Things Your Father Wants You To Know #5 ~ Be A Man

That is a loaded concept in our culture. In the time of our fathers it meant things like always walking on the street side of a date so her dress doesn’t get splashed, and going down in a fight when someone slighted you, your wife, your girl, your family in any way. In many ethnic groups it meant revenge and in America generally it meant that men didn’t whine about feelings or express emotion in any significant way.

The world has changed a lot in some ways and not so much in others. You should still walk on the street side of a date and do old fashioned things like opening doors and at least offering to pay on a date. The other stuff is not so simple to figure out.

Fighting is not the first best way to defend yourself. If you or someone you love is wounded by words, then it takes a big man to ignore those words, reject those words and walk away from the speaker. If the wounds are caused by “hate words”, towards you or anyone, it takes a courageous man to speak up against those words, to refuse to allow hate speech to go unanswered. If someone violates what you believe in, it takes conviction to stand up for your principles. This last will be tested many times over in your lifetime. How you live your principles is one definition of what it takes to be a real man.

If you are attacked physically, use your mind first and then, if you must, fight back. If you can walk away from a fight, do it. But always defend those weaker and more helpless than you are. You have always stood up for friends or others you thought were being mistreated, never stop doing this; it makes a difference in the world, in people’s lives.

We have already talked about loving with all your heart. Be a generous lover (see your Grandmother’s advice!). Marry someone you would die protecting, that’s how you know its real; you will understand this when you have children because they are the only people you would choose over your partner if you had to make the choice. Protect those children fiercely and without reservation no matter what the personal cost; they will always remember that you did.

Make up your own mind about everything. Read, research, discuss whatever it is you want to know about and then make a decision. There are almost no irrevocable decisions in this life and you will make ones that turn out to be wrong. It takes a real man to admit a mistake, learn from it and move on. Nobody escapes mistakes but many people make the same ones over and over. Don’t just take the advice of your friends who probably have not done the research; or of anyone else unless you respect the depth of their knowledge. Have your own opinions and be gracious about listening to those of others, you might learn something.

Don’t be afraid to feel and don’t be afraid to show it. There is a time for emotions and feelings and a time not. Keep your feelings to yourself at work, most jobs value your intellect and your opinions about the job, not so much your feelings. In your personal relationships, let those feelings out, they matter and will make you a much more attractive man.

Real men love with open hearts and show it; real men use their brains and not their fists whenever possible; real men fight for what they believe in; real men are all different, not cut from some cultural mold that told them what to be. Real men are fully their own selves ~ so be a man.

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Things I Want My Son To Know #22 ~ Express Yourself

There are serious conversations, there is chit chat and there is jib jabber; and there is writing. All of these are about words. For some people, words are sufficient for the expression of self, the expression of the truest and deepest feelings. But words, talking, writing is not enough for some.

This is not really about the kind of expression that results in dialogue, in a two sided or multi-sided conversation. This is about finding a way that allows you to get your feelings outside yourself; to show yourself without unbearable vulnerability.

For me its music. I love writing (you didn’t guess?) but I hold back in writing when I am writing about my innermost feelings unless I am sure nobody will see it. In music I don’t need to hold back. In music I can hide behind the fact that the words are someone else’s but I know in my heart they express perfectly how I feel. When I sing I can let loose in a way that I never do any other way. But… music doesn’t do for everyone what it does for me.

For some it is dance, there are people that feel that no matter how well or how poorly they dance, they can let loose in a way they don’t elsewhere. In fact, for those people, they don’t know that they dance well or poorly, they just dance for the sheer job of expressing themselves in dance.

For some it is in drawing or painting that they find this kind of freedom of expresssion; for some its sculpture, photography, film. You name it, there are those that find the expressions of their souls in it. And some people never find the joy of being able to express themselves totally, without reservation.

So I say, listen to all kinds of music, you never know where you might find your inspiration; it may not be in the music popular with your friends. Dance even if you think you can’t, and dance as if nobody is watching you, just enjoy it. Look at all kinds of art and photographs; watch old movies and foreign movies; expose yourself to things unfamiliar. We know you can draw, paint, design. Don’t forget that you are really talented. Don’t forget that you once enjoyed designing for yourself. Don’t forget you loved fabrics and clothing when you were young and nobody was judging you. Just keep doing something until you figure out what gives you joy. There are many different kinds of joy: there is joy in the love of a relationship, joy in friendship, joy in your children, joy in faith and joy in work that you like. But there is a kind of pure joy in finding a way to express yourself fully in a way that works for you; it doesn’t matter if anyone else every understands it, just do it.

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Boys’ Moms

Boys feelings are often invalidated or ignored and teenage boys can be very sensitive indeed. Being a boy’s mom is not always easy; parenting is not for sissies.

They are almost grown, seventeen, and they feel that they are almost grown.  They think they know everything, they think the road is clear despite what they can’t see.  But they have thin skins, much more than they would want you to know. 

One of my son’s friends had a terrific fight with his mother and walked out.  It was a while before she realized that he had gone, his little sister told her he was gone; and had taken his homework.  My son and his friends are really good kids and generally there are only a few places any one of them would go.  So of course his mother called me.  My son wasn’t here and I didn’t know where hers was.

I called my son, who was on his way home and he arrived a short while later.  I could hear that someone else was with him and, of course, it was his friend.  He had walked all the way from his house to ours.  Quite a distance.  I told him one of us was going to call his mother because I would expect the same if I didn’t know where my son was.  I called her.   Her family are immigrants, her son first generation American, and her culture is quite rigid in its expectations of its sons in particular.  She didn’t understand why the argument was such a big deal.  Since I didn’t know what they argued about, I couldn’t really say.  But I convinced her to give him some space and let him stay here for the night. 

The concept that a son might be “sensitive” or have hurt feelings was quite alien to her.  But my son is pretty sensitive and I get the whole mood swing and hurt feelings thing.  I can’t always avoid hurting them but I understand that he has them.  My son’s friend explained to me that his parents don’t feel that he should have feelings or a point of view, they feel that everything about him is or should be circumscribed and defined by their experience.  He tries to explain to them how he feels, but he thinks they don’t care how he feels.

I don’t know the truth of the matter but I know boys have feelings and I know they are more sensitive than you might think, or than you want them to know.  They have mood swings, they have moods.  They think they know everything but lots of things still confuse them.  They want to be independent, but they want support.  Being a boy’s mom is a hard job, but one I wouldn’t trade.

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