When I was younger, and the boys were relatively small, I used to say I should have stuck to cats. Cats never grow up to be mass murderers.
This is partly, of course, a joke. I’ve known cats that could rip out your throat in your sleep. Fortunately the only one we had like that liked us.
No, let’s be serious: it is a danger every parent has thought of at least once, and mothers of boys more than that. Our hearts tighten both when reading stories of horrific crimes against children, and when reading the stories of men who became murderers. Because we can never be sure where the bad seed comes from, upbringing or genetics (all of us have in our ancestry both murder victims and murderers, of that you can be sure), and because when your children start growing and being independent, you worry a little bit.
And mothers of boys…
Look, speaking generally boys are more aggressive, even as small kids. And once they get testosterone pumping in during puberty, they’re aggressive, they’re large, they’re stronger than most women by the time they’re 14 or so, and you can tell how many times during the day they meditate on violence, even if they don’t do it. It’s the way the body is wired. None of us – not one – are descended from non-aggressive apes, and throughout all of history and certainly most of pre-history, the duty to defend female and young of the band went to the male, usually the youngish male.
I thought of all this the other day when watching my younger son be very gentle with one of the cats. He’s a very large man and gentle beyond belief with cats, children, and small, fragile things.
And I remembered when he was four or five, and was a quiet child who nonetheless would try to visit death upon his four years older and double his size brother. And I realized he now was fully under control.
And no one would believe seeing my sons engage in the amiable “rolling argument” how many times when they were younger I feared one would kill the other. (Another permanent saying was “I know one of them is Cain and one Abel, I just don’t know which.”)
Thinking of all this, I thought of all the crazy mothers – and never mothers – who run around screaming about toxic masculinity. And I shuddered.
Look, there are things baked into the blood and brain, the muscle and sinews of being human. One of them is that your sons will probably be bigger than you, if you’re their mother. The other is that they will be… not precisely more violent, but more physically violent. While girls will fillet each other with their sharp tongues, the boys will run at each other like thundering gorillas and play-fight (or sometimes fight-fight) like kittens of the same litter.
And from the outside, and as a mother, it’s really hard not to interfere. In a way, I did interfere. They knew very well there was a “no blood” and “no permanent damage” rule. And most of the time their fights consisted of pushing each other, to be honest. It was still terrifying for a mother.
The first time violence between young male siblings scared me was seeing my nephews (10 years older than my sons) fight. I thought they were going to kill each other, and couldn’t understand the parents carelessly walking around them like nothing was happening. They are also, now, as adults, perfectly friendly.
But for a mother, how easy to be horrified, even when the young giants pour out their violent ideas — “I’m going to punch him, and then I’m going to—” — and spend themselves in verbal violence. You think, “I should have stuck to cats. They don’t outweigh me, they’re not taller than I and they won’t become ax murderers.”
And yet, if you resist the need to interfere, the need to try to turn them into girls, they grow out of it. They get used to the hormones in their bloodstream (just like girls stop crying and slamming doors at the slightest provocation. Yes, a stereotype, and yet largely accurate) and more importantly, they learn what violence does and how to control it.
We don’t live in caves, nor even in the Greek city-states. I’m not proposing you let your kids run around murdering people in the streets until they learn to control it.
I’m just saying don’t shy from the occasional sibling tussle, or the more frequent – in my experience – verbal violence.
Yes, men are bigger, stronger, and tend to be more physically violent than women. But the good ones – and the vast majority born of caring parents turn out decent – learn to calibrate it and control it.
However, if you treat any incident of boyish aggression or verbal aggression as a serious infraction they will never learn to control it. Sure, tell them “you have to stop fighting with your brother”afterward. I did. I pointed out it was caveman behavior. And I waited till they could understand it.
If you tamp every little thing down, the boys will never learn how to deal with being a man. They will send it underground, underneath their consciousness. They will hide it from themselves.
Then instead of sane, controlled, strong males, you get the people Heinlein referred to when he said most “pacifist” males lower the white flag and hoist the skull and crossbones as soon as they can. You get people still as aggressive as any other male, but who hide it and let it erupt in terrifying predation against those smaller and weaker. This predation, both sexual and physical, flourishes in “liberal” environments for a reason.
If you’re a mother, learn to appreciate men for who and what they are, and let your son grow into a healthy man, not an ersatz girl. Let him play and get dirty, and yes, occasionally get in a tussle with other boys, even his brother.
Because we need men as much as you need girls. And counterfeits of either kind are never as good as the real thing.
And no one, no one, needs the conniving, falsely sweet “liberal” male, who walks by your side until he’s out of sight and can steal your wallet or worse.