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Boys Will Be Boys

April 10, 2012

One of the Big Guy’s closest friends is visiting, with his two-year-old son in tow.  The trip is an escape from their mountain town, where winter has had a firm grip since October and the charm is wearing thin.  The boys have come to the ocean to breathe salt air and do some prawn fishing.  Mommy and Second Son stayed home, and the Big Kids are away this weekend, so I have a precious visit with the Big Guy and Baby and these two male visitors.

One of the first toys the little boy latches onto during his visit is my daughter’s doll buggy.  He happily nestles his trucks into the doll buggy and strolls around the house pushing his beloved toys.  I watch cautiously to see how the men will react.  They think it’s funny, but to my relief they let him continue with his busy work.  They don’t take the buggy away, or try to distract him with setting up a car race track or building with mini tools.  Their reaction inspires me to think that maybe this generation of men are able to embrace the nurturing, emotional sides of their boys while also enjoying their risk-taking, physical nature.

The scene reminds me of the book William’s Doll, by Charlotte Zolotow.  In it, William wants a doll, but everyone in his life tries to steer him towards trains and basketball.  Happily, William’s grandma buys him a doll, so he can practice being a daddy. 

Margaret Wente wrote in a recent Globe and Mail article that men these days seem to be having an identity crisis.  The idea is not new; I reviewed Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man for a writing class in college over 10 years ago.  It seems women are achieving higher post-secondary education credentials and having greater success in the job market than men these days.  If the feminist movement has created new opportunities for women, has it come at the expense of men?  I don’t think so, since women still get pigeonholed and stereotyped and have to work hard to balance gender expectations.  A woman I know who’s taking a carpentry course at the local college lamented that the men expect her to clean up the work site after they’ve clocked out for the day! 

While some members of my grandmother’s generation bucked tradition by working outside the home, I think many women in my mother’s generation tried to do it all: run an organized home, rear children, and hold down a paying job.  It seems like my generation is realizing that women can’t and don’t want to do it all, and that when we work outside the home after having children our partners need to pick up some of the slack around the house.  

I am happy to see this idea being discussed elsewhere in the media, but it’s clear we still have a long way to go.  Brent Bambury recently interviewed  father and blogger Chris Routly on the CBC radio show Q.  Chris took offense to a diaper ad that showed men as “bumbling and dysfunctional caregivers”.  When I watched the ad, I almost missed the reference at the beginning to the ultimate diaper test: leaving a dad alone with a baby. I can picture smoke coming out of Chris’ ears over the upcoming movie What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  Is it that dads are contributing often enough to domestic duties now that we can parody them, or is the movie another example of lowering our expectations of men’s capabilities as dads?  Hopefully we can laugh at the WTEWYE “Dude’s Group” while having high expectations of men’s parenting and homemaking abilities.

We as women can spur these expectations by asking for help (wow, hindsight is 20/20), and recognizing the effort men make to collaborate on running the household.  Also, we can encourage our sons to cook and clean, just as we encourage their natural tendencies to climb trees and ride bikes.  The boys I know like to use (small) knives in the kitchen (under close supervision), turn knobs on the washing machine, and use a broom to sweep the floor.  We can also encourage them to engage in child care, as the Big Guy’s friend was doing, and his son was beautifully modelling.

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