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January 26, 2016

From Men to Boys

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 12.45.58 PM“Nobody calls men ‘men’ anymore. Have you noticed? Women went from ‘girls’ to ‘women.’ Men went from ‘men’ to ‘boys.’ This is a problem in the big picture. Do you know what I mean?”
(Jules, from the film “The Intern”)

Anne Hathaway’s character, in last year’s hit film, is surrounded by boys. Hoodie-wearing employees at her fast-growing Internet company. Hoodie-wearing Brooklynite neighbors. A hoodie-wearing husband who cheats on her. Lots and lots of hoodies.

Then she hires a “senior” intern, played by Robert DeNiro, who always wears a suit, always shows up on time, and always carries a handkerchief. In other words, or in her words, a man. It’s not until she meets this kind, strong, respectful widower-gentlemen that she realizes how many boys she has in her life. Thankfully, this man starts to help those boys begin to grow up.

As a dad, I have loved raising a woman. Our daughter is a beautiful, strong-willed, confident young adult woman, raised to believe men and women are wonderfully different, while fully equal. That she was born into an incredible era of female empowerment and egalitarianism has made our job as parents a lot easier.

Raising a man, for me, has proven more of a challenge. Don’t get me wrong—our teenage son is also beautiful, strong-willed, and confident (so far, so good). No, It’s not him, it’s me. I grew up in a bewildering time for men, as we moved from John Wayne toughness to Alan Alda sensitivity as our male ideals. And I’ve been raising my son in an era that celebrates boy bands and teenage CEOs wearing, you guessed it, hoodies. Like Ms. Hathaway’s Jules, I too have been straining to see, and show so my son, an authentic image of a 21st century man.

A man who looks into people’s eyes as comfortably as he does their Instagram pic. A man who dresses for the parts he’s growing into, not the roles he’s destined to grow out of. A man who demonstrates his strength with strong handshakes and hugs, and helping around the house, with no insecure need to puff himself up and push people around.

Of course, as is most always the case, I can’t expect my boy to grow into such a man if he’s never seen one in his own home.

Today, I’m wearing a suit, and carrying a handkerchief.

It’s a start.

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