I first became aware of this book through the M.O.B (Mothers of Boys) Society web site.* I enjoy Hal and Melanie’s occasional columns there, usually full of wisdom and practical insight, as they are raising six boys themselves.
The premise of Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching, and Appreciating Boys by Hal and Melanie Young is that what society and moms find negative about boys is part of what defines them as men and should be trained rather than squelched. For instance, a natural bent toward leadership in a pint-sized immature young boy with a sin nature will look bossy and controlling. Risk-taking in a young guy will look like recklessness. The goal is to develop those qualities in a right way rather than just squashing them. And moms in particular, who prefer peaceful, docile children, need to understand that boys act, think, and respond differently. That doesn’t mean we let them run rampant: too often destructive behavior is excused with a “That’s just the way boys are” attitude. But we pray for them, teach them, train them, lead them to the Lord, and help them, with God’s help, to become mature young men.
The Youngs discuss various aspects of this training, from acceptable risk-taking, competition, heroes, dealing with violence, purity, money matters, work ethics and experience, differences in learning, chivalry, gender roles, household duties, preparing for marriage and careers, and transitions as boys mature.
Here are a few quotes from the book that stood out to me:
God has placed in our boys a desire to be in charge, because one day they will be in charge. Today’s boys will be the fathers, and bosses, and elders, and statesmen of tomorrow. We’ve got to teach them how to submit to authority without destroying their leadership (p. 24).
Adults sometimes equate a desire for adventure with immaturity and recklessness. The Bible makes a distinction and so should we. The desire to conquer, to win against the odds, to do great things — these can be admirable ambitions. The willingness to pit one’s nerve against an unsettling foe is frequently called for in Scripture…On the other hand, overconfidence and rashness is soundly criticized (p. 48).
Our boys should be active and adventurous, but careful of themselves at the ultimate extreme, understanding that life is a gift and their bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. To risk life meaninglessly is foolishness; note that God’s gifts of boldness and courage are not for self-fulfillment or entertainment but for greater service to Him (p. 53).
Every family has some way they can teach their sons to be faithfully independent in a step-by-step way….It doesn’t seem fair to keep sons under constant instruction and supervision, with no chance to stand on their own, then give them complete responsibility and freedom when they come of age…Think of it like teaching a baby to walk — first you hold their hands, then you stand just a bit away, then farther away. If they stumble, you can catch them — to a point (p. 63).
When God asked Adam and Eve [questions], He wasn’t looking for information; He was forcing them to confront their fall from innocence (pp. 89-90).
This is the difficultly with “time-out” punishments that focus on exclusion from the fellowship of the family. Exclusionary punishments send the child away from the love and wisdom of his parents to brood in a corner, feeling angry and sorry for themselves in the lack of discipline and teaching. The fear of abandonment and rejection is deep in a small child. How much better to correct the sin and heal the broken fellowship quickly! (p. 91).
It was especially gratifying to read someone else saying that about “time-outs.” I had always felt that they weren’t the best way to discipline. There were some times we sent a child to his room to wait while we got our emotions under control (and gave them time to do the same) or prayed or thought about what to do. If they were sometimes in a bad mood that wouldn’t be rectified (boys have their “moods” as well as girls), we’d say something like, “If you want to be in a bad mood, that’s up to you, but you’re not going to inflict it on the rest of the family. You can go to your room til you’re feeling more sociable.” Usually it didn’t take long for a change in attitude to come. But where definite disciple is needed, it’s so much better to deal with it effectively and get it over with.
To me the heart and summation of the book came at the end:
Our boys need to be comfortable in their own skins. Not all men are athletes just like not all are intellectuals. Manliness is much more than brute force, it’s a heart attitude of confidence and boldness to accomplish the mission given by God (p. 243).
There were maybe a couple of minor things I disagreed with: one equated shyness with selfishness. I believe shyness is a personalty characteristic and not intrinsically selfish, but it can manifest itself in selfishness. Being an intensely shy person myself, the realization that my responses could hurt or offend people or curb ministry to them helped me a great deal in opening up and reaching out when I’d naturally feel more comfortable pulling back and remaining quiet.
The book almost assumes its readers are home-schoolers, but that is probably because the Youngs home school and are writing from their experience, and much of the book came from talks given to home school associations and such. But one does not have to home school to benefit from the book.
When I was growing up, fathers were quite authoritarian: nowadays the pendulum has swung to the other extreme and fathers are portrayed on TV as bumbling fools and “manhood” is looked down upon. As a mom of three grown boys, I am glad to recommend this balanced treatment on the topic with its encouragement to raise real, godly men to authentic Biblical manhood.
*Disclaimer: While I recommend the M.O.B. Society web site, I do not agree with every little thing every writer there says nor with every ad there.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)