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Man and Child: The best of boys
Many, many years ago, I read something to the effect that little boys and girls are physically similar until puberty. And this was one of those bits of information, which we all have in our heads, that we assume is an obvious fact and which is wrong.
I didn’t find out that this wasn’t the case, however, until my son Kyle was born 11 months ago.
I was in the delivery room only because my wife Afi had to have a Caesarean and I was there to hold her hand, and when Dr Morris took out our newborn son and showed me him, it wasn’t Kyle’s engorged testicles that impressed me with his maleness but his broad chest.
For his first few months of life, Kyle, like all babies, looked like a peevish boiled potato, just like his sister Jinaki had when she was a newborn. But that chest was distinct, and I recalled that the two women I knew who had small sons had mentioned that both boys had started hanging off tables even before they learned to walk.
None of my three nieces had done that, although all of them liked to climb. So I realised that men’s greater upper body strength is there from birth, not a trait that suddenly appears at puberty.
Even after 11 months, I am still astonished at how much of a boy Kyle is.
His whole demeanour, his gestures, and even his voice are already male. Although boys typically develop fine motor skills later than girls, the manner in which Kyle manipulates objects is different to how his sister did, for he observes them just as closely but likes to turn them around to see every part.
He also pulls himself up on the headstand of our bed, just like Jinaki did, but he likes to do a kind of jig when he stands.
In part, all this stands out for me because the other four grandchildren in our family are girls. But it is also surprising to me because I had this wrong concept about small boys and girls until I became father to a son.
Moreover, the physiological difference is merely an indicator of other more fundamental differences that are inherent in boys and girls.
This is a general truth, not a stereotype: Jinaki is not herself a typical girl, since she likes super-heroes as well as princesses.
So I already worry more about my son than my daughter because many of these differences are viewed negatively, not only here in T&T, but in much of the developed world.
The American philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers in her book The War Against Boys writes: “An unacknowledged animus against boys is loose in our society.” Boys, she says, are generally treated as “potential predators in need for remedial socialisation…” and perceived as alienated, lonely, emotionally repressed, isolated and prone to violence.
This perspective is echoed in T&T, especially the violence part, on the flawed logic that, since most violent acts are committed by males, most males are therefore violent. But education journalist Richard Whitmire in his book Why Boys Fail argues that male culture has particular virtues, such as co-operation, courage, generosity, honesty, perseverance, respectfulness, responsibility, tolerance.
This does not mean that women do not have these virtues, only that they define a particular tradition of masculinity in the modern Western world: which, it is worth recalling, built the world. That world, however, now views my son negatively: and that is a challenge that, as a father, I have to teach him to meet.
Next week, I’ll tell you how I intend to do that.
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