The world is a treacherous place where things willing to kill you lurk around every corner. So do you cower in fear, follow the beaten path, or break free? Welcome to raising boys.
A Tremendous Responsibility
I don't say this just because we had a great time and built bonds that will last forever. Mostly, it was because of what I learned about my boys and the men they are becoming.
As I observe the current state and trajectory of western civilization, it becomes fairly obvious that, at the root of the problems we are experiencing is the weakening, emasculation, and stifling of boys and men. This leads to a weakened family structure, exploitation of women and children, and subjugation by tyrants.
I've noticed that having this responsibility can be overwhelming at times, and while there are some great resources out there to help parents understand this responsibility, there isn't really a fool-proof blueprint for raising boys.
"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
Anyone who has kids, if they’re being honest, will tell you it’s far more improvisation than following a blueprint anyway. Parenting is the ultimate experiment. Every child is unique and they are DESIGNED to challenge every plan you have. With boys, it’s a constant battle between reining them in and letting them be adventurous and bold.
I’m not a fan of making excuses for reckless and destructive behavior by saying “boys will be boys,” but it is a greater challenge than I expected. Knowing when to let them challenge frontiers and when to teach them structure and discipline is not in the typical K through 12 curriculum.
Raising boys is a balance in the truest and most strenuous sense.
Raising Boys to Embrace Adventure
Adventure should be the easy part. It comes naturally for children. The only challenge is, with most boys, the concept of risk:reward ratio is completely foreign. I often wonder whether risk is even considered by these knuckleheads. I've found the biggest challenge is protecting them from real danger while preserving their sense of adventure.
In many ways, it is a beautiful sight to behold. As human beings, we are often only restrained by the limits we place on ourselves. Watching young boys push limits that only adults seem to recognize and then going so far beyond those limits that they achieve feats we never imagined brings a joy that is only matched by the apprehension in watching them take that first precarious step.
As a father, I ultimately side with the adventurous approach because my experience has taught me that we find life and fulfillment in adventure and exploration. And we tend to find regret and dissatisfaction in playing it 100% safe.
Raising Boys in Wisdom and Temperance
The challenge comes with balancing the need to instill a proper sense of self-restraint and self-preservation with a healthy respect for freedom and autonomy.
Recognizing that some risks are well worth it, while others are just frivolous and needless with little to no reward on the other side is where the fine line between recklessness and audacity is.
But whether you are climbing rocks across a rushing river or hiking along a 300 foot drop off, recognizing the finality presented by some risks is necessary for survival.
Creativity and Discovery
Whether it was designed this way or not, the modern educational system has stifled creativity in children. Rather than rewarding inventiveness and breakthroughs, a fairly high premium is placed on obedience and conformity.
It is vital to survival in the real world to learn discipline and the value of fulfilling obligations and deadlines, but I think this goes too far in almost every instance. The structure of the educational system is built for efficiency and control and the autonomy and creativity of the individual suffers tremendously.
I make it a point to embrace a thirst for creativity and discovery in all of my children, but this trip with my boys provided the most succinct, concrete example of that thirst when my oldest son expressed his wishes while we were hiking along a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains.
“I don’t want to go there. Somebody else has already been there.”
My sons had told me how badly they wanted to explore, climb, and look for critters. I thought I understood what they meant until those words came out of my oldest son’s mouth.
We were hiking along a path and I saw a little offshoot path to the side that went up the mountain near a waterfall.
”Why don’t y’all go explore up there?” Was my harmless, innocent question.
The Well Worn Path vs The Road Never Traveled
I can’t say I specifically intended to instill this idea in him, but there it was. “I don’t want to go there. Somebody else has already been there.”
It stopped me dead in my tracks. Ever since he was old enough to speak, he has spoken with a wisdom that defied his age. But this really made me stop to think about the myriad opportunities I had missed throughout my life by taking the safe and well worn path.
He wasn't even interested in "exploring" a path that had already been tread by another man's feet. It's that same sense that drives true creativity, the desire to create something completely new or to discover something human eyes have never seen.
Taking a path no one has ever taken before, and chasing the thrills along that path means taking significant risks, opening yourself to criticism, and sometimes even risking death.
In a way, though, this path of discovery can make us feel more alive than ever. It’s like it is hardwired in us and is only educated out of us by a system that fosters a culture of obedient automatons rather than pioneers.
But that is ultimately a culture of atrophy and slow death. What is sorely needed right now is a culture of men and boys daring greatly to promote growth and life.
The Power of Vulnerability
Vulnerability gets a bad rap because it has somehow been associated with weakness and timidity. But weakness and timidity is hiding behind shields and walls and heavy armor.
Vulnerability—leaving oneself exposed to potential harm, embarrassment, and even death is a prerequisite for courage. There is no courage in hiding your vulnerabilities. True courage is knowing you’re vulnerable and daring to attempt great things anyway.