of max and men: teaching a boy to be a man
in the event that you’ve slept through the last several days or haven’t read my blog (or decided to unfollow me in the midst of gratuitous labor tweeting…), baby byrd #3–max ryan byrd–squirted into this world on tuesday afternoon. weighing in just slightly under the minimum tonnage for aspiring sumo wrestlers, all 9 lbs, 3 oz of max has spent the last couple days acclimating to his new home. big sister olive and even bigger sister lucy have also been acclimating to having a new human being in their home, especially for the fact that this new human being is a little boy.
the acclimation to a little boy isn’t experienced exclusively by lucy and olive. christen and i, of course, are figuring out what it means to raise a boy after spending the last 3 years in little girl world.
for whatever reason, all things gender are touch points for me. broadly speaking, issues surrounding equality are of particular interest and passion, but it’s much more focused on gender equality issues. what does that mean? it means i support female clergy. i feel strongly about equal wages for men and women. i believe, theologically, that men and women are equal in creation and thus, function. i believe that socially/relationally, men and women are equal and can share duties/social roles. certainly, these things (and more) have been debated for many years, particularly since the 1960s.
another somewhat related area of debate for quite a bit of time has been the issue of nature vs. nurture. one camp suggests that people are most prominently (or even exclusively) formed by nature—fashioned in the womb, merely playing out the predetermined natural tendencies/personalities we have been given. the other camp, of course, proposes that people are more products—even, again, exclusively—of our environment including other people, events, circumstances, and experiences (among many other things).
i fall on the nurture side of the argument. way over on the nurture side of the argument. i believe (and backed up by some relatively substantial research during grad school) that people are most dominantly shaped and formed by post-womb experiences. certainly, there are some hard-coded traits, but they are even more certainly limited.
so, what does all this have to do with raising a boy?
the intersection of a strident resolution to cultivate gender equality and a deep-seated feeling that people are products of their environment directly leads to how i will choose to raise my children, particularly, in this case, a boy.
whenever i hear someone say something to the effect of, you have to teach him to be a man, i instantly have a bit of a dissonant visceral reaction. why? because i generally know what they’re proposing. what they’re actually saying is, in relation to our male-centric cultural norms, teach him to be a man. let me pause and affirm that, certainly, some people are absolutely not proposing this particular nuance, but it’s absolutely the dominant expression.
teach him to be a man typically means be the head of the household. it means do all physical things in a relationship like mow the yard or fix the car or repair the siding or chase the animals from out of the crawl space. it means be the primary fear-inducing disciplinarian of the children, but not their go-to conversationalist. it means only cry in front of your family when all other options have been exhausted. it means be the primary financial provider or you’re sinning against your family and society. it means place your career at the apex of your identity. it means respect women enough to not hit them, but not enough to primarily view them as sex objects. it means pursue sports as a primary option and regretfully fall back to other interests if you’re not physically equipped for sports.
quite frankly, none of these things have anything to do with being a man. rather, they are cultural norms (our american culture, i might add) that have been assumed and nurtured within our society.
no little boy is born prone to do any of these things.
so i refuse to teach them. i refuse to allow my nurture to produce these results.
rather, i want to raise max to be a man who view/treat his future wife as an equal in all decision-making and marital roles. rather, i want to equip max, relationally, to utilize his strengths, whether they be physical or mental. i want to teach max that fathers, just like mothers, can exhibit a loving-kindness to their children that fosters conversation, honesty and openness. i want to be an example to max of a man who weeps, who allows his emotions to expose themselves in healthy, natural ways. i want to teach max that financial responsibility is shared between a husband and wife and that there’s a natural ebb and flow to the piece of the pie congruent to life circumstances. i want to give max an example of a man who properly balances family and career, in which career is an ends to a mean, not the ends. i want to teach max that our relationship with others—not just women—is sacred and that when we view anyone as an object, we defile the image of god. i want to create an environment that fosters any interests max might have, even if sports are not a part of those interests.
there’s something more than our warmed-over assumptions of male gender roles and i hope to foster that something more.
men and women, once upon a time, were created equal. in both being and function, all people exist on an even playing field. when that conviction meets the understanding that my example and teaching creates the man my son will be, i’m compelled to to look deeper than the surface of our assumptions. i’m compelled to dig beneath the layers of teaching him to be a man and simply let him become a human being.