Trying to raise a real man in today’s world may be harder than splitting an atom. Everyday our kids are bombarded with images and messages of the most unmanly things imaginable. That’s why your job as a father is as tough as it’s even been. It’s you against the world.
Let’s be clear about a dad’s role in raising a child. It takes a man and a woman to raise a real man. A boy needs a mother to nurture him, and take care of him. He also needs the influence of a strong, masculine male figure in his life. These influences balance each other out. If you’re missing either influence, you tend to get less than optimal results.
Children need and rely on their mothers more at an early age. However, as a boy becomes a teenager and advances through adolescence, his father must step up his influence. This is the time where boys typically begin to rebel and assert some independence. This is when they start to become men. They begin to gravitate towards their fathers. They seek out more dangerous or risky activities.
As your boy starts to grow into a man and seeks out your guidance, you still need to support his mother’s influence. For example, a male teenager will often disrespect his mother because they’re acting out in their masculinity. No longer are they physically inferior to their mothers. They’ll usually test their mothers more than their fathers. A father has to set the boy straight. They need to be taught to always act respectfully towards their mothers.
Of course, raising a kid is always a crap shoot. You can do everything by the book, and still end up with a kid who goes completely off the deep-end. They may rebel, run away, turn to drugs, and act out in all sorts of self-destructive ways you never imagined possible. Also, how many of us have two or more kids that we’ve treated exactly the same way, only to watch one of them go in a completely different direction. You drive yourself nuts trying to figure out what you did wrong. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with you. It’s just the personality of the child, their friends, and other influences over which you have very little control.
However, chances are that if a boy is raised by a real man in a structured environment, he’s much more likely to grow in to a real man himself – a strong, independent, and responsible man. So how do you raise a strong, independent, responsible, real man – a man who is honorable, intelligent, financially stable, able to take care of and protect his own family, and able to successfully raise children of his own? Here are some suggestions:
o Let them play with boy toys
In spite of what the girlie men state, it’s o.k. for boys to play with boy toys. It’s o.k. for them to play ‘Army’ and ‘Cowboys and Indians’. It’s o.k. for them to use saws, hammers, drills, and other tools. It’s o.k. for them to play with toy guns.
o Let them play like boys
Boys like to be boys. You should encourage that behavior, rather than discourage it. They like to play in the mud and in the dirt. They like to splash in puddles and play in the rain. They like to wrestle and fight. Provide boundaries for all of those things, but in general, let them do it.
o Do manly activities with your boys
Take them hunting and fishing. Go camping and dirt bike riding. Go hiking and mountain climbing. Take them to baseball and football games. Build a fort with them. In addition to bonding time, these activities are all opportunities to teach your boys man skills: setting up camp, starting fires, cleaning game, marksmanship, respecting nature, building skills, sports rules, coordination, etc. You absolutely should also do more ‘cultural’ activities with your boys like taking them to museums, plays, movies, concerts, and fine restaurants. However, these are things which can be done with the whole family. Our focus here is specifically on manly activities you do with your boys.
o Do manly activities with other men and boys
Take the opportunity to do manly activities in the company of other men and boys. For example, if you have friends with boys, you might go on hunting, fishing, or camping trips together. This gives your boys an opportunity to see other real men in action. It provides positive male role models, and reinforcements of real man behaviors.
o Do manly activities with your boys regularly
It’s not enough to take your boys on a fishing trip then never do it again. You need to do things with them regularly. For example, you might get them involved in Little League during the spring, fishing over the summer, and hunting during the fall. Throw in a few camping trips and sports events throughout the year.
o Get them involved in team sports.
Encourage them to join Little League or Pop Warner football. Spend some evenings and weekends practicing with them each week. They’ll learn how to work in a team environment, learn sports skills, develop confidence as they improve their skills, and enjoy quality bonding time with their father.
o Teach them guidelines about crying
Our society has drilled in to our heads that it’s o.k. for men to cry at any time for any reason – the more the better. No, it’s not o.k. It is o.k. for men to cry once in awhile, but never in public. In general, you need to teach your boys to suck it up. This teaches them discipline and will power. It also teaches them to maintain composure during crisis or difficult times when they need all of their faculties to focus on solutions to problems.
o Provide positive reinforcement
At every opportunity, stress to your boys how special they are, how smart they are, and how tough they are. Tell them you’re proud of them and that they can be anything they want. Do it often.
o Don’t save your boys from suffering the consequences
Our society is full of sports figures that have been brought up with the idea that they can do no wrong. They’ve never had to take responsibility for their actions. Instead, someone was always there to make excuses for them or take care of any problems that they created. More often than not, boys raised in this manner end up getting involved in drugs, crime, and all sorts of other nasty behaviors.
It’s difficult not to help our kids in certain circumstances. Our instincts are to care for them. The problem is that if we’re always saving them, they learn that there are no consequences to mistakes or bad behavior. Women, especially, try to save their kids every chance they get. It’s their nurturing instinct and it’s admirable. But you’re not a woman, and you’re not rearing women. You’re a real man tying to raise a responsible real man.
Allow your boys to suffer the consequences of their mistakes. For example, if you reminded them to bring their coat along yet they still forgot it, let them be cold rather than giving up your coat. If they suffer the consequence, they won’t forget the coat the next time. If you give them your coat or don’t allow them to suffer the consequence, they’ll probably forget the coat the next time as well. Of course you want to do this within reason. You don’t want them to become a human ice sickle in order to teach them not to forget their coat.
o Don’t rush them in to manhood.
A boy will naturally start gravitating towards his father in his early teens. He’ll still go to his mother for sympathy and motherly love. Don’t belittle it. Allow him to maintain a bond with the woman who gave birth to him. Fathers always worry about their sons becoming mama’s boys – an unhealthy relationship with their mothers. You can minimize that by regularly doing more manly activities with your son.
o Be firm, but fair
Your son needs a strong male figure, not a wishy-washy, milquetoast one. Set rules for him and let him know you expect him to follow them, otherwise there will be consequences. But be fair. It’s easy to get caught up in the authority of being a father and being in control. It’s easy to sometimes be unreasonable. Don’t fall in to this trap. You’ll teach your son far more by being fair than by regularly being an unreasonable jerk.
o Don’t be his friend
You’re his dad, not his buddy. After he’s an adult, then you can relate more like friends. But while he’s growing up, he needs strong guidance more than friendship. By all means, bond, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. Just don’t confuse being a friend with being a father. He’ll develop far more respect for you as his father than as his buddy.
o Show affection
It’s o.k. to shake your sons hand, pat him on the back, and yes even hug him. It sends a message that even though you’re tough on him, you care for him and love him. Let’s face it. As a man, it’s not always easy to tell someone you love them. If you can’t manage it, you’ll at least be sending that message through your actions. He’ll know it. If you are able to tell your boys you love them, the pats and hugs will reinforce what you’re telling him. Just don’t overdo it with the touchy feely stuff. That’s his mother’s domain, not yours.
If you follow these steps, you just might be able to beat the odds in our girlie man world, and end up the proud father of a genuine, real man. And perhaps someday, the real man you raised will discover the two things that all men do when they reach a certain point in their lives: one, that you were once a kid just like him; and two, that you are in fact a very smart guy, not the dummy he thought you were when he was a teenager. I’ll allow Thomas Wolfe and Mark Twain the final words to explain this phenomenon.
“Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later . . . that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could . . . adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.” –Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities
“When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant that I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in only 7 years.”–Mark Twain