On Raising Young Men

It’s Father’s Day. A little over two and a half years into this journey, my most important observation on raising a son is that the key ingredients to raising this future young man are love and affection. Other elements have to be in the mix, too, like solid routines to create habits, standards, boundaries, accountability for the simple basics he has shown me he can handle already, a good dose of humor, and he needs to see me consistently demonstrating love and respect for his mother. He needs all of these for reasons that are irrelevant to him right now, but will make all the difference for him… someday.

As a Marine Corps veteran and kung fu teacher, I’m often asked if he’s training yet. Everyone thinks my training – his training – is all about fighting techniques. That’s actually not my primary concern. Teaching a male to develop his sense of aggression is about as difficult as asking a regular sulfur match to ignite. Strike it once or twice and it’ll burn, no problem. So, no, the development of fighting skill or physical aggression are low on my priorities list.

The first order of business is teaching him by my own modeling how to be affectionate, respectful, and gentle. How can he truly understand aggression and violence if he doesn’t first understand love and kindness? To answer the question I’m often asked, “Is he training yet?” Yes, he’s training. Of course, he’s training. I know that a day of training we miss is a day we never get back. We play hard and he moves a lot. His motor skills and sense of balance are taking off and his muscles are developing, but at this stage and in our home none of it is about fighting technique. He tumbles and he gets up and dusts himself off. I’m there to pick him up if he needs it and to make sure he doesn’t do entirely too much damage in the interest of discovery.

But most importantly, the man-child experiences being loved 24/7. It’s about piggy back rides and lap time in papa’s chair to read our favorite books; those groggy first minutes of the day and those sleepy last ones before the covers go on; respectful communication with everyone we come into contact with; the gentle and respectful treatment of our animals. He knows I believe he is capable of anything and that I’m proud of him every step of the way.

If the need or desire ever arises for him to choose the warrior’s path, he’ll have all the resources he needs. The foundation will be in place. Once he understands love, he’ll have no problem understanding having something – or someone – worth protecting.

Happy Father’s Day. If you’re raising young men, don’t overthink it and for God’s sake, don’t think you need to induce suffering to “toughen them up.” Life will do plenty of that. Just love ‘em and then don’t hold them back when they get into the rough stuff. They’ll figure out everything else as they go.

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