A friend sent me a note after my previous post. Her husband, she said, had grown up in a family that substituted isolation and alienation for love, hard ‘discipline’ (most of us would call it verbal abuse) for compassion, and religious fear for reflective belief. It was, she told me, a profoundly sad & ugly childhood.
Her husband is a lovely man: gentle, kind, very bright, and gifted in many creative arts. Not to mention just a heck of a nice guy. But his knuckles are scarred from the doors & walls and other things he has hit over & over. And there are equally deep scars — although not visible — he wears from being hit with words, over & over again…
What is it with this culture & ersatz manliness? Why must all boys be raised to be warriors? And not even warriors in the honourable ancient Asian traditions: trained in art & literature & language… I do the warrior traditions of Native American tribes & Japanese families & Chinese dynasties & Indian eras dishonour by comparing my friend’s childhood to these polyvalent traditions. What our culture does cannot be called training boys into warriors. No, we throw our boys away — discard them in childhood for the very traits we respect in many men.
Scientists have said in various articles that the obsessive passions fueling their childhood paths would not be allowed today. A diagnosis of Aspberger’s is probably the best many could hope for. Athletes? ADHD. The creative dyslexics (creativity & dyslexia often go hand-in-hand)? Unless they are in very good schools, no money to counsel. No time in a test-driven environment for poor test-takers. Medicate them (and I’m not impugning legitimate medication, but the tendency to over-medicate boys, specifically) or, eventually, expel them.
As a mother of sons, I plead a lack of objectivity about the plight of boys. And make no mistake: boys are endangered. Not as a ‘species,’ but as happy beings. As the logical terminus of millenia of evolution.
We lock many of them up — what else do you do with 10-year-olds who beat up homeless veterans? Never mind what causes a 10-year-old to turn from a child into a violent monster. We can ask ‘what do we do with these horrible monsters?’ But there are other questions… Are we even asking the right questions?? Yes, a 10-year-old who beats a homeless man is very sick. So is the society that produced him. And the veteran he beat up: what nation lets such a huge number of its (male) veterans end up homeless, after they risk their very lives for us??
It’s only been a few centuries that we have taught our boys how to read. Only a few centuries that boys haven’t had to help the tribe or family hunt for food, or scrape existence from the furrows of a field. It’s a few short steps backwards to a time when all men were hunters, warriors, scouts, & workers with their hands. Some men still are.
But as Mike Rose says in his excellent work The Mind at Work, and as Matthew Crawford argues in his book Shop Classs as Soulcraft, we only pay lip service to our maker roots. The dream of the working class hero may be a Bruce Springsteen song, but with the demise of industrial arts programs, and the substitution of ‘respectable’ — if low-paying — ‘white collar’ computer jobs for the hands-on skills of the past, it’s only a myth for today’s boys.