Most boys enter healthy manhood with the help of a “point man” — someone who leads the way and offers support through the trials of life. And the most effective point man our sons can have goes by the name “Dad.”
As we work to raise the next generation of men, we must remember that no boy has ever been effectively scolded or shamed into healthy manhood. Rather, he must be welcomed into it through the caring guidance and affirmation of his father.
Before we can invite our boys into healthy manhood, however, we must understand what authentic masculinity is. We must be careful not to confuse manliness with macho-toughness. Men can be masculine without wrestling alligators or smashing through the defensive line to score a touchdown. They can even be masculine while ballet dancing or cooking exquisite recipes. Just ask Russian-American dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. Who has any doubts about their masculinity?
These men and millions of others exhibit a variety of unmistakably masculine qualities. Of course, not all men will tend toward all male qualities, nor will they exhibit the qualities in the same ways. But this doesn’t make them any less manly.
So what is healthy manhood? It would take a book to explain all the attributes, such as honor, innovation, discipline and respect — and indeed, I discuss many of these in my book Secure Daughters, Confident Sons. But here are three key principles that our boys should be learning as they journey to manhood:
Men are explorers
We must teach our boys how to explore, to see what’s over the next hill, beyond the next curve in the road. Indulge and encourage your son’s natural curiosity. Better yet, become his cohort in discovery. Depending on your son’s natural bent, his exploration might mean wading through a frog pond, riding his bike through the neighborhood or peering through a microscope. Learn what excites your son, and join him in the adventure. It is here he will find much of his satisfaction and confidence as a boy.
Men are risk takers
Whether your son wants to try out for football or audition for the school play, encourage him to risk failure and disappointment in order to experience success. Nudge him toward smart risks, alert him to foolish ones, and teach him the difference between the two.
Men are initiators
Boys need to learn how to initiate the right action at the right time. They need to know when things should be started, such as standing up to a bully, and when they shouldn’t, such as throwing a ball inside the house. Your job is to curb your son’s compulsiveness without killing his initiative. Praise his good choices; correct his bad ones. Give him the grace to make mistakes and to learn from them.