On Raising A Boy

crying stressed tired exhausted child, pain and sorrow

There is a little monster inside men. It rages and hungers for violence, in a constant pitched battle with those other elements inside who speak clarion calls for righteousness and protection and peace. 

That rage is evident from the first screams out of mother’s womb. Will it molest my boy, my son? Will he be consumed by the monster inherent within each of our kind, given over to vice and frustration and the death sentence that silence truly is? Stoicism, they used to call it. In reality it is loneliness, cruel and isolating. Today, in the avarice of our culture, we are busy enough to make glib excuses for boys who become men who act like boys. He’s a playboy. Man-child (a comedy!). Finding his way. But inner demons is more to the mark. 

My job, so far as I can fathom, as a father, is to temper the beast within my son. Not to crush or eliminate it … no, he will need to call upon that devil deep down from time to time, open the vault a crack and let some of that ill, sulfuric vapor to waft out, when infernal things must be done. In defense. In justice. In war. But it cannot leech into his heart or embed its barbed claws in the otherwise tranquil and fertile grounds of his soul, that eternal mirror of conscience. The boy, and hopefully I, must reserve that basin to be filled with love, humility, and empathy. His soul is his reserve from which to draw on as a human being who builds and carries, one with less striking but more listening. It is the well he must dwell into in times of crises and doubt, and I want that reflection staring back at him to be one of integrity he can be proud to see.

When I look at the boy, as he yells insults at me because I am for now the force that prevents his id from absolute reign, I see the towering teenager he will become, lean and handsome, burning with the embers of all of life’s many desires and urges and emotional, urgent, eternal possibilities, and I know a fist now will come back then. Maybe not to me, but to another, lesser creature. Another boy. A woman. Any weaker, less defensible person. Or even someone more than his equal, who answers with the unthinkable outcome. My lessons must be moderation, kindness, grace.

How does one dispense grace to a sniveling brat with snot running from one nostril and emphatic horrors flying from his mouth at full pitch after slamming down the object you bought as a gift, the waves of anger passing over across your dignity, your principles, buffeting against your unfettered capacity to one handedly knock his body into the ground until he begs for mercy?

A pinch, a slap, a gentle wrestle down are as far as I have dared to push into this dark room, the sign hanging crookedly over the door reading, “He that spareth the rod hatheth his son.” Indeed. I recall my childhood beatings, administered by my single mother from the family breadboard with the thin leather hand strap. Did I act in accord out of fear of punishment? Or was it, rather, out of love for my mother and a deep desire to make her happy? Because what is love between a son and his parent, if only fear? God how I wanted my mother to be happy. 

My son rages against me, swinging wildly. I step to the side and slightly encourage with his forward momentum and he collapses down in a tumble and then the rage monster flees him and the tears take hold, the sobbing, heaving body of a bony six year old who needs hugs.

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