursing, the thug tests his manhood primarily through fighting and sexual exploits. Any challenge is perceived as a challenge to his masculinity.
A thug possesses only selective skills of manhood and even those are used for terrible ends. For example, a thug may carry a gun, but he does so to intimidate rather than defend. He fights to show he’s “tough”, not because he seeks to protect the weak. He may even hunt, but he does so to kill “trophies”, not to provide food or enjoy and preserve creation. He treats women in much the same way, merely as objects, because he knows nothing of chivalry.
He also knows nothing of protection, nothing of honor, and (most of all) nothing of self-control. Machismo, as with all counterfeits, bears only the initial appearance of manhood, while lacking all the reality.
Theodore Roosevelt, truly a man’s man, once said, “I want to see you game, boys, I want to see you brave and manly, and I also want to see you gentle and tender.” Machismo loses both. While ignoring gentleness and tenderness, they create a perverted masculinity that is nothing more than thinly veiled weakness.
True manhood arises from true boyhood which means that, if we desire our boys to be true men, we must disciple them away from both feminization and false masculinity. The answer is not simply allowing them to be rough, get dirty, and play with toy guns. That is a start, but it must be coupled with instruction in chivalry, gentleness, and kindness. Read to them tales of such heroes and teach them simple skills of gentlemanliness – opening doors, pulling out chairs, using respectful titles for adults, and treating his sister(s) with consideration. These are not the “end”, but they are valuable steps.
Treat your boys as squires that they may become knights.
Another of my weekly columns for the Circe Institute.