Thursday, September 07, 2006

On Boys

Boys. They drive me crazy. Can’t say I really understand them. I remember being a wiggly, active thing as a child, but I can’t say I was ever quite as illogical and obsessive about guns and swords as my two -- oh make that three -- boys. And what’s with the bathroom always smelling of urine? Really, how hard is it to aim?

I’m sure it’s not easy to be a boy. Here you have to deal with military duty, corporal punishment in schools, and low tolerance for crying. I can’t tell you how relieved I am to have a boy who is good at sports and incredibly social. I’m starting to see how hard it is for boys who aren’t athletically or socially inclined, and I’m not sure how I would handle that as a parent. Even social little Aiden, who has so many friends, seems to be having trouble with teasing and peer pressure these days, and we’re not even in elementary school yet.

But right now, I’m very glad to be raising my boys here rather than in the U.S. Sure, the education system is messed up. And despite the social pressure not to cry, and the tendency toward adult alcoholism, there is an emotional freedom of expression here that I don’t see in the States. Boys and men can hold hands, hug each other, and be affectionate to each other. The older boys in Aiden’s taekwondo class hug him, hold him, pat him, hold his hand, even kiss and comfort him when he’s upset. His taekwondo and soccer instructors, men from their 20s on, pick the kids up and throw them in the air, hug them, give them high fives. There’s a kind of natural physical affection expressed between men, and between men and children here, that you rarely see in the U.S. because in the U.S. any touching between a man and man or man and child has become sexualized.

Aiden has reached that age when he’s no longer cuddly. His body has become, in KC’s words, “a weapon”: all angles and hard edges, no trace of baby fat. He’s at the age where people don’t try to cuddle him anymore, rather they approach him with a high five and a challenge: how fast can you run? want to play catch? Even though he looks grown up, though, he still needs a lot of physical attention. He needs to be cuddled and kissed, patted and soothed. He’s at the age, though, where he’s vaguely aware that these are babyish things to do, and doesn’t like to ask for them.

I tutored a couple of kids around this age -- a boy and a girl -- and I noticed that they really liked activities what gave them permission to interact with me physically. Doctor, murder (someone had to be the corpse and the coroner -- yes, these were morbid kids), reporter (along the same lines), police (ditto), sports, etc. I suspect that starting around the age of 5 kids don’t get much physical comforting and cuddling, but they still really need it and crave it.

Here Aiden gets a lot of that kind of physical contact, and it comes naturally, from all sources, not just me but also from men he looks up to -- the older kids, his teachers, his grandpa and his father. There is no shame to this kind of touching, no point at which expressing friendly affection through touch becomes problematic.
I wonder about the boys growing up in the U.S. today -- I wonder what they’re learning about what it means to be male, about how men are supposed to behave and feel.

I see my primary job as a parent as making my kids feel safe and loved in this world. That means acknowledging fears but teaching them not constrain their lives based on fear. It means giving and sharing affection as a healthy and normal part of interaction, not relegating affection to the realm of deviant behavior. I want my boys to grow up feeling comfortable with hugs and kisses, able to sit right next to another man in the movie theater, ready to reach out and comfort or congratulate a friend.

I was going to say something here about all the books and articles that have been coming out on raising boys lately. But I’m making a concerted effort to make my posts shorter and more concise. I’d be interested in hearing what anyone out there thinks, though. Any comments?


Jon Allen said...

I agree with your observations with regard to giving and receiving affection.

I think it important that physical contact is accepted as normal.

I did smile when I saw two 'policeboys' holding hands on their way back to a police bus recently. That sort of thing would be laughed at in most other western countries!

Jon Allen said...

Oh, and the length of you posts is fine too. No need to shorten them in my opionion.