Tag Archives: raising boys

In defense of beards and manliness

Beard

Today I watched a video about the dangers of over masculine-izing our boys. 

It said the three most dangerous words you can tell a boy today are: “Be a man!”

The video is full of images of young boys and older men as backdrops for all the things we tell our boys.

“Grow a pair, man up, stop crying, grow some balls,” etc., etc.

It was emotional, and it got me going a little, but probably not in the way the makers of the video intended.

Continue reading In defense of beards and manliness

The kids are alright, until they’re not

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There are many stages in parenting, and I have no idea which one I’m currently in. 

I despise parenting advice, so this isn’t advice, in fact, don’t take it as advice. It’s just an experience I’ve had recently. Take it for what it’s worth. 

When your children are born, they are very needy, and your entire life is given over to them. 

Well, your wife’s entire life is given over to them. If you’re a dad, you try to help out where you can, but the blowouts and the, um, feeding, tend to fall into mom’s lap, generally. 

When they get a little older, they gain some independence, and this is both awesome and terrible at the same time. 

They can hold their head up on their own, they can roll over on the bed, which means you don’t have to wake up panicked in the middle of the night fearing your child has expired from sudden infant death syndrome. 

But they can roll off the bed too, which means you suddenly have some freedom, but you also have a different kind of responsibility too. 

Then they learn to walk, and this is exquisite, because you don’t think you can carry them through that Saturday Market one more time. 

And it’s awful too, because now they can run out into the street or disappear in the grocery store. 

For every ounce of independence they gain, parents get a change in responsibility. Children learn things very fast. Their brains are capable of these massive influxes of information. 

As adults, we are losing brain cells and starting to slow down a bit. This has always been a strange dichotomy to me. 

Then there is this interesting moment where your children are old enough to have really intelligent conversations at dinner and where you go to museums together and enjoy good food. 

As a father, you look around at the dinner table at night, and you’re really proud of this little family you helped create. They’re smart and funny and fun to be around. 

And it’s so brief. 

If and when you recognize this moment, it’s too late. You’re already at the end of this golden age. 

Our oldest son became old enough to babysit when we moved to Montana in 2007. This was a righteous blessing for us, since we hadn’t really had a nice hour or two away from the kids in years. 

By the time we moved to Alaska in 2009, the kids were old enough to cook for themselves and generally police their own lives, which gave us a little more independence. 

And then we moved to Chicago in 2012, and we spent the first two months really enjoying each other’s company. Of course I can only speak for myself here. But it’s really true. We had nice meals out in the big, oak-lined backyard. We watched fireflies at night and my wife and I sipped on ice-cold, bone-dry rose while the kids cleaned up the dishes. 

We watched movies together on the really hot days. We went to the beach together and spent Sundays exploring Chicago’s many food choices. 

And then that moment came. 

I was sitting at dinner, and the kids were asking deep questions about world affairs and politics. I felt like the king of the castle. 

Everyone was happy and smiling. It was perfect. 

And then it was gone. 

It might have flickered a little through the winter, there were a few moments here and there, but when the spring rolled around, the kids were gone. 

Off to spend the night at a friend’s house or hanging out at the mall. Skateboarding with the crew from down the street, or flirting with the neighbor girls. 

Even the little one, the joy of my heart, is often gone away to some friend’s house when I come home from work. 

This same one used to run at me full speed whenever I got home. I had to institute a no-hugs-until-I-took-my-shoes-off rule. 

When we go on adventures on the weekends now, the boys automatically opt out, and if I force them to go, they will find a way to ruin the entire experience. If you think teenage girls are moody, I have two boys who say it’s an equal opportunity emotional roller coaster. 

Yes, yes, I realize this is all part of growing up. I understand that this happens. I just wish that I had paid attention enough during the times when everything was perfect. I wish I didn’t just recognize it that last time. 

As I said, I have no idea what stage I’m in currently. Maybe there are a few bad ones before a good one rolls around again.

And this is not advice, merely one man’s experience. Take it for what it’s worth. 

But if you look around your dinner table at night and see your kids elevating the conversation to new levels in an artful way or challenging you with good questions, stop and relish that moment for a bit. 

Because chances are you’re already close to the end of it. 

Peace

Chinatown, Legos and the Loss of Innocence –

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“Dad, I don’t want them to know I still play with Legos,” he told me. And instantly he could see that it broke my heart a little. He looked down at his plate, his little heart already heavy with the guilt of the statement.

I decided an afternoon alone with my middle guy, as I call him, was in order, due, in part, to the general busyness of my life and some recent behavioral issues.

We took off to Chinatown to hunt down some good food and some Taiwanese Oolong tea I’ve been looking for. We also planned to hang out in the martial arts supply house and stare at Ninja swords, throwing stars and bokken practice weapons for a while.

We talked a little in the car on the way in. I asked about his friends, mostly because I really don’t know them well. He described each one for their attributes and the things he likes most about them.

We looked for a certain place called The Great Taste House once we reached Chinatown. We walked up and down Wentworth, and we passed about six places with the word taste in the name, including two Tasty Cafes, but we never did find the Great Taste House.

Seven Treasures had roast duck hanging in the window, so we shared BBQ pork chow mein and half a duck. We sat and sipped on Oolong for a long while. Some of the best conversations I can remember occurred in Chinese restaurants with my grandfather or my dad.

I told him many stories from my youth. Mostly because he reminds me so much of myself. I told him about my friendships and how I used my skills and abilities to facilitate my friendships because I wasn’t very good at sports or other social climbing activities. I think he recognized much of himself in my stories from the way he nodded his head at me from time to time. It seemed he knew the end of the story before I got there.

We sat in silence for a long time after he made the Lego statement.

I love coming home to find him sitting in the middle of a huge imaginary world of strange buildings, spaceships, boats, airplanes and cars built from the thousands of Lego bricks we’ve collected since the boys were small.

He’ll extricate himself from the delicate world he created and run to show me some new variation on a spaceship he’s been working on for months.

Legos were the building blocks of my creativity, and judging by how much he still plays with them, his creative life will outshine mine.

The reason it hurt so much is because I know how much he loves it and what it means to him. And the fact that the boys in his circle would look down on this or misunderstand the act of playing with Legos is not just sad for my boy but for boys and girls everywhere.

I just turned 39, and I still play with Legos. I hope I still play with Legos if I live to be 100.

Sure, my dexterity will be gone by then, but the pleasure of sifting through a box of bricks to find the one piece you need to complete what only your imagination can see is priceless.

Lately I’ve been into the Lego Architecture series. Having visited some of the country’s tallest buildings since arriving in Chicago, I’ve enjoyed exploring them with Legos.

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My wonderful wife understands the boy in me enough to supply me with these sets on birthdays and other gift-giving holidays.

But more than the loss of Legos, because we all lose interest in Legos at some point, it is the loss of innocence that I fear most for my children.

It’s that point in growing up where you half understand the adult world as seen through the eyes of a child. It’s scary, and I can’t go back and walk them through that door.

I, like every other parent, would prefer they never find that door, but other children, having entered that door much too early, are all too happy to walk your children through it if they can. And I suppose I understand this to some degree. It is lonely going through that door for the first time.

My middle guy is at this point. Junior high is the peak of confusion over sexuality, social order and purpose, and the application of peer pressure to the mix can make for a volatile combination.

When they were small and still playing with oversized Legos because their dexterity had not developed, I had no fear of their teen years. But as they grew into their own lives, I realized how little I could offer them.

Sure, I could share my experiences as my dad shared his with me. And as little as my dad’s life growing up in the 50s and 60s in San Francisco applied to me, I gleaned the pieces of his personality that I’d inherited.

And my experiences growing up in the 80s and 90s carry no more influence for my children compared to the world they will be expected to grow up in.

Stories are powerful things, that’s why I do what I do for a living, but I think there is a limit to what you can glean from another person’s experiences.

In Legos, we have a continuum of beauty and creativity. My father loved Legos, and he took my brother and I to Legoland in Denmark when we were small boys. To this day I’m still amazed by the structures and the creativity on display in those gardens.

When you build, the creations are yours as dictated by the blueprints in your mind.

My brother and I loved Legos. I’m sure we still do. But I can only speak for myself. And I remember when our sets were boxed up and put away in the attic. It was somewhere in between junior high and high school.

And then it was girls and sports and cars and then bills and jobs and houses.

It’s a fast slide from building your own worlds to surviving in this one.

I’m not ready for my middle guy to give up the Legos, so I’m going to protect and encourage his play as long as I can. We’ve devised a plan whereby he can continue to play with Legos, with me, and still have his friends over.

The world is not often better off for small plastic toys. But my life is infinitely better for having Legos in the world.

TA