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To Raise Healthy Boys, You Have to Like Men


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.