A Mother’s Expectations

Updated: October 24, 2011

By Grin and Barrett

There are a few fatherly bits of advice I have passed on to my sons as they grow into men; Always hold the door for your date, always walk closest to the road when you are with a young lady, and never, ever let any harm come to her while she is in your presence. Make sure you are never the guy who stood by and watched the weak get beat up by the strong, or the one get his ass kicked by three. It’s this last little piece of advice that has caused a slight disruption to my home’s harmony as my boys get older.

You see, when my sons were just boys, fights were generally posturing; bony chests stuck out, eyes wide, menacing grimaces set on dirt streaked faces. Now, as teenagers, the consequences for standing up for the bullied carry far more nefarious possibilities. Guns, knives, bats, and other assorted BS that was pretty much non-existent when I was that age (yeah, yeah, I’m old, but we didn’t all live like we were in West Side Story when I was a wee lad….damn, that reference probably just flew over the top of a few heads).

Anyway, the potential for serious harm is significantly higher now for sticking your nose into someone else’s business (okay, how about Chinatown? Anyone… anyone?). My wife greets my bits of advice with an angry frown and a “can I talk to you in the front room?” glare. The door closes and mama bear whirls, fur bristling, claws out…

“Why are you telling them that!?!”
“Uh, because that’s what men are supposed to do.”
“What, get beat up or killed because they got into someone else’s business?”
“Honey, we can have boys that don’t care about anything but themselves, or boys who stand up for the weak, who do what is right.”
“Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense if they get shot by some gang or something!”

And isn’t that what this difference is all about? Mothers protecting their little boys (who really ain’t so little anymore, baby), and fathers who want their sons to be better than they were. Stronger, more confident, better leaders, better men. You see, we fathers look back on everything. What we did, what we didn’t do, when we should have stepped in but didn’t. Those are the moments we want back. We want to be the hero, we want to save the day. We want to save the damsel and we want to protect the poor kid who is on every bully’s radar.
I’ve always said that it is better to walk with a black eye on a head held high, than an unmarked face on a head hung low. There are damages to skin and bone, and then there are damages to spirit. The latter is by far the most soul-crushing.

But standing up for the downtrodden, for the weak and the outcast is not what mothers picture their sons doing. Mothers want their sons to be “nice.” This seems to be the apex of excellence that every son should strive to achieve. Why can’t you all just play nice together? – seems to be a phrase that every boy has heard, has had drummed into his head by a well-meaning mother. John Eldredge, in his fantastic book “Wild at Heart,” says that boys should be dangerous…but in a good way. Isn’t this the view that we fathers have for our sons? Dangerous, but in a good way. The way that Outlaw Josey Wales is dangerous, or The Man with No Name, or Denzel Washington’s John Creasy. All dangerous …but in a good way. It is this “nice” versus “dangerous” view on boyhood that is the nexus of these parental disagreements.

Unfortunately, that maternal instinct toward fluffy-happy-dippity-do boyhood doesn’t stop…ever.

My mother visited us in Germany when I had just come out of my time as platoon leader. As we walked through the PX parking lot, one my former Soldiers came up to me and shot-the-shat (past tense, it works…) for a few minutes. This was a Soldier I really respected, and I still keep in touch with, and as he walked away, my mother turned to me, big smile on her face and said, “I can tell he really liked you as a Platoon Leader.”
“Um, okay. Thanks mom.”
Another broad smile as she seemed to lift her chin a little higher.
“You can tell he really thinks you are nice.”
(Cue screeching tires and squealing breaks)
“Uh, what was that?”
“Well, the way you two were talking, I can just tell that he thinks you were a really nice boss. That’s really great.”
“Mom, you may not fully realize the psychological damage you are imparting right now, or the emotional recriminations this conversation will have with my future psyche, so I’m going to clue you in on something. Soldiers… leaders… do not… want to be known… as “nice.”
A look of utter disgust and shock on my mother’s face as she turns to me.
“Well, why? Humph! I don’t know why saying someone is ‘nice’ is all of a sudden a BAD thing!”
“Because mom, I’m a guy. I’m a father, a husband, a son, and a Soldier. My job is to be dangerous (but in a good way) and strong.”
“Weeell, humph, I’m sure you can be nice and still get your job done. ”
“Okay mom, okay.”

Many women complain that there is a noticeable absence of “real men” nowadays, while there exists a glut of pampered, whiney, over-indulged, estrogen filled metro-fellas. Today’s movies, television shows, and music all celebrate the feeble, timid man who uses his vulnerability as a pick up line, and his mild-mannered niceness as a hallmark of today’s progressive, enlightened male. As Paula Cole asked, Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

The cowboys are still here Paula, they’re just waiting to be discovered. Every boy who wishes he could step in to help that nerdy kid who has a dictionary hurled at his head. Every boy who desperately wants to step in and stop that mindless numbskull from slapping the quiet girl’s head with a ruler. Every boy who wants to punch that guffawing, hunk of 200 pound dumbass as he trips some sad-sack in the hallway and flips his schoolbooks out of his hand.

There is a hero waiting in there to step out, to be the man that society needs him to be. Dads, it’s up to you to lead the way. Mom’s, it’s up to you to let him.





    October 25, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Thanks for a great read, I only wish I could make it required reading for the parents I know.

  2. Gladden

    October 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you for saying what most dads feel and most moms dont understand

  3. Marc Cameron

    October 26, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Great writing. I’m forwarding this link to both my sons. I tried to raise them this way but couldn’t have put it any better.

  4. linda

    October 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    You KNOW that while I’m glad you’re “nice”, I really appreciate the hunter/warrior I raised. And I’m more proud of the man who stepped up for the downtrodden every time. But, as a mom, I have to admit to liking the fact that nice guys don’t always have to finish last, nor do they have to give up their protective natures in order to be nice. Hmmph! Proud of you to this day! What? I ruined your psyche again? Oh well, go get ’em killer!

  5. Robert

    November 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    @Linda, in Wild at Heart, Eldridge explains that God createdvtge Earth and it was Good. Everything He created is Good. The dangerous Bull Moose, the Lion, and all the wild dangerous creatures are God’s creation. Therefore they are Good. So rather than calling us nice, call us good. To you it means almost the samething, to us it makes a world of difference.

  6. Tom McCormick

    November 1, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    This is GREAT!! I’m actually planning a “out in the woods”(Adirondacks) survival trip with the teen boys at my church, and this is going to be one of my key points. Hope you don’t mind if I steal a little of your material!

  7. 175jfs

    November 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Hooah! But you forgot there also exists a glut of pampered, whiney, over-indulged, i-phone yakking, facebook ranting, prozac filled women. They are the same one’s who complain about their ex’s and lack of “real” men on one hand then then threaten to call human resource / EEOC / dial-a-prayer when they do get any attention. That’s part one of the otherside of the problem. Part two is the schools themselves which are quick to condemn any “action” in self-defense of yourself or anyone else. You’re quickly branded a disciplinary problem. Having raised three, your comments are RIGHT ON. All my kids were disciplinary problems FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS. Especially, their father, me.

    • Jordan Cain

      November 4, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      You know you nailed it right on the dot. I’m still in high school planning on joining up after next year, and there have been a few times in which I wanted to step up for a friend or just someone, but haven’t done so because of the consequences. I miss the good ol’ days when parent’s didn’t get child services on them for slapping their kid for doing bad and boys played around outside, instead of wearing skinny jeans and getting high and texting on their little phones all day.

  8. R. Turner

    March 16, 2012 at 4:56 am

    Official school policy is to castrate young men by the 7th grade. When he was 11 my 18 year old got cited for assault for smacking the class bully upside the head. Judge said “I would’ve hit him too.” and let it go. Studies are now showing all these zero-tolerance policies the touchy-feely school administrators are embracing actually promote bullying because they just protect the bullies from the kids who don’t want to get into trouble. Back in the day a kid stopped bullying when he got an ass-whupping. No ass-whupping? Bullying continues. DUH!

  9. mom_of_10

    June 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

    It seems ironic to me that our government wants us to raise non-violent children but yet at the same time allows Hollywood and game writers to shove violence at them from every direction….my daughter had to contend with a bully when she was in second grade…and because of the school was afraid to take on this 5th grade boy…we talked at length about it and finally one day she took him on…so off to the principals office we went….the boy quit messing with her and she did not get in trouble for it(the school was going to suspend her, the 2nd grader for sticking up for herself to a 5th grade boy!!!) I have watched over the last 20 years as the schools in our country have gone down hill because our government hands out these ridiculous laws that prevent parents and other authoritarian figures from properly disciplining our children and those same laws prevent our kids from sticking up for themselves and have interrupted the regular course of nature…not saying that when i was a kid that bullying was not as bad…it was just as bad…but we were allowed to deal with it on our own before an adult stepped in….

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