Words by Tony Grands
I have two sons, ages 12 & 10. (& a daughter, plus another daughter on the way, but this isn’t about them.)
They’re right at the ripe age between innocence & puberty where their vulnerabilities are exposed for the world to see, yet the final layers of their strenghts & values are being founded & cemented. Too old for me to tell them not to cry but not old enough for me to treat them like men.In fact, I can’t remember ever telling my sons to “act like a man” when a painful, scary, or unnecessarily difficult situation reveals itself. Why? Because regardless of what the world wants them (or you) to believe, they are not men. They are boys. & far be it from me, their father, to force them to assume the dangerous responsibility that manhood is before nature takes it’s course.
Being a man, especially an African American one, is a lofty role. A role that takes years of training, guidance, investment, & most importantly, preparation. In my experiences, especially in the Black community, there’s appears to be an incessant need to churn out men without the proper rearing. No single factor can be blamed for the phenomena, yet it still occurs. Be it the lack of a male role model, the lack of a male presence – a void – needing to be filled, or just the unhealthy influences of family & pop culture, too many boys are unjustifiably forced to become men before it’s biologically time.
Being a man doesn’t mean being tough or brave or any of the dillusionary things people have manipulted it to mean. Being a man isn’t something you can foist upon a boy who isn’t mentally & emotionally & physically prepared. Being a man isn’t a decision that can be made by someone to satisfy convenience or necessity. Manhood is a microcosmic evolution that happens naturally, over time, as God intended. Once man begins to decide when a boy becomes a man, all hell is liable to break loose. The cycle of men becoming boys should be viewed in a similar way as technological evolution. & by that, I mean that if we – the humans – forge ahead at an unnatural speed, the results could be disastrous for everyone.
Far too often, I see so-called fathers pushing their young sons too hard in the direction of manhood, instead of letting them enjoy the scant, elusive years of mistake-making & irresponsibility-laden boyhood. Sometimes it’s accidental – like when dads leave their families, abandoning their sons, forcing them to assume the responsibility(s) as “man of the house” – & other times it’s intentional, exposing their easily influenced doppelganger to experiences that their impressionable, naïve mindscapes couldn’t possibly be ready to endure (like sex, violence, etc.). That’s less like growing & more like creating. It becomes a Frankenstein scenario, if you will, where the monster created has no control or wherewithal of it’s purpose. & like Frankenstein’s monster, the man-made creature roams free, unaware of the damage it’s inflicting on it’s proverbial village. The same village that it supposedly takes to raise the child he once was.
As a father, I know my duties are to nurture, much like a mother, but in a totally different capacity. However, as a Black man, I’m well aware that there are too many manchildren walking around in society. These manchildren seem to be aloof & alone & disoriented, & without quoting statistics, I can almost rightly say that a path of gloom, misery, & unhappiness await them. Perhaps that wouldn’t be the case if they had the chance to be boys.
One of the saddest things in life is a man who never had a childhood. So I let my boys be boys, possibly to a fault, but at least I know that they’ll have the chance to experience love & compassion & empathy while they’re still young enough to be susceptible to those concepts. Often, I meet men whose youth was so obviously virile & turbulent that I can’t help but feel sorry for them. I also can’t help but speculate with certain common sensical accuracy how they wound up that way. They were never boys, & were most likely coerced into being men before the man was ready to no longer be a boy, if that makes any sense.
Even before I can begin to teach my young sons about the difficulties of being a Black man in the world, I have to tutor them on the realities of being a man in society. It’s an intimate science. An imperfect experiment. A proverbial shot in the enlightened dark. But if I don’t at least try, I’ve failed as a man, myself. & I’d have no one to blame but the man I was raised to be…
I’ll leave you with this #ProTip: Fathers, father your sons or watch them assimilate with the unknown.
Words by Tony Grands