“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” ~ Frederick Douglass
I used to add (& women) at the end, the way I do with hymns or other texts written in times where people weren’t aware of gender inclusive language. But I’m going to leave this one as it is for now, because I am realizing that broken men encompasses the problems in our world for both men and women.
Broken men hurt women.
Broken men demand women cater to fragile male egos.
Broken men don’t empower women.
I actually don’t love the language of describing human beings as ‘broken’ as I do not believe we can break. We are not bakeware—we are spirit, mind, and body that can heal and expand. There is no one above reproach and no one beyond restoration. But the truth of the quote stands: it is easier to raise our children to internalize truth instead of having to unlearn a lifetime of false narratives.
And the lie that our boys are fed from every direction is that in order to be a strong man, you must take power from others, instead of giving it away.
In fundamentalist families, the head of the household is established to be the man, the husband, the Dad. The father, in order to maintain ‘headship’ exerts power over their wives. It does not matter how much they sugar coat it with language like, “servant leadership,” or “husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the church.” When push comes to shove, if husbands get to make the final decision with final authority, they retain the power.
This power dynamic then transfers over to the way these fathers parent, because if an adult women cannot have full agency, young children deserve even less. Dads employ punitive methods to demand respect from his children, and his disciplinary measures trumps Mom’s because the hierarchy goes: Dad, Mom, then the kids.
Little by little, boys begin to disconnect from his parents. And instead of addressing the root emotions of their misbehavior, because “big boys don’t cry,” boys tuck their feelings away and act out their frustrations in the way they see it modeled by their fathers: establish hierarchy and lord power over others. They learn how to beat up other kids on the playground because in an elementary courtyard, those who physically overwhelm others are the ones with the most power. And when puberty comes around, the shared language surrounding “locker room talk” establishes unhealthy sexual attitudes.
“When we did start having sex, it was all about personal conquest. I, I, I, Me, Me, Me. Sex was achievements. Score chicks. Dominate.” says Toby Morris, comic artist.
Boys learn from their fathers that in all matters, including sex, the power and authority lie with you.
I think what we have to do to raise strong children is to stop equating strength with control. As parents, we have to stop believing in the lie that unless we “train” our boys to “obey” by punishing them, they will turn out to be social deviants. We need to stop equating moral agency to blind respect for authority. Boys will develop a strong moral core if we support them through the struggles and pain in their lives, from infancy to adolescence, by letting them express their emotions and engage in authenticity.
Boys who are allowed to feel their feelings learn to regulate their own emotions as well as practice interacting with other people’s emotions, and with proper support, learn healthy engagement in all arenas of life: from family to career to spirituality.
No, they will not grow up to be weak and fragile. Men with large egos are in far greater danger of fragility. Men who exhibit vulnerability are resilient—they earn rather than demand respect. They become leaders who compel genuine change in the world, who inspire both men AND women around them to reach their potential. The truest sign of strength lies in a man who gives power away.
I implore fathers to model this. Give up power over your children so they internalize that this is what it means to be a man—what it means to be a human being. You won’t lose your dignity or their respect, in fact, you might uproot the toxic masculinity from your own soul and discover a beautiful life of mutual flourishing. And most importantly, you’ll get to watch your boys grow to be resilient men who are confident of their whole humanity and extend the same regard to everyone around them.
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