Boys, Male Energy and the Forces of Good – In Response to Andrew Reiner of the New York Times
This post is meant (in part) as a response to the New York Times piece by Andrew Reiner titled ‘The Fear of Having a Son‘.
Although the article covers a lot of ground from third wave feminism to why you should avoid asking leading questions to young boys, one theme stood out.
Reiner explains his fears over having a son. How it was focused on how his son would be bullied on account of the way he would be raised. His greatest fear is this:
Whatever my wife and I tried to do to shape our son’s masculine identity would compete against such cultural norms as a postured indifference to school….. a sports and gaming culture that exalt alpha domination (and aggressive male reflexes); and a tight-lipped John Wayne ethos that breeds alienation and, too often, depression.
This may shock you: but I would agree with Reiner. Sons are a fearful thing indeed. He is right to be afraid.
Like anything capable of generating considerable energy there is deep responsibility within the power that you wield. Think about splitting the atom – you have power to destroy worlds or power life support machines.
It comes down to two things: Choice and direction.
Sons: Like Arrows in a Man’s Hand
So Andrew Reiner was right to be afraid of having a son. Fear is a legitimate emotion when given the responsibility and control us fathers have over something potentially lethal.
I remember the first time I shot a rifle. I’d handled one before, but the placing of the brass shell with the copper jacketed bullet into the chamber changed it from a collection of springs, plastic and metal tubing into a terrifying weapon of destruction.
I felt fear – a deep respect for something powerful being given to me so that I might be its temporary guardian.
Having a son is a bit like giving birth to a loaded rifle.
Rifles can be used for rampages, massacres and mass shootings – the humble AK-47 has killed more people this year than both WW2 ending N-bombs did in 1945.
But a rifle can also put your next meal on the table.
This concept was familiar to the Biblical Psalmist who likened sons to a bunch of arrows in your hand. Lethal weapons if used in the wrong way.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.
Or a life giving means to put meat on the table.
The Psalmist knew this fear all too well – his sons would have an impact on the world – but what kind of impact?
Male Energy – Good vs Evil
Sadly, Andrew Reiner paints a depressing image of his understanding of masculinity. It seems at times that only his learnedness and intelligence is enough to save the male race.
Male energy (according to Reiner) is no different to female energy – the only difference is social conditioning.
Sadly a flawed concept when put up against the mirror of our understanding of hormones, thought patterns.
But then I’m only speaking from my limited experience as a man, father of a son and someone who had a strong father, grandfathers and uncles to steer me through my boyhood years. I haven’t had the depth of reading of feminist psychologists that Reiner has.
That said, I hope I can at least be allowed to contribute my two pennies worth. Which is this:
Energy is not evil. In the same way as energy is not good.
It is the use of energy that makes it one or the other: Good or Bad.
When I write in this context I think of male energy. Male energy can be a terrifying thing to behold. I know – I’ve witnessed the limits of male aggression and physicality.
Even in myself, the sheer quantity of energy is frightening and overwhelming. But with great power comes great opportunity.
The opportunity, not to suppress the male energy and psyche, but to harness it for good. Imagine if we could take every kilojoule of male ‘juice’ and put it towards building a better man, family, neighbourhood and society.
Would anything be able to stop us?
Energy, Expression and the Future for Men
I’ve only ever been male. And so I can only ever speak from my own, male biased experiences.
But one thing I do know: I have a lot of energy.
And it’s always been this way. As a boy I remember being put out to the garden to cool off. I’d be bouncing off the walls and my mum would say “RIGHT!! Into the garden for an hour to run off that energy.”
Reluctantly and protesting I would go. What did I do? I don’t remember, but the outdoors was a place of opportunity even in those formative years – of play, danger, wild beasts, sporting conquests and survival – mostly contained within the imagination of a 7 year old boy.
Imagine if the problems that Reiner sees could be encapsulated like this: That male aggression or even depression was a question of misdirection of energy. Male energy.
If we used this as our starting point, would we reach a different conclusion – that boys (and of course, men) need the opportunity to express their male-ness in a positive way.
What does that expression look like? It should be led by the child. As a boy I spent hours practicing music, singing and even acting.
Recently, I attributed my success in school (through the avoidance of the ‘trouble’ that accompanies a state education) to the redirection of my energies in music, even opera.
Later as a teen I played sports while into my 20’s I wrote, fought and discovered my physical limits through training and fitness.
All of which uses energy.
All of which is constructive and has made me better and is now allowing me to share that with those of you who read this and other websites whose focus is the improvement of you, the reader.
In my son, a young boy, I have considerable control over his activities. We run, wrestle, hike, play, sing, draw and do puzzles together. This all takes our male energy and directs it for good.
And so my concluding thought would be for Andrew Reiner and his supporters. And it’s one of caution.
That you cannot contain energy indefinitely. If you restrict in your son (or any man for that matter) his ability, his need to express himself, you create a pressure cooker effect. That energy will be released at some stage. Your job as a father is to influence it’s use as far as possible. Do it through your own example.
And do it for you son.
P.S. If you thought this was heartfelt, you’ll enjoy my twice monthly emails.