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Transforming Boys Into Men

About 15 years ago, I purchased a tape set that consisted of recordings of 4 different talks that were given by a Catholic priest on the topic of true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  During one of the talks, the priest explained a theory that he had heard from his brother-in-law about the different tendencies men and women are born with.  His brother-in-law was a psychiatrist and a devout Catholic who had been counseling married couples for over 25 years.

The brother-in-law told the priest that he believed that because of our fallen human nature, all men are born with a strong tendency toward irresponsibility (which includes a reluctance to make commitments), and that although women are generally responsible and willing to make commitments, they are born with a strong tendency to manipulate others in order to get what they want.

A couple of weeks after hearing this theory, I revealed it to the Williams side of the family while we were all having Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ home.  Upon hearing the Catholic psychiatrist’s theory about men and women, my mom and two of my sisters immediately agreed that men are irresponsible and routinely avoid making commitments, but they objected to the suggestion that women are manipulative.

A firestorm erupted among the dozen or so adults who were sitting around my parents’ large dining room table.  The battle lines were quickly drawn – women against the men.  The men were honest enough to admit that the theory about the men was probably true, but the women weren’t willing to budge at all on the other theory.  They were appalled that the psychiatrist would be so close-minded that he would lump all women into one category and declare that they were all manipulators.

The whole scene was fun (for me) to watch.  It wasn’t very long before one of my sisters called me and my brothers “a bunch of chauvinist pigs.”  A couple of the other women quickly agreed with the “chauvinist pig” label. 

Last week I told you about how the Williams men would (figuratively) dump a truckload of bricks on their sons when the sons didn’t live up to the standards that were set for them.  The Williams women weren’t in the habit of dumping truckloads of bricks on their men.  Instead, they would throw individual bricks at them – one at a time, in rapid sequence.

So that’s what ended up happening during that one particular Thanksgiving dinner – bricks being hurled by my loving mother and sisters across the table at all of the men.  A couple of times during the “discussion” I reminded my mom and sisters that they were attempting to “manipulate” the conversation in order to try to get us to agree with them.  Each time I said that, more bricks came flying across the table.

Now let me be clear about one thing.  My main objective in telling you this story was to point out (and emphasize) that boys and men are, in fact, generally irresponsible and noncommittal, but in order to put everything into context, I had to include the psychiatrist’s observations about both men and women.

If you’re a woman, the theory I just explained probably doesn’t apply to you; however, it most likely applies to one or more of the following women in your life: your mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, fellow employee, boss, or friend.

Anyway, I happen to believe that in most situations, the theory about boys and men having a tendency toward irresponsibility and the avoidance of commitments is true.

I have a friend who is in his mid 50’s.  He’s an attorney and has been happily married for over 33 years.  He has four grown children – 2 girls and 2 boys.  As a young boy, he worked in his family’s business and continued to do so throughout high school and college.  A couple of years ago he lost his job.  He was out of work for 6 or 7 months before he was able to find another job.   Other than that short period of time he was without a job, he has worked consistently since he graduated from law school (over 30 years ago).

All four of my friend’s children graduated from high school and went on to college.  His daughters graduated from college after four years and immediately found good paying jobs.  Although both of his sons went to college for a year or two, neither one of them graduated.  They are now in their mid-twenties and it appears as though they are incapable of staying employed for any reasonable length of time.  So what did my friend and his wife do that was different when it came to raising their daughters and sons?  Nothing.  They were all raised the same.

I want to emphasize the fact that my friend’s two sons are decent family-oriented men, but they were never challenged to overcome their natural tendency to avoid commitments and responsibility.  They were never encouraged, cajoled, pressured, or forced to work.  No high standards were set for them.  Consequently, they have no real-world knowledge about how to work in an industrious and productive manner.  They have no skills.  They have no confidence in their ability to work.  They have no self-respect.  They are now severely handicapped and will most likely face extreme hardship in the future.

So here are the ground rules the hammerheads on both sides of my family set for their sons:

1. When a boy is old enough to play sports (6 years old), he’s old enough to work at home (for no pay and no “allowance”).  He will be given a list of jobs that he has to complete every day.  He will be taught that real personal growth, self-respect, and confidence come from “earning” rather than “getting.”  He will be reminded (when necessary) that he’s not “given” points for showing up for a game.  He has to “earn” every point.   By the same token, he will be reminded (when necessary) that he doesn’t get to live in his parents’ home just because he happened to born into the family.  He has to work to earn his keep. 

2. When he is 13 or 14 years old (after he has gone through puberty and is physically capable of fathering a child), he needs to start behaving like a man, which means it’s time to start working outside of the home for wages – part time during the school year and full time during the summers.  Ninety percent of what he earns should be put into savings for his college education, and he can use the remaining ten percent to purchase what he wants.  His parents will still provide the necessities, such as food, shelter, and clothing, but if he wants something that’s not considered a necessity, he will have to pay for it himself.

3. When he is 16 years old, he needs to start buying his own clothes and personal care items.  If he’s not already doing his own laundry, it’s time for him to take on that responsibility.  He will not be “given” a car, but as long as he’s keeping up his grades, working, and abiding by his parents’ rules, if there’s a car available, he’ll be allowed to use it.  Depending on the frequency of use, he will be required to contribute toward the purchase of gasoline.

What I am suggesting is completely opposite of what our government, our schools, our media, and our popular culture promote and encourage.  We have been conditioned to believe that we should not put “undue pressure” on our children.  Our children are told that they will have to spend the rest of their lives working, so they should enjoy their teen years.  The harsh reality is that good paying jobs are hard to come by (and keep), so how is the man who spent his youth enjoying himself (instead of working) going to be able compete head-to-head with a man who has been trained, honed and hardened by the previous employers he worked for?

Which option do you think is better: (1) to let your son coast along until gets out of school and then cut him loose into a cruel and unforgiving world that is waiting to chew him up and spit him out; or (2) to challenge him early and often to live up to his full potential by acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitude, and confidence he will need to compete like a top athlete in the marketplace? 

When it comes to teaching our sons how to work, there are certain fundamentals they must be taught (just as they are taught certain fundamentals in sports).  Next week I’m going to share with you three of the fundamentals that every boy needs to learn before he can expect to excel as an employee.

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2 Responses to “Transforming Boys Into Men”

  1. Danny Says:

    Hi Harold.

    You’ll probably remember this. On the last day of school when I was 13, after supper dad said to help him unload the truck. I went out with him and we unloaded paint, scaffold and supplies. He said he wanted me to paint the exterior of the house by the time school started up again. He said these supplies were everything I needed. On the way back in the house he gave me the one piece of advice. It’s cooler in the morning. I’d never erected scaffold and he didn’t show me how either. I had to figure it out. I also remember getting you to help me at times so we could start our playing sooner in the day.

    Good job on these. You’re pretty good.

    Danny

  2. admin Says:

    Danny,

    Good to hear from you. I don’t remember all of the details, but I do remember helping with the painting. Your dad was a master at getting the neighborhood boys to work for him (especially me, John, Peter and Steve). He made us feel like we were relevant and important and always had a reward for us, like a can of beer, some time shooting at blackbirds, firecrackers, etc. I think about him all the time. We were blessed to have him in our lives.

    Take care,

    Harry

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