The Duality of Men and What We Teach Our Boys

I had the honor of attending my daughter’s performance of The Nutcracker ballet this past weekend. Olivia and Emma arrived early for warm-ups, rehearsal with the orchestra, and getting into costume. That meant “the boys” would arrive later and separately. That consisted of myself, Jacob, and my father-in-law.

As “the boys” were walking through the parking lot towards the auditorium where Emma would perform, there were two young women wearing evening gowns to our right. That’s when I heard my father-in-law call out to Jacob, “Hey, Sport, 3 o’clock!”

At first, it was comical in that Jacob immediately looked to his 1 o’clock. I thought, it’s a good thing he doesn’t know where the hands are on a clock being a digital-age kid. “No, 3 o’clock, Jacob,” my father-in-law corrected. Jacob shifted his gaze to 2 o’clock. This was awesome. “Oh, nevermind, kid! You know, you need to spend a week with me. I’ll teach you how to be a man and have a good time.”

Oh, crap, here we go.

I stepped in. The challenge here was to share my values on respect for women, respect for ourselves as men, but also keep the peace since we still had a Nutcracker performance to enjoy. “Jacob,” I chimed in. “Grandpa wants you to look at the two girls in evening dresses to our right about 200 feet away.” I made my voice sound as boring as I could. My father-in-law chuckled.

Jacob looked to the right, saw the girls, and said, “Oh, ok.” He seemed less amused than I was. Now, I had the smirk.

“What’s wrong, Sport. Don’t you like girls?” Breathe, Jerry. Balance. Keep the peace. Let Jacob answer. The funny thing was that Jacob and I had this talk during our Passport-2-Purity weekend, but I mentioned that he was most likely going to hear these taunts from guys his age. The truth is that he’s probably heard it more from the grown men in his life.

Jacob didn’t seem phased by the question. He just shrugged, said, “Yes, I like girls.” He answered, but his voice lacked any desperation to prove himself. Technically, he didn’t have to answer the question at all, but I still think he handled it well.

So, father-in-law turns the table onto me. “What about you Dugan? You like girls? I like girls! What about you?”

“Well, I’ve liked one in particular for the last thirteen years as a matter of fact,” was my response. Jacob looked back at me and smiled. Boom! Score a point for Dad!

“Yeah, that’s good actually. You’ve liked just two girls if we count Emma, too, then.” The moment was done, and we moved onto other guy-stuff topics like what sports Jacob would play in the Spring.

Inside, I was floored. My father-in-law is having a “guy talk” with my son about checking out girls, and basically trying to prove our masculinity to each other. I was even more amazed when he turned to me for my input as a guy. Seriously?! I’m married to your daughter, and you’re asking me this in front of her son. It was no problem to speak the truth, but what message would I have sent if I caved and used the “guy response?”

To say, yes, or check out the young ladies in the dresses, would be disrespectful to the woman I love and am committed to. It would be disrespectful to my father-in-law. It would have been a huge snub to my son. I’d be sending the message, “This is what I think about my wife. I respect her little enough to check out other women, gawk at them, and talk about other women when she’s not around. Then, I’ll put on a fake face when I see her.”

More importantly, what were we attempting to teach Jacob about manhood? There are some great and thorough works on masculinity such as Michael Kimmel’s Guyland, The Macho Paradox by Jackson Katz, Stepping Up by Dennis Rainey, and The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz. These are great sources of information because they can help us look at the world around us with a different lens.

This conversation is not the first time my son was in a hypermasculine, prove-to-me-you’re-a-man-by-saying-you-like-girls conversation. He gets this all the time from family. We even know someone as “Chicks, man” because that is the response he gives when asked how he’s been doing. What have you been doing? Chicks, man. Ugh, someone throw the B.S. flag. 15-yard penalty. Something!

I think we get too compartmentalized as men that we fail to connect these conflicting dots to our identity as men. Maybe it is that we understand we play different roles in life, yet those roles are somehow separate from each other role? A loving husband and father is just that, a loving, doting, tender husband and father. A guy, however, is a sports fanatic, who needs to prove his manliness by gawking at “hot babes” when they pass by, or at least letting other men around them know he noticed the “hot babes.” At some point, the “guy” role is going to conflict with the “husband” and “father” role.

Which role prevails when conflicting roles grow to a tipping point?

The reality is that these are all one-and-the-same men. Some conflicting roles will have to give. If you’re tempted to blow off reading this article, for example, you may be facing conflicting feelings. On the one hand, you may agree with me about respect towards women. On the other, you may be thinking, what a sissy! This guy needs to give up his “Man card.” There’s your conflict.

I think that for us to be able to teach our boys to grow up into men who have healthy, long-lasting relationships with their spouses, their children, and grandchildren, we need to really consider what we are teaching about manhood. What does respect really look like? What does strength look like? How do men really talk about women in a way that is respectful? How do we teach our boys the difference between meeting someone versus street harassment?

Men, do we really need to prove to each other how manly we are?

In fact, when a married man says to me, “Did you see that woman jogging?” or “So-and-so’s wife is HOT!” I’m not impressed. You’re married, but you’ve let your eyes wander onto another woman long enough to lead that into a statement. You’ve now acted on what your eyes have seen reinforcing the drip campaign that has already been waged on your eyes and mind against your wife. Maybe the intention was to prove to me that you weren’t gay. Why did you need that kind of validation from me? I’m not your wife.
Maybe we seek this kind of validation because desire some kind of validation from a father-figure? I know I love getting validation from my father. Jacob loves getting validation from me. What kind of things am I validating as his father? That’s not something to take lightly.


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