While I love and learn from much of the “raising boys” literature, can I just be honest and say that I think it’s sometimes a little heavy on the I-want-my-boys-to-be-warriors content?
Don’t get me wrong: I (of course) want my boys to be “warriors” — I pray for them to be Christ-like leaders and courageous men who will fight for what is right.
But I ALSO want my boys to be tender. My father-in-law — also known as “Gentle Gene the Tender Machine” — modeled the kind of compassion I’m imagining.
As a child, my husband knew he could go to his dad in the middle of the night with any problem — be it vomiting, leg cramps, or fear — and “Gentle Gene” would warmly tend to the need with kindness and care.
As a teenager, my husband watched his dad take in and mentor a neighbor boy who had been thrown out of his house for adolescent drinking.
As adults, both my husband and I witnessed Gene patiently minister to his wife as she suffered through debilitating illness.
Make no mistake: these tender snapshots display a diligence that, while simple, certainly isn’t easy. “Easy” is to roll over and have Mom handle the middle-of-the-night interruptions; “easy” is to ignore the plight of the troubled teenager; “easy” is to let someone else care for an ailing spouse.
I want my boys to see that while tenderness appears simple, it is seldom easy; tenderness often requires warrior-like resiliency.
Even in his tenderness — perhaps especially in his tenderness — “Gentle Gene” modeled this warrior-like resiliency; he selflessly surrendered for the sake of another.
What young man doesn’t engage the internal battle — the compulsion — to serve himself first before thinking of others? I want my boys to know that sometimes being a warrior means showing warm benevolence and exercising uncommon restraint even when they don’t feel like it — even when they’d rather do something that seems more masculine.
Not coincidentally, two of my children just started yelling at one another upstairs. They should have been in bed an hour ago, but there is stomping and anger and crying because of some offense committed. And guess what my tender warrior-husband is doing?
He is calmly walking up the stairs, diffusing the (very heated) argument, discovering the root of the problem, and ensuring that the siblings go to sleep without anger toward one another in their hearts.
You’ve been here, I know. You all know how much easier it would be to yell from the couch, “KNOCK IT OFF AND GO TO BED RIGHT NOW… OR ELSE!”
But where’s the strength in that?
Raising our boys into well-rounded, warrior-like men demands that we demonstrate BOTH how to be tough AND how to be tender.