Last week, after I published my article on The Two Greatest Desires, I happened to run into one of my cousins. When I saw her walking toward me, I noticed the expression on her face. It was one of those determined looks, a look that alerted me that she was about to give me a lecture. How was it that was I able to read the look on her face? She raised her family in the same neighborhood I grew up in, and during that time I had several opportunities to see the same look on her face immediately prior to her delivering a lecture to me or someone else in the neighborhood.
She started out by saying, “So are you done teaching about sex education in your newsletters?” I calmly responded, “Do you think I said anything that was over-the-top or inappropriate?” She replied, “No, the articles were good, but what about the boys!? You need to write about what parents should be doing with their sons, not just their daughters.” By then she was wagging her finger in my face as she told me what I needed to be doing.
I reminded her that I wasn’t just blaming the girls for what happened in their relationships with boys, but I had to start with the girls because no matter what anyone says, they’re still the gatekeepers – the ones who have the power and the obligation to say no. They’re also the ones who are harmed the most by the consequences of going too far with a boy.
To be fair to my cousin, she frequently makes an effort to encourage me to continue to write and she was simply pointing out, in her own way, what she wanted me to focus on next. I finally gave in and told her, “You’re right. I’ll have to think about it, but you know, there’s not a whole lot I can write about when it comes to boys. I guess I could tell parents they should beat their sons every time they act up.” She gave me that look again and said, “I’m sure you’ll come up with something. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you have to say about it. Now, you make sure to write that article!” She was wagging her finger at me again (despite the fact that I’m a 53 year old man). But I didn’t complain about the way she was lecturing me. I did my best to show her the respect she was entitled to. She was sincere in her request. She has grown sons of her own, so she experienced first-hand the difficulties of raising boys to adulthood.
When I was growing up, I had an advantage over a lot of other boys. I had the good fortune to grow up in the midst of several great men. On the Williams side of the family, the men – my dad, my grandfather, Tom, and my uncles, Tommy and Bill Williams – were all warriors. They weren’t afraid of anyone. They wouldn’t go looking for trouble, but if trouble happened to come their way, they’d fight their way out of it if they had to. If you’ve ever seen the movie, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, the Williams men had temperaments like the seven brothers (but fortunately for the women in their lives, they had better table manners than the seven brothers).
There were some occasions during my teenage years when my mom complained about the dominant traits of the Williams men. When we (her sons) were confrontational with her, she would sometimes tell us we were being bull-headed, stubborn, controlling, arrogant, and/or overly defensive, “just like the Williams side of the family!”
Each time my mom accused me of possessing any of those particular Williams traits, I considered it a compliment. I would tell her, “Um, mom, you did marry dad, so I would assume that at one time in your life you found those traits appealing . . . didn’t you?” Or I would say, “Mom, we’re not arrogant, we’re just confident. What’s wrong with being confident?” Or, “We’re not bull-headed and stubborn, we’re decisive. The Williams men know what they want and they go after it. What’s wrong with that?” Or, “We’re not controlling, we just take charge of a situation when it’s necessary. Isn’t that a quality you want to see in your sons?” Or, “Mom, you raised us to be leaders. All great leaders possess those traits. What do you want, a bunch of wimps for sons?”
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression of my mom by what I’m saying here. What she said to us was just her way of responding to our aggressive and defiant behavior. Most of the time she showed great respect for the Williams men, all of whom were worthy examples for her sons. She would often comment about how the Williams men not only possessed great physical strength, but were also tough minded, smart, hard working, honest, driven, and decisive – traits she wanted each of her sons to inherit and develop.
If the Williams men represented one extreme, the men on my mom’s side of the family represented the other extreme. Because my mom’s dad, Harry LaHood, died before I was born, I never had the chance to get to know him; however, as I was growing up, I did have the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with my mom’s brothers – my uncle Harry, uncle Ed and uncle Dick LaHood – all of whom always made it a point to show genuine interest in (and concern for) their nieces and nephews.
While the Williams men used physical strength and intimidation to get their way, the LaHood men used their charm and deal-making abilities to get what they wanted. The LaHoods were entrepreneurs and risk takers. If they needed to break a few rules to get something accomplished, they would talk themselves and everyone around them into believing that there was clear justification for their deviation from the rules. They were, like the Williams men, also very confident and decisive. They were, on occasion, also accused by their mother (my grandmother) of being arrogant. (Hmmm. Why is it that my mom and my grandmother mistook the admirable qualities of the men in their lives for arrogance?)
The one other major difference between the two groups of men was the way they disciplined their sons. The preferred method of discipline for the Williams men was to use force, shame and intimidation to “persuade” their sons to see things their way. The LaHood men were more strategic about the way they disciplined their sons. Their preferred method of discipline usually included a combination of subtle manipulation, shame and humor.
Despite their vast differences, the men on both sides of the family were of one mind when it came to the way they raised their sons. They never used the word “teenager.” All of them expected their sons to be and act like men once they went through puberty. Although they never expressed it in this way, their attitude was that if a boy was physically capable of fathering a child, he was expected to be and act like a man. There was no talk of (or time for) a transition period between childhood and adulthood. One year their sons were boys and the next year they were men. This particular mindset meant that they had much higher expectations for their sons than most fathers have.
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to cover what I have to say about raising sons in 3 separate articles entitled: (1) Hammerheads, Bricks & Challengers; (2) A Prowler In The House; and (3) Religion On A Sleeve. I’m not going to be able publish the articles back-to-back over the next three weeks, but I will get them done one-at-a-time over the next few months.
Maybe once I get those articles published, my cousin will leave me alone. Maybe.