My son was bullied last week.
It involved his newly acquired smart phone and something kind of sinister; quite possibly even illegal. It was high tech and it cut to the core of his insecurities as a person. The bully wasn’t a big kid, stealing his lunch money or a jock taunting him on the playground. No, in this particular case, the bully in question was a girl. And by the time she was finished with him, he’d already received a text telling him to kill himself. He’s 12.
I think I speak for a lot of men right now, when I say I am often at a loss as to how to teach my son to be a man in the current world. What does being a man even mean, anymore? I know what it means to me. And I intend on being my version of a man until they scatter my ashes over I-40. But what tools will my 12-year-old son need to navigate the world in which he will be sent? Some days I honestly don’t know.
I’m trying to teach him to be respectful and kind yet strong and steady; accomplished yet humble, courteous yet informed. I’m trying to teach him to be well-groomed yet adventurous; clean but rugged, quick to laugh yet ready to fight. I want him to understand why freedom is important and why it’s worth defending. I want him to have a sense of his own power while teaching him how to use it wisely. I want him to understand what makes a car cool and what makes friend indispensable. I want him to understand what makes a woman amazing and how to treat her when he finds her.
I want to teach him how to be a leader and how to stand up for what he believes. And in my teaching him, I’m hoping that what he believes…is right.
I want to tech my son all of those things, but I’m probably not. I only have his attention for a few minutes here and a few minutes there. The world in which he lives and moves is dominated by screens and people around him with screens and screens at school and screens in the bathrooms of restaurants and screens in the mall and screens everywhere. So, I’ve gotten to teach him how to tie his shoes and use an allen wrench and find a couple of notes on a piano and a few other things. But for the most part, my son doesn’t care much about what I have to teach him. He’s far more interested in the expert on Youtube with a million more followers. So, I at least try to monitor the messages he’s receiving through his screens.
About four years ago, he said, off-handedly, that girls were better than boys. When I asked him where he heard that, he just shrugged and said, “Dad, that’s a scientific fact. Everybody knows that. Boys just aren’t that good.” He was 8.
Nobody likes to hear the majority whine. I get it. But at the risk of never getting to host the Oscars, I have to say that as a man, it sometimes feels like nobody likes me. Sure, I have friends and colleagues and (given what I do for a living) even fans. But in the larger sense, societally, I feel like (and I’m speaking for me, personally) being a man is seen as some sort of detriment in and of itself.
It’s true that we don’t do ourselves any favors. Men break a lot of things and destroy a lot of beauty in the world. Men abandon their children and kill each other with impunity. Men rape and kidnap and bludgeon and shoot and belittle and demean and disregard and objectify and generally do all the things we are accused of. We shrink into the corner, then lash out; disconnect emotionally then pound our chests and scream at the world to listen.
But the older I get, the more I’m starting to realize that women do a lot of those things too. The truth is women are equal to men in every way…including human darkness.
At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, there’s a crisis of manhood, at the moment, in our culture. We (men) are, in real time, learning to suppress more and more of our primal instincts, to fit ourselves into a society suitable for our children. Contrary to what some believe, we don’t want to raise bullies and brutes. Those of us who are trying to be dads, are trying to be good ones. And yet everything coming at us from the media tells us we are stupid and backward and inferior and, quite frankly, “the problem.”
And the problem is…so many of us actually are the problem. It makes for a confusing existence.
Still, watch any three-hour block of prime time TV. See how many husbands or boyfriends are the foils or the idiots in any commercial. See how many times the woman has to come in and save the situation. See how many frumpy cowards you can count, or lovable oafs. Sometimes it feels like the only acceptable males left are the compliant Betas in skinny jeans, without opinions or ideas. As long as they keep that beard trimmed and that non-threatening smile on their face, they will still be allowed to participate. The rest are seen as “toxic.”
Speaking of trimming beards, the new Gillette commercial is the latest example of males being asked to take a seat and listen in class. This will be yet another message sent to my son through his screen. And it will tell him how much of his nature he needs to change.
I miss the days when football was just football and I could watch it, still believing that all those guys on that field kinda believed in the same things I believed in and didn’t secretly hate me. During the commercial breaks of those games, I knew that I was going to be sold colder beer and stronger trucks and a closer shave. And I was cool with that. The whole bunch of people on my screen basically said, “You raise your son. We’re here to entertain you and give you the payload stats on the newest F-150. Oh …and now, our razors have FIVE blades. This will be the closest shave of your life!” THAT was a good Sunday afternoon. And it allowed me to indulge in a fantasy, for at least a few hours, that things might actually be okay.
Now, all those people on the screens have decided to get into my personal life, my politics, and my core belief systems. They’ve all decided not to let me have a day off – not a MOMENT off – from thinking about what they want out of me and my son.
The truth is what they may end up getting is a society of men who simply withdraw and never say why. They may end up with a group of men who channel all their hostility in an unhealthy way. They may end up with more of what they despise and less of what they actually want. Because you can only be told “you’re a problem” so many times. And then you simply don’t know what else to do or how else to act.
The men in my life, who have been examples to me, have been good men. They’ve taken care of things. They’ve tried to fix broken things and tried to make bad situations better. And they’ve stood up to all those men out there who are currently on trial for existing.
I want to be one of those men. I want my son to be one of those men too. But at the moment, he’s just trying to survive middle school. And he’s learning to fear girls as much as he fears other boys.
I didn’t teach him that lesson…a girl did.
To subscribe to my daily blog, click the link below: