I’m not naturally tough in the way our society tends to define it, which has been a complicated thing throughout my life. I’ve experienced plenty of moments in which an ability to step up and be confrontational, respond forcefully to aggression, and not turn the other cheek would probably have been a good thing. These days I worry about it most in relation to my son – he’s a sweet, gentle, affectionate boy, and we live in a society that does not value those qualities in boys and men. Our society celebrates and rewards the alpha male who takes what he wants without asking, conceals emotion and stiff-arms vulnerability, and stands with a fist. I’ve never even come close to being that kind of person. I believe I can teach my son kindness and generosity, at least in the flawed and sputtering way I do everything, and I believe we need more men of kindness and generosity. However, I don’t know how to teach him toughness that intersects with kindness and generosity in a way that mirrors my values; I really don’t know how to teach him toughness in any way. That worries me.


One thought on “Toughness

  1. You ask terrific questions! As a teacher of 32 years, I can tell you that there are many kind, compassionate boys who have good lives. They just don’t get the press! Their most important models are their family…especially their dads. You have a great love for him and model who you want him to be every day. Things that really help are monitoring video time and intake (check out Common Sense Media) and limit exposure to what OTHERS (advertisers) think a man should be. See that your school is involved in anti-bullying efforts. I think all public schools are required to do so by federal programs. I believe the best is Olweus ( Your religious choices can also have a huge influence. Some are extremely paternalistic and believe in “An Eye for an Eye.” (My children were raised Unitarian, no creed, but big focus on compassionate living…only one idea) It is okay to avoid violent toys and when he wants one (which he will) don’t panic, but tell him why you won’t buy him one. (ie: Because the real ones hurt people so I don’t want us to play that.) If your son is in day-care, you might have a conversation with the director about this concern. That person’s response can also tell you if this is the right environment! (I was once told “Boys will be boys.” We left that one!)
    My best friend gave me my favorite piece of child-raising advise which came from her mother. “Raise your children so other people like to be around them.” That sounds exactly like what you are trying to do! Best of luck, Mike.

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