Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Places for Boys

Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys makes the case that young men now live through an extended adolescence into their twenties.  I have caught myself writing more often about young braveheart women than young braveheart men.  Courageous girls have made strong strides in areas like leadership, business, athletics, war, and education, areas which more often belonged to men in the past.  Is something going on with young men?

In the Wall Street Journal, Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up says:  "What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing."

Meg Meeker in Boys Should Be Boys adds, “But today that natural, healthy boyhood is under attack.  It is threatened by an educational establishment that devalues masculinity and boyishness, and not only by widely remarked societal changes including widespread divorce and the rise of single-parent households that deprive boys of the responsible fathers they need, but by a noxious popular culture that is as degrading to boys as it is dangerous to girls."

Are boys in trouble?  I don't think so.  But, it does seem that the traditional realms where boys developed faith and courage have become increasingly diminished or confused, perhaps causing boys to hold back.  Recently a boy wrestler forfeited his match in the state tournament because he would be wrestling a girl.  He said it was based on conviction, which is a legitimate reason.  But, I have also known boys who forfeited because wrestling a girl was a lose-lose situation.  If the boy wins, there is no honor in beating the girl. If he loses, there is ridicule, so why try?  Maybe there is some truth to the effect of braveheart girls on the growth of braveheart boys.

What to do?  Meg Meeker suggests this:  “The world of our sons is not the world we lived in when we were young.  Most boys can’t ride their bikes until sunset without worrying about being abducted.  The world has grown sad for our boys.  But the good news is:  we can bring them back.  We can reinstitute some of the joy of boyhood for them, and we can ease their pressures (even the ones we think are beneficial for them, like earning good grades to get into an Ivy League school) by giving them the freedom to be boys:  to simply enjoy pick-up games of basketball in their neighborhoods, to find that safe acreage of woods where they can hike and imagine, and to have that home library where classic adventure books await."

Andy Crouch tells about three places where we can find ourselves in Culture Making.  We can be in the "wilderness," which is hard to find anymore and is seriously dangerous if we don't take the proper cultural tools like maps and tents.  Or, we can be in the "theme park" where everything is done for us, there is no risk, you are never alone, and there is nothing to create or tend.  It is a made up world where danger is pretend and shallow fun trumps deep life.

And, then there is the Garden. "Though it is indeed sheltered, it is a place of ultimate moral seriousness because it is a place where the Creator himself, having provided all the essentials of the good life yet also having allowed risk and choice (how else can we explain the presence of the serpent?) withdraws for a time to allow the divine image bearers to fulfill their calling to culture, returning only to walk in the garden in the cool of the day."

Where do our young men need to use faith and courage, places and situations where they can be boys and men?  Where is their Garden? Away from the fake life of video games and reality television to real risk and meaning. As we help our girls become bravehearts, lets keep a watchful eye and strong hand to make sure our boys can become Davids and Joshuas.  Maybe we do need to create arenas just for them, places and situations where they can risk and grow, places that are not canned or fraught with the toe stepping of political correctness.

A few months ago, my son Luke wrote this about his childhood.  Maybe it will help as we think about what we can do.

Luke and I a long time ago

"My childhood, as best as I can remember it, consisted of a mix of books, outdoors and family dinners.  The outdoors part especially has shaped me in a way that has imbued me with a sense of the braveheartedness that I wouldn't have had otherwise.  At any whim I was allowed to venture into the thirty acres of woods behind our house for hours and days.  I was an explorer.  Michael Chabon in his essay, 'The Wilderness of Childhood' writes that 'Childhood is a branch of cartography.' I was allowed to explore, allowed to roam and fill in my 'mental map' of the area that I live in.  Chabon writes, 'every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape.' I got to know the landscape and myself.  And this confidence of exploration, as much as anything, has given me a freedom to explore worlds far beyond our woods."


It doesn't have to be the woods,  but it does have to offer real adventure and need for courage and faith.  In your world, where can he be a braveheart boy making choices that mean something and allow him to become a man who knows how to make a difference in life?

1 comment:

  1. My boys were raised their entire lives in the middle of the city (here in Little Rock and also in Mobile, AL). We, somehow, on our small plots of land created a world like you have described. I always felt in my heart it was very important, this world of pirates, cowboys, tree-climbing, forts, tree houses, digging for treasures, animals, exploring and capturing insects, snakes and frogs. We encouraged and facilitated all of these things because nurturing their imaginations and sense of adventure was always important to us as parents.

    I remember, however, a family trip to Petit Jean Mountain State Park where my boys were introduced to the sometimes very silly state park regulations where a lot of "Don't Touch" rules reign. My oldest plopped down in the middle of a trail and began to cry, " Is there ANYWHERE I can go in this world where I can explore without people telling me I can not?"

    It takes a lot more work than it did when I was a kid, but I think it is well-worth the effort. Thanks for reminding us of how critical it is to their very development!

    P.S. My son LOVED having Luke as an awesome male role model in the LRCA classroom setting!