Choosing the kind of man you want your boy to be

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Next Edition: Choosing the kind of woman you want your daughter to be

It’s great to be invited to write for the Catholic Schools of Sydney! I will start this edition with boys, and next time write about girls. And sometimes – quite often, about both! As we are learning, kids are on a continuum really, with just a few major differences. But here goes ….

When you first discovered you were going to have a boy, how did you feel? What thoughts and images sprang to mind, and were they good ones? The world is changing its ideas of what it wants in men.

We don’t want men who can wrestle buffaloes any more! Some things are constant, but others are new.

If you are a parent of a boy, its great to have a good think about what kind of man you are wanting to make.

Often in a workshop I ask people to call out what qualities they like most in a man. There are some ribald comments to begin with! But then it gets very serious and heartfelt.

The comments from women are somewhat poignant, perhaps reflecting what they have NOT received from the men in their lives.

Kindness comes high on the list, trustworthiness, being good humoured. Self-sacrificing.  Patient. Positive.

Boiled down, there are two main qualities in what makes a good man, and in fact a good human being. Heart and backbone.

Heart is the capacity for being kind and looking out for other people. Boys who are warm-hearted make the best friends, girls really like them, and they actually have more fun in life.

It’s a core of our faith tradition – that happiness comes when you don’t put yourself at the centre. So, when you encourage your four-year-old boy to care for his baby sister, or even his pet or toy, you teach him gentleness and pride in caring that will become lifelong.

Backbone, the other quality we want, is the capacity to hold fast. To be true to your word.  Hang in and finish something hard. Be reliable with commitments or promises. You have to teach boys about this, and let them know this is what manliness means.

Strength is a mental thing, it’s got nothing to do with muscles. Sticking up for a friend.  Disagreeing when others say something stupid or hurtful. Your son will know already that this takes courage, and courage is something boys admire.

Sooner or later, these qualities will be a matter of life and death. So you can’t start too soon. When your son shows these qualities, TELL HIM. It will become a part of who he thinks he is, and just grow stronger.

A boy I heard about recently was at a teenage girl’s birthday party where the parents seemed to have vacated the scene. Alcohol was abundant, in other words, it was a disaster waiting to happen. One of the girls had way too much to drink, and already not over-dressed, was now lying in disarray on a couch, close to passing out.

Related: Choosing the kind of woman you want your daughter to be

In the half dark and loud music, some boys began to touch her, then paw her more obviously, daring each other to go further, laughing and scoffing in their own alcohol-fuelled haze. The boy I know said, “Hey guys, leave her alone, she’s had way too much to drink, she needs help”. And moved in closer, inserting himself into the picture.

There was an anxious moment as to what would happen next. He took the girl’s phone, and called her parents to come and take her home. Then sat with a glare until the other boys got the message, or felt shamed enough, and with some scornful remarks, moved off for greener pastures.

As boys enter their teens, we have to talk with them about specific situations like this – what would you do if…? This makes it more likely that they will be able to think on the spot – something all of us find hard to do. Celia Lashley, who was a prison warder in New Zealand before becoming a “boy champion”,  said that most of the men in her prison were there because of a decision made in five seconds.

Raising your son to be a good man needs to be a deliberate project, which he knows you are set on carrying out. Talk lots about what a good person, and a good man, is, and he will be well on the way.

Steve Biddulph is the author of Raising Boys in the 21st Century And The New Manhood.  He will be back in Sydney in August, details at www.stevebiddulph.com