I’ve always wanted to have kids, but I never pictured myself as the father of three sons. I’m not exactly brimming with testosterone. I figured my wife and I would have girls, and we’d spend weekends making papier-mache unicorns. I was wrong. I’m the proud – if overwhelmed and underprepared – father of three boys. A few weeks ago, Esquire – the magazine where I work – asked me to write an essay on how to raise good men. I don’t have the answers. My men are still proto-men (a six year old and twin three year olds). But I wrote about some things my sons have taught me. Namely, which male values are overrated and which are underrated. Here are two of them from the article. The rest of the piece can be found in the latest issue, the one with a smiling Tom Cruise on the cover. (The article’s not online yet, but eventually will be).
Maybe it sounds more acceptable if I call it stoicism. Either way. We’re told nowadays to express ourselves, let our emotions flow out of us like milk from an udder. But lately, I’ve become a fan of the Victorians and the Mad Men and their immovable upper lips.
This is because watching young boys get angry is a scary thing. The force of their rage is Krakatoan. If one of my sons’ desires is somehow thwarted—another brother won’t share the yellow Hungry Hungry Hippo—his eyes bulge and his fists clench like a silent-movie star. The sounds that come out of his mouth don’t resemble anything human or even animal. They’re more akin to heavy machinery, maybe a malfunctioning steam turbine.
We romanticize boyhood as a glorious time, which it can be. But every day has dozens of lows as well. The emotional whiplash must be exhausting, like living inside Alec Baldwin’s brain.
Every night, my eldest son and I talk about what he did right and wrong that day. If he cried—unless it was because he was hurt or had a life-changing crisis—it’s a nickel off his allowance. Yelling at inanimate objects—which I believe to be a uniquely male trait—another nickel off. I try to explain to him that anger begets anger. There’s wisdom in Hank Hill’s approach: Bottle up your anger and push it way down in your stomach.
The irony is, of course, that I can’t control my own wrath. At least not when my kids’ happiness is at stake. Like when I went to the street fair recently and the juggler stopped juggling to take a cell-phone call. And then talked for like fifteen minutes while Jasper looked on all eager and hopeful. “Excuse me,” I said, after three minutes. He turned his back to me. My face flushed, and my pulse quickened, and my wife had to pull me away as I began shouting in rage.