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What I Learned About Boys From Raising One

When I first found out I was having a boy, I was really nervous. It wasn't that I thought I'd be missing out on dressing up a daughter and having tea parties; I had been a tomboy myself. Instead, I thought of all the lurid cases of rape and murder that I had heard of, in which the mother of the accused, in the face of overwhelmingly incriminating evidence, flatly refused to believe that her son could be guilty. Was that what it meant to be the mother of a son? I did not want to become that person.

I also felt robbed of the opportunity to raise a strong girl who would blossom into a sort of Athena under my aegis, wise and fierce and, well, beautiful even though of course that would not be the most important of her qualities.

Raising a young child can both subvert and shore up your expectations about gender, even in this age of blurred lines. (My father watching my son's soccer game, observing the players with long hair: "They let girls play with the boys?") Many boys tend to be fascinated by trucks and trains. Many girls are into dolls and playing in groups. (Daycare teacher: "The emotional drama of girls is just exhausting!")

I remember vividly a talk I had in the grocery-store line with a middle-aged woman who saw me with my son. She was telling me how she had expected her own sons to be rough, but she had been surprised by their tender hearts. And so was I. I had had guys as friends in high school and college, but it was always as if they were in a reality slightly out of phase with my own--their perspective was just different.

But with my son, we were starting at zero. As a baby, his gender didn't seem to mean anything. Then as he grew older, even as he displayed a love of banging things that reminded me strongly of Bam-Bam in "The Flintstones," I also saw his feelings transparently on display-- the contrition and hurt when he was reprimanded, the shyness with strangers, the empathy when he saw that I was in pain.

As I read about culture, I learned that boys learn to suppress these feelings, to be "more like a man" as they enter the teen years. I know that things are changing, but I don't know how much, or whether they are in his particular context. As I walk him to school (now 3rd grade) and he holds my hand in his own warm one, I wonder: How long will this last?

Lightning Strike

Donald Davis