I think somewhere, deep in our subconscious, we’re scared to be too nice to our young men. Deep down we’re afraid that someday they might be bullied at school, or there might be another draft, or they might need to defend their future family during a home invasion, or…pick your fear, there’s plenty to choose from. If we let our sons feel too much, it will make them soft and they might grow up and find the big bad world too hard to handle, right? As a society, we will be in a world of hurt if we raise an entire generation who is unable or unwilling to defend us. Maybe it’s not so bad to help them learn to stifle their emotions?
Although we’re mildly ashamed to admit it, these are a few of the things that cross our minds when we think about treating our boys with compassion. No? Well they’ve crossed my mind. I walked out of the movie, Furious 7, thinking, “Umm, maybe this blog was a mistake. Maybe what we really need are boys who can ignore their feelings and, you know, save the world and stuff.”
Don’t judge me, I startle when I see my own shadow.
Anyway, I started reading about this. Interestingly enough, it’s been reported that during the Korean War in the 1950’s only about fifteen percent of soldiers on the frontline actually fired their weapons, even when they were under direct attack. Apparently the original research was kept for the eyes of the military only, but one of the researchers who participated in the studies wrote a book called “How to Make Your Child a Winner.” It’s an older book, I found it on my mother-in-law’s shelf I don’t know how many years ago, but some of the research about the men who were willing to fire their weapons is rather telling.
Here’s what the book says, “The fighters were physically healthier. They were more masculine. They were more independent, and tended to come from higher socio-economic levels with a more stable home life and closer ties of affection with both parents, especially their fathers (Cline 5).” More recent research cites the importance of having close relationships with mothers too (APA). I think we can agree that having close, affectionate relationships with both parents is valuable.
A couple important things to note: First, having an affectionate relationship with their parents doesn’t prevent someone from being masculine. Fighters were both more affectionate and more masculine. Second, having close relationships with their parents was associated with being more able to act under extreme stress, not less.
So, if you want your son to be able to handle the stress that life throws at him, whether that’s a bully, a draft, a home invasion, a crappy boss, a marriage, or anything else, one of the best things you can do is build a good relationship with him. Don’t let fears that you’re going to make him weak interfere with that. Just love the son you’ve got.