From a reader, I have this story of young men who are choosing inclusion and encouragement over exclusion and resentment, and blazing their own path towards a tonic masculinity. I chose this story to share because these young men superficially resemble some perpetrators of school violence: one is fatherless, the other is non-neurotypical, both have been victims of bullying and social shunning. However, as many have discovered before them, while you don’t get to choose how other people treat you, you always have a choice in how you respond.
I’d like to nominate my daughter’s boyfriend for #tonicmasculinity. I think he’s a great example especially with all the horror stories we hear of high school boys doing things like shooting their classmates.
His dad has left their life and Brian has really stepped up to take care of his mom and sister.
It’s hard to say what leads to men doing evil things, because sometimes people are just so twisted that there’s got to be something really broken in them. But for Brian, I think one of the big anchors in his life that has helped keep him steady despite his father’s brokenness has been his mom and his best friend Caden.
Caden is very much an odd duck. He has a speech impediment and is probably on the spectrum as far as I can tell. He and Brian were both picked on in elementary school, but instead of becoming angry and violent he just…decided that any values that require bullying others to achieve aren’t worth it, I guess.They have been friends since kindergarten and are now freshmen in high school. That kind of long-term friendship gives a sense of stability I think and a sense of belonging. Brian really seems to find great meaning in cultivating relationships with a small circle of family and friends. My daughter says their group of friends were all kind of weird and socially awkward and so they just all decided to band together and make their own group where everyone would be accepted.
One thing I noticed is that Brian sort of acts as a buffer between Caden and the outside world. He “gets” Caden with all his aspie quirks, but he also is aware of what is socially acceptable or not. So he accepts Caden the way he is, but if Caden starts doing or saying something in public that isn’t considered socially acceptable, Brian will just quietly say, “Hey man, not cool, not now.”Brian got his mom (and me!) roses on Mother’s Day and called his uncle to arrange a surprise visit for his mom. He comes over to hang out with my daughter and they watch YouTube videos about ant farms and reptile pets. They are good friends and really care for each other.Brian’s not a “cool kid”. He’s obsessed with making dinosaurs out of pipe cleaners and knows every Jurassic Park fact. But every time he’s over at our house, before he leaves, he makes sure to shake my hand and say goodbye, thanks for having me over.It just warms my heart to see them together doing good, wholesome activities and truly enjoying each other’s company.
Image credit: “Friendship” by Naveen Kadam, Creative Commons BY 2.0.