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 a trend among many fathers,who, with intentions inspired by compassion and kindness, allow their sons toindulge either in anger or self pity unchecked. In many cases, however, it isnot the father’s compassion and kindness that is transmitted to their sons.When excessive whining, complaining or anger is not disrupted by somekind of disciplinary intervention, then boys are prone to habitual anger, evennarcissism.
I have worked with – and have been friends with – fathers whose congenialdemeanor has served them well in their profession and social life. But theirinability to transition into a stern, disciplinary man of authority when theirsons act-up or misbehave ends up having unintended consequences.
For one, a child is hard-pressed to respect a parent who does notdiscipline. Instead of love, the passive father gets ingratitude in return.Second, to acquiesce to the whims of children or to show a reluctance todiscipline quite often reinforces bad behavior. Such passivity on the father’spart perpetuates the need for him to yell or raise his voice in giving his sondirectives. Sometimes this can go on for years. But the saddest display ofpassive fatherhood is when he begs his children to cooperate. Begging our ownchildren to listen to us is the surest sign that we have given up on our ownGod-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 asbeneficial for a boy’s development and success. Moreover, being overlooked orostracized by peers can be occasions for humility. As I recall from mychildhood, it was the popular kids who never knew what it meant to be picked-onwho struggled with arrogance and self-absorption. Bullying or losing isunpleasant to be sure, but there are many parents who feel that it is the worstof evils. As such, they do everything in their power to protect their childrenfrom these unfavorably circumstances. Sometimes, however, being overlyprotective of our kids can be just as harmful as the bullying or losing itself.
As to the institutionalization of this aversion to losing, sporting eventsfor boys no longer stresses the importance of winning and achievement. Thisomission, quite often, is in deference to those boys who will inevitably feelthe disappointment of loss. Even in the NFL, players get penalized for“taunting” the other team after a great play. From public institutions tosporting events for children, masculine virtues of triumph and conquest areslowly being smothered. Except for a few institutions like the military, boysare no longer being trained to be men.
The training of boys to be men starts with the father. But the father needsthe community to reinforce this training. When a boy’s anger and self-pity isallowed to fester unchecked; when I see fathers and coaches do everything intheir power to protect a child’s self-esteem at all cost; and when I see a realattempt to dismiss the value of discipline and punishment; kids naturally feelentitled to win. As such, they will not know how to process loss in the yearsto come. With such an attitude, they are deprived of learning invaluable lessonsthat come with trials and adversity.
When I attend community activities for boys, I feel like I am watchingAmerica 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 ofepidemic proportions. Masculinity was in short supply. In fact, these problemswere to surface during the third century. Catholic historian, Henry Daniel-Ropshad this to say: “The entire moral atmosphere of this epoch was permeated by anew style of feminism, which had been brought from the East by the Syrianprincesses of [the Roman emperor] Septimius Serverus’ family: women filled theroles of men because the men were wanting…” Men were wanting then, and I fearthat men are wanting today.
If truth be told, it was Christianity that served to restore the genderbalance by teaching and demonstrating to society what a real man and what areal woman was in Christ. By studying God as Father and Lord in Scripture,people came to understand how a father is supposed to behave. Throughoutthe bible, God was severe at times and yet at other times he was tender. He wasalso a God who rewarded and punished. And what is more, in his wisdom, hedid not spare his servants from adversity.
Like his Father, Jesus Christ displayed these characteristics. As CardinalJames Gibbons said in 1921: “In His person was shown the excellence andtrue dignity of human nature, wherein human rights have their center. In Hisdealings with men, justice and mercy, sympathy and courage, pity for weaknessand rebuke for hollow pretense were perfectly blended. Having fulfilled thelaw, He gave to His followers a new commandment.”
Christian manhood is the highest expression of masculinity. It is neithertoo aggressive nor too passive. The making of a Christian man, the oldfashioned way, anticipates the demands of life. It prepares boys for the realworld. This world, which is a quite unforgiving world, will inevitably test thecharacter of every man.
Unfortunately, many fathers, coaches, and teachers in the twenty-firstcentury are protecting boys from that real world. In doing so, there willbe a new generation of boys who will struggle to be men. Toomany of them will not know how to manage their anger and self-pity whenthe world contradicts their will. It is then that the world will say to them, “Stopcrying or I'll give you something to cry about!”
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.