I think about the emotional lives of boys, as they grow up in this time and place, through adolescence and into men. Your little boys, right now, have no barriers to their full range of emotions. Their tears flow freely, and their laughter, and their rages and fears are unimpeded by ideas of how a boy “should” be. I think that if I asked you, every one of you would say that you want your boys to grow up emotionally aware, awake, and intact. We live in a time and place that still teaches boys to separate themselves from their emotions, to be tough and strong. These messages may not have entered your boys’ lives yet, but our children will enter the world, and the messages of toughness are everywhere.
Do not despair! There is hope for your sons. The hope is you. As men, you have gone through your own journeys in your emotional lives, and now that you are fathering sons, your journey is not just your own, for you have a traveling companion who needs you to guide him, and who will also be your guide, and who can show you the way to healing the hurts you have had in your journey.
Fathers, the messages of the world are pervasive, telling boys to be tough and strong, and your sons will not escape hearing those messages, but you can make all the difference in their lives. You are the man that your son wants to be. Not because of anything you have achieved or accomplished, not because you can make lasagna or fix a flat tire, or play the banjo. Your son wants to be you from deep inside his self, from the place before we met in this world, and he will do everything to be like you, to feel your approval, to know that you are proud of him. He looks to you to know how to be and who to be in the world. You might not realize that he sees all of who you are, even the soft and tender parts, and that is your secret defense against the world’s messages of toughness and strength: your tenderness. You will protect him through your tenderness, your vulnerability.
When you show your son your own vulnerability, you allow him to have his own. How you will change his experience when you allow him to see you have fears, and pains, and worries. He will watch what you do when you need care, and he will watch what you do when you are sad, and he will watch how you cope with frustration, and with anger. When he sees that his father can ask for care, and his father can cry when he is sad, and his father can know when something feels hard, and his father can feel anger without weaponizing it, then your son will believe that he has a right to all his emotions.
Your weakness is your strength.
That kind of emotional vulnerability might not be available to you, because of your own experiences. It is just as powerful to show him your intentions to reconnect with your own feelings! “When I was growing up, people told me not to cry, so I kinda forgot how to cry, and it’s really hard for me to let myself cry, even when I’m really sad.” Your son will not lose respect for you. I promise.
There is excellent book about this on my bookshelf for you to borrow, 200 Ways to Raise a Boy’s Emotional Intelligence. I considered just buying each of you a copy and telling you to read it, but this is so important, that I wanted to find my own words, and to share them directly to you. Please know that as I write, I have been holding each of you, fathers, personally in my thoughts. Yes, you.