A Mother’s Expectations
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.