When boys used to cry, their fathers used to say to them, “You better stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” But today there are not a few fathers who are inclined to do everything in their power to keep their sons from crying at all. And this tendency has been institutionalized to a great extent.
In my social life and profession, I have noticed trend among many fathers, who, with intentions inspired by compassion and kindness, allow their sons to indulge either in anger or self pity unchecked. In many cases, however, it is not the father’s compassion and kindness that is transmitted to their sons. When excessive whining, complaining or anger is not disrupted by some kind of disciplinary intervention, then boys are prone to habitual anger, even narcissism.
I have worked with- and have been friends with -fathers whose congenial demeanor has served them well in their profession and social life. But their inability to transition into a stern, disciplinary man of authority when their sons act-up or misbehave ends up having unintended consequences.
For one, a child is hard-pressed to respect a parent who does not discipline. Instead of love, the passive father gets ingratitude in return. Second, to acquiesce to the whims of children or to show a reluctance to discipline quite often reinforces bad behavior. Such passivity on the father’s part perpetuates the need for him to yell or raise his voice in giving his son directives. Sometimes this can go on for years. But the saddest display of passive fatherhood is when he begs his children to cooperate. Begging our own children to listen to us is the surest sign that we have given up on our own God-given parental authority.
It is as if today’s parents have lost sight of the value of adversity, punishment and even failure. As to dealing with failure, it is every bit as beneficial for a boy’s development as success is. Moreover, being overlooked or ostracized by peers can be occasions for humility. As I recall from my childhood, it was the popular kids who never knew what it meant to be picked-on or last in games who struggled with arrogance and self-absorption. Bullying or losing is unpleasant to be sure, but there are many parents who feel that it is the worst of evils. As such, they do everything in their power to protect their children from these unfavorably circumstances. Sometimes, however, being overly protective of our kids can be just as harmful as the bullying or losing itself.
As to the institutionalization of this aversion to losing, sporting events for boys no longer stresses the importance of winning and achievement. This omission, quite often, is in deference to those boys who will inevitably feel the disappointment of loss. Even in the NFL, players get penalized for “taunting” the other team after a great play. From public institutions to sporting events for children, masculine virtues of triumph and conquest are slowly being smothered. Except for a few institutions like the military, boys are no longer being trained to be men.
The training of boys to be men starts with the father. But the father needs the community to reinforce this training. When a boy’s anger and self-pity is allowed to fester unchecked; when I see fathers and coaches do everything in their power to protect a child’s self-esteem at all cost; and when I see a real attempt to dismiss the value of discipline and punishment, kids naturally feel entitled to win. As such, they will not know how to process loss in the years to come. With such an attitude, they are deprived of learning invaluable lessons that come with trials and adversity.
When I attend community activities for boys, I feel like I am watching America make the same mistakes as other fallen civilizations did. For instance, when the Roman Empire was in a downward spiral, there was a gender imbalance of epidemic proportions. Masculinity was in short supply. In fact, these problems were to surface during the third century. Catholic historian, Henry Daniel-Rops had this to say: “The entire moral atmosphere of this epoch was permeated by a new style of feminism, which had been brought from the East by the Syrian princesses of Septimius Serverus’ [Roman emperor] family: women filled the roles of men because the men were wanting…” Men were wanting then, and I fear that men are wanting today.
If truth be told, it was Christianity that served to restore the gender balance by teaching and demonstrating to society what a real man and what a real woman is in Christ. By studying God as Father and Lord in Scripture, people came to understand how a father is supposed to behave. Throughout the bible, God was severe at times and yet at other times he was tender. He was also a God who rewarded and punished. And what is more, in his wisdom, he did not spare his servants from adversity.
Like his Father, Jesus Christ displayed these characteristics. As Cardinal James Gibbons said, “In His person was shown the excellence and true dignity of human nature, wherein human rights have their center. In His dealings with men, justice and mercy, sympathy and courage, pity for weakness and rebuke for hollow pretense were perfectly blended. Having fulfilled the law, He gave to His followers a new commandment.”
Christian manhood is the highest expression of masculinity. It is neither too aggressive or too passive. The making of Christian man, the old fashion way, anticipated the demands of life. It prepared boys for the real world; an unforgiving world that tests the character of every man.
Unfortunately, many fathers, coaches, and teachers in the twenty-first century are protecting boys from that real world. In so doing, we will have a new generation of boys who will struggle to be men. Not a few of them will not know how to manage their anger when the world will contradict them.