I'm sure you've all seen the news about the 9 year old who was initially suspended over calling a teacher cute (The administrator was later dismissed). Then there's the first grader being investigated for sexual harassment over punching another boy in the groin during a fight. There are many, many more such. A depressingly large number. It's as if every adult in the nation has forgotten what it's like to be a kid.
Here's a blast from the past I'm betting a lot of you remember.
Glory Glory Hallelujah
Teacher Hit You With A Ruler
Blow Her Through The Door With A Loaded 44
And She Ain't Gonna Teach No More
Come on. I can't be the only one out there that sung that as a child. There were more that my memory simply can't bring up any more but the point is that young boys do stuff like that. It's all about learning what it means to be a man, pushing our boundaries and doing risky things. Not once did I or anyone I ever knew actually blow a teacher through the door with a loaded 44. We didn't even consider it. But we could sing about it and tell each other lies about how cool we were and just be boys engaging in harmless behavior with that heady tang of risk and being an outlaw. I'm absolutely certain that the teachers heard that song and others just like it many times yet none of us were so much as sent to the principals office over it much less suspended and investigated and charged criminally. Common sense and a dose of 'they're just being boys' perhaps?
Cute? What guy didn't have a crush on a teacher? Perhaps it was one of your mom's friends or an older girl in the neighborhood or even a distant cousin who was the most beautiful creature ever created by a supreme being who clearly knew what a girl was supposed to look like. Asking a boy to exercise the virtues of an adult is insane. Besides what's wrong with appreciation and adolescent fantasy? It's all part of growing up. And don't talk to me about abuse. I experienced it first hand and it's got nothing to do with a boy who likes his teacher.
How about fighting? Any guys out there who got into a fistfight or two as boys? I did, many times. And yes, groin punching was a pretty routine tactic, accepted and even expected when small fists start to fly over matters of honor or self defense. I did get sent to the principal a few times over such but never got more than a stern warning to stop fighting at school. Or else. What else? I never found out because we respected the school administrators (and especially the Principal!) even though the stricture against fighting at school was routinely ignored or forgotten. because boys are boys and fighting with each other is as natural as breathing. I have a brother who is 15 months my senior. Close enough for us to be physically pretty equal but far enough for friction to develop and develop it did. Living in a house with 3 boys and a single mother who worked and went to college left us with a lot of hostility and a lot of time in which to exercise it. We had hundreds of fights. We spent one whole summer fighting nearly every day. And not the pushing, shoving kind of fighting but the knock down, drag out type I refer to as fist fighting. I had pretty much a permanent black eye for months. But neither of us turned into serial killers or criminals or anti-social monsters. Heck, I consider it as just good preparation for a later career where fighting with angry, drugged out, violent men was routine. I really need to thank my brother sometime for teaching me the value of a good scrap. Never trust a man who hasn't been in at least one good fight.
The value of risk has been driven home to me by my grandson, The Boy. I'm teaching him rock climbing. Even with my background and knowledge, when I see him scaling a sharp face or see him standing atop a conquered climb, just inches from a fall, my heart leaps into my throat and my first instinct is to order him away from the edge and to carry him down to where it's safe. My daughter shakes her head at me and watches with ill concealed pride. She knows. She understands that he must be allowed to experience risk. He must see that he can conquer his fears and overcome his limitations. He needs to have an outlet for his aggressive feelings. To deny him this is to deny him a chance at manhood. He may not be able to hear, he won't read and he can't think but he can see. He can experience first hand what it means to risk and win. He must be able to experience pain and failure if he is to learn to judge.
We are emasculating our boys, sacrificing them on the altar of political correctness. Willingly turning them over to those who hate them for their very maleness and kidding ourselves that they know better than we how our boys should be raised. A boy who is denied a chance to be a boy will grow up top be a frustrated man, unsure of who or even what he is. Mini bikes and BB guns and pulling the pig tails of that girl in second period that we like but don't quite know how to admit. Climbing hills and throwing rocks and getting dirty. Wrestling with the dog and getting into fights with the school bully. Scrapes and cuts and bruises and occasionally something worse but learning about life from them.
Suspended? Investigated? Shame on us all. Those boys should be celebrated for being what they are. Boys who will someday grow up to be men (God willing).
Make no mistake about it, we need men in our society. Men who dream big, build big and are ready to fight at the drop of a hat over the things that matter. Men who understand their power and have learned, through painful trial and error, how to contain and focus it. Men who have been allowed to experience the joys of budding puppy love and infatuation so they can recognize the real thing when it appears and be equipped to appreciate, value and protect the one they love.
We do our boys no favor by wrapping them in a blanket and protecting them from all of life's ups and downs. We're not protecting them at all, we're punishing them for being boys and setting them up for a life of frustration, depression and failure. We're not teaching that 9 year old to respect women, we're teaching him to distrust women. We're requiring him to grow up misogynistic. And we wonder at the divorce and domestic violence rate in this country. We're not teaching that first grader fairness, we're teaching him that it's better to be a victim than a survivor. Better to lose a fight and take a beating (or worse) than win at all costs. We're teaching them that being a boy is wrong and that they're somehow bad just for being what they are.
I am grateful for growing up the way I did. I love my scars, my wounds, my soaring triumphs and crashing defeats. They were honorably obtained and taught me that I like being a man. I'm rough and crude and I use bad language from time to time. I'm lumpy and hairy and sometimes smell of the sweat from honest toil and I don't care. I eat red meat and even kill it from time to time. I like guns and big trucks and dogs and motorcycles and fast cars. I love cop movies where the bad guy gets his in the end. I love my career choices. Being a soldier and a cop define me and I'm good with that. I love my wife, her softness and kindness and her womanly curves. I love how she smells and her gentle kisses. I love that she's a woman and allows me to be a man. I love my tools and making things with my hands. I love my daughter and my grandchildren and I'd do anything to protect them and see that they have the same opportunities in life that I had. If that makes me a bad person then so be it. I think that a man makes his own way to hell with those who desire nothing more than to see him fall and fail and disappear. I make no apologies for any of it.
And so I want The Boy to have the chance to grow up to be the man I know is buried in that small, sturdy body. I want him to be free to take risks, knowing that we'll be there to help him up, dust him off and send him on his way again. I want him to experience the first blushes of a crush without the fear that he'll be labeled a harasser of women and girls. I want him to fight for what's right and true and honorable without fear of arrest and ostracizing by a society that hates and fears him. I want him to play sports and learn to shoot and climb mountains and ride a motorcycle if those are his desire. I want him to be free to choose his own path, whatever that may be, without a hostile society imposing their will upon him.
He's my little man. My Boy. The one who copies me and watches me with wide eyes. What does it mean to be a man? In the end that's a question only he can answer however much I, his parents, his teachers and every busybody, nanny in the country want to influence him. Boys should be treated as apprentice men lest they never stop being little boys.
I fear that is what we've come to. A country run by alleged adults who either never grew up or who grew up hating what boys become when left to their own devices. For my part I'll emulate my daughter and remember what it was like to be a boy trying to become a man. I'll point him in the right direction and then step back to allow him to win or fall on his own. Lessons, advice, wisdom, the lore of the tribe, all these are his for the asking but the option to be the man he wants to be is his birthright and be damned to the very pits of Hell to those who would rob him of that.