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Manhood & Masculinity – 10 Messages for my sons

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I am a proud father of boys who are turning out to be fine young men.   Sure we have had conversations about life and the importance of things like passion, purpose and contribution, but I am not sure I have spoken enough with them about what it means to male in the 21st century. Manhood and masculinity may not be as easy to identify as it was. It occurs to me that young men are often informed about masculinity through cliches such as: ‘man up’, ‘grow some balls’, ‘toughen up’, ‘suck it up’, ‘don’t be a cry baby’. In the age of feminism and celebration of women, the conversation about raising boys into men is often drowned out. Our boys may not hear the positive messages about being male. Often boys know and express the emotions of anger and frustration but seldom understand how to respond to other emotions relating to for example: sexuality; addiction; personal authenticity; and belonging.

So, what messages would I give to my sons about what being male means. I recently watched TED talk by Tony Porter about Manhood. Tony had some powerful stories and thoughts he wanted to share about how boys are raised and the ‘Man Box’ that is created around boys. You can see his TED talk later in this blog. After watching Tony I thought about the things boys learn inside and outside of their family and how those things can shape them into being male. I thought about what I would like to share with them about being male. My sons are now in their twenties and studying and launching into life.

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 They don’t have children yet but one day they might. In their younger worlds there was possibility and wonder in most things they experienced. As a father and as a man I was a place of safety, consistency, a place of strength, a place of learning, and a place of love and affection. I was also a place of discipline and physical power.  I often reflected on my parenting as most parents do.

I remember reading Stephen Biddolph’s book ‘Raising Boys‘. It was a book that provided me with insights into the needs of boys in regard to their education, and their development. I tried to apply the things suggested by Biddolph.  I hugged my boys a lot (and still do), encouraged them to show emotion, taught them how to cook, wash, iron and maintain a house. Taught them how love and care for animals and the environment. How to run a budget and so on. I encouraged them to respect the women in our family and community.  Those learnings were not at the expense of their masculinity.

For some, ‘masculinity’ is a dirty word. For some, it is a word that denotes danger and all the bad things recorded in history about being male. But for others it is a point of differentiation that needs to be celebrated and nurtured. To restate the obvious, men are not like women. It would be boring if they were.  We can celebrate the diversity of our gender difference, both have strengths and weaknesses. I would like to hear a more balanced voice in our community around masculinity.

So here are 10 messages for my sons about being a man in the 21st century:

1. Live in the present and not in fantasy – we are here only once – be bold and make your time count for something important. The past is past and the future is there to be created, by you.

2. Really listen to others, don’t listen through filters created by you because you want to look good.

3. Accept you are human and when you need to, seek support from those who care about you and who can help.

4. Emotional intelligence is a powerful skill, develop it.

5. Make a stand for those who can’t, including the environment.

6. Respect others and their point of view, and allow yourself to be vulnerable.

7. Don’t break the law, and be your authentic self, not the person you think others want you to be.

8. Love passionately, without condition.

9. Take responsibility for your own life and make choices wisely. Human experience shows that we make choices and then spend our lives dealing with them.

10. Be strong and keep your loved ones safe.

This is Tony Porters view (TED talk) and it’s worth watching and considering:

As a man and a father there is much to celebrate about masculinity. I am excited to see my sons growing up and developing their sense of self and purpose. I am excited to watch what their contribution will be. I am excited about what their masculinity might bring to themselves, our family and our community.

Here’s some advice from the talented Minister Mark Gungor. He talks here about the differences between men and women and how to have great relationships and a great marriage with the knowledge of that. A fun presentation worth watching, enjoy: