Every day I wonder what type of a man I will be raising my son
to become. He is now 8 months and I am still wondering.
Boys are taught not to show their feelings: ‘Be brave…’ ‘Don’t cry…’ Boys are expected to ‘Take hardship like a man…’
They are taught to ignore, minimize, disregard and overcome feelings of weakness, not to flinch in the face of danger. They are taught not to have certain ‘unmanly’ feelings.
Adult men continue to be reinforced to be strong and capable, for keeping a steady hand on the tiller, for being able to ‘overcome their feelings’. This is the culture of the workplace where men thrive.
Most men are not rewarded as children for being sensitive and for sharing their feelings. They are bred for bravery, as it were.
Once, a successful man was the head of his house. He talked and his wife listened. He worked in a management position to feed his family. Society was happy with these men as they were providers, taking care of their families but empty as they were not fulfilling their emotional needs
Now my confusion is, times have changed and boys are expected to behave differently. However, still parents raise their boys to be brave, take care of their sisters, work extra hard – because they will need to take care of their families.
The societal pressure to be successfully strong exerts a subtle, persistent pressure on boys and men to disown certain ‘troublesome’ aspects of their internal experiences. The tragedy of this is that when you deny parts of yourself, as millions of boys around the world are taught to do, these parts eventually become unavailable.
Anything that is ‘stuffed down’ and not allowed to be experienced becomes either denied or repressed. The unfortunate by-product of years of denial and repression is that eventually walls off important emotional components of yourself, making them hard if not impossible to access.
A man who has always believed it was unacceptable to show his ‘weaker’ side-feelings of fear, aloneness, and uncertainty eventually won’t have any sense of having these feelings.
The common answer I get from young parents with boys is: I want my son to be a well educated, successful, independent and strong individual. I asked my husband the very same question and he said he will teach his son to be a man of his word and that he should make sure that he does whatever he set himself out to do.
Now clearly women would want to raise their boys to be what they think a man should be – successful, independent and strong. Years later another woman will marry this man and say ‘Tell me your feelings…’ ‘ I want to be close to you…’ and wonder why they don’t relate to that. Who are you raising?
A strong man who will conquer the world, but be emotionally unavailable? Or an emotional man who will satisfy the world and do a job that he enjoys? What kind of man do you hope you’re raising?