5 Ways Parents Can Transform Their Wild Boys into Mature Men
Leading our sons into the essence of manhood.
July 10, 2012 - 7:00 am
His wasn’t the first brilliant plan to end in the emergency room.
The two boys had a problem they needed to solve. You see, there was an opossum on their farm and the boys had to capture it.
I’m not real clear just why, other than that’s just the way of things in a boy’s mind — opossums were made for trapping.
Nonetheless, the two set about their adventure by Googling “how to make a opossum trap.”
The contraption that inspired them consisted of a heavy rock, a rope, and a high tree branch — constructed and powered solely by two 11-year-old boys. It’s really not hard to see how this plan landed one of them in the emergency room to have his collar bone X-rayed.
Just as the mother of the chief architect was about to remind him that this was exactly why boys should put on clean underwear and socks every day, the triage nurse walked in.
“What brings you in today?”
“Well, you see, there’s this opossum on our farm.…”
For the next ten minutes the hospital air filled with the dreams and designs that ultimately knocked the starch right out of the young trapper.
Trying to keep a straight face, the nurse simply smiled and said the doctor would be in soon.
Apparently the boy’s adventure made the rounds ahead of the doctor. It wasn’t long before a stream of hospital staff including the janitor “needed” to hear the story.
At last the doctor entered the room. The gray-haired gentlemen pulled up a stool, leaned forward, and began listening intently.
“So tell me what happened.”
Once again the tale began:
Well, you see, there’s this opossum….
The doctor asked many questions; he seemed mostly interested in the construction of the trap. Shaking his head with a grin, he ordered the X-rays.
When the results came in, he returned with an announcement:
Well, boys, it looks like it’s back to the drawing board.
Your collar bone isn’t broken, just bruised. But I want you to know you made my day just to know that there are still boys that act like boys.
What do you think he meant when he said he was glad there are still boys that act like boys?
I think his idea of a boy is a bit old-fashioned. He remembers when boys were allowed to be a bit dangerous, adventurous, and industrious — before they were feminized.
Here are five ways parents can capture their boy’s heart, douse it with character, and send a real man out to conquer his own world.
5. Replace His Sense of Entitlement with an Opportunity.
They say the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.
The boy was a hard worker — earning money was never the problem. It was why he earned it that began to alarm his mother.
He seemed to be compelled to always want the latest and greatest toy, the newest video game, and the next coolest thing. At first, his mother dismissed her uneasiness, assuring herself that he has a right to spend his own money on the things he wants. After all, she was proud of her hard-working boy.
Shouldn’t he reward himself with the fruits of his labor?
At first glance, perhaps you would agree. But his mother looked a little deeper. Her concern came when she began to see the appetite he was developing.
If this trend continued, then one day her son would be a husband and perhaps a father who takes more pride in the toys he acquires than providing for his family.
Worried her son would grow up and become a man whose time, energy, and wealth are lost on amassing expensive “toys,” she decided to redirect him.
What the boy needed more than anything Wal-Mart had to offer was something to care about more than his own selfish desires.
Together, they began researching orphanages. They found World Vision International and searched for a boy with the same birthday and the same interest in soccer. They found one.
Zachary discovered even he could really help someone else. He saw that he could make a real difference in the life of another child just like him. What he would have spent on plastic he could use to change a life, discovering a new kind of thrill.
Zachary learned at the age of 10 that money could do far more than buy bigger toys.
4. Give Him a Code of Honor to Live By.
Our family has a tradition in knighthood.
When each of our boys turned seven, we armed him with a handcrafted (read homemade) wooden sword and shield, and told him this story:
In the days of old, my son, when young boys grew up to be great, brave knights, they began their journey at age seven. A child of noble birth would go to the nearest castle to be a page. A page was a servant to the brave knight. He did whatever the knight bid him to do. By and by, as the boy grew, if he showed himself to be faithful, strong, and true, he would become a knight.
With innocent, wide eyes that would flash with excitement, our Tom decided that was the life for him. I agreed, but then I had to break the news to him that he would have to stay home because our house was the only castle in his daddy’s kingdom.
Then I explained,
A knight must know the old code of chivalry and learn to live by it.
Among the rules of the code he memorized were:
Never harm an innocent, never betray a friend, and never attack an unarmed foe.
It’s downright amazing how often in a little boy’s life these rules come in handy.
One afternoon my young page came in the kitchen for a glass of water. His brow furrowed, with contemplation written all over his face. Finally breaking his fixed stare, he spoke,
“Mom, Tim is never going to be a knight.”
“Oh, why is that?” I asked.
“Because, he has already killed an innocent.…”
“Yep, a frog.”
With a disapproving shake of his head, he was out the door.
Throughout that summer I used his knight training to teach him to get along with his little brother and his friends. Ditching pesky siblings translated into “never betray a friend” and fighting with brothers quickly became “never attack an unarmed foe.”
We eventually made several heavily padded swords for the many visiting knights that came to play in our kingdom that summer.
Many seasons have passed since then, and swords all too quickly gave way to footballs and fishing poles, then car keys and Friday night dates.
In a blink of an eye, he took a new set of vows with a different code of conduct and honor — and he became someone else’s valiant knight.
3. Show Him the Power of Bridled Strength.
Today Andy stands just over 6’6” tall. He raises cattle, corn, and little girls. Andy would probably be surprised to know he’s thought of as a gentle giant.
When I asked his mother what was one of the most important traits she wanted to instill in Andy and his five brothers, without hesitation this mother of ten replied,
“Not in the feminine sense,” she was quick to add. “But he can learn to be gentle, when it’s modeled for him.”
Her answer reminded me of a book called The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses by John Breeding.
A boy that learns to bridle his own strength and hold his own reins of power can become a man.
2. Teach Him to Reject a Disposable World.
By most standards it was a nice truck — solid white with a full back seat, and less than two years old. At 19, this wasn’t even Steve’s first truck.
Traveling down a country road with a buddy, he took a sharp right off-road into the middle of a cornfield. It didn’t take long for the little truck to get stuck in the freshly plowed field. He threw it in forward, then reverse, and back again. Wheels spun, mud flew, and the engine roared. But all he managed to accomplish was digging deeper ruts to nestle his tires in.
“You’re going to blow your motor!” his wide-eyed passenger shouted as he clung with both hands onto the side grip handle above the door.
“So? That would be cool. Then I get a new truck!”
Abundance tends to breed waste. If it’s cheap, we expect it to break so we can toss it and get another one. This mindset can spill over into every area of life. It doesn’t have to be inexpensive to not hold its value.
Now in his late 30s, Steve has already had three wives and countless relationships.
If we want our boys to see the value in the big things in life as men, they must learn to appreciate and care for the little things as boys.
Even a child instinctively knows — easy come, easy go.
1. Expect Him to “Pull His Own Weight.”
Boys raised on a farm grow up working. There’s an expectation of pulling their own weight, not just funding Friday night escapades.
Bob, a third-generation farmer, fondly reminisced that, although he realized he was a special case, he began learning to farm at the ripe old age of four. He went on to explain that his father was missing a hand. Somewhere between toddler and boy, he became his father’s right-hand man — literally.
On a neighboring farm, an old man sat at the kitchen table to describe his childhood. “Early mornings.” he said. “I was expected to milk the cow before going to school each day, and then again when I got home.”
Not only did he milk his family’s cow, but also his grandparents’ as well.
“Looking back,” he said, “like most boys of that time, I learned a great many other things working beside my father on a daily basis.”
One thing all farm boys learn early is to “just do it.” I don’t mean play basketball in Nikes — I mean work. Just do it because it is expected. Just do it because it’s needed. Just do it because it must be done. They did it for their families.
Although the culture of the American family farm is fading as fast as the crumbling barns that dot the countryside, their spirit and wisdom don’t have to die with them.
As I spoke with different old men, the same recurring theme underscored each memory: in expecting a boy to “pull his own weight,” he gains more than he gives.
The point to take away here is not that we should return to the era of child labor in the Industrial Revolution, or put children in dangerous farm machinery, or even force them to work in fields.
Rather, that fathers work side-by-side with their sons. It’s a father’s expectation that a boy can be more than he is that brings out the man in the boy.
John Eldredge wrote in Wild at Heart that every boy longs to know whether he has what it takes to become a man.
[T]he question every boy and man is longing to ask. Do I have what it takes? Am I powerful? Until a man knows he is a man, he will be forever trying to prove he is one.