A Parenting Book Worth Reading (really)

May 19, 2009

I have wanted to share this little book with friends for a long time, and now, with Tony Woodlief’s story in our upcoming Issue 12, I have a good excuse. My husband and I read Tony’s book, or pamphlet, Raising Wild Boys into Men: A Modern Dad’s Survival Guide, driving from Colorado to Tennessee with our five-year-old boy and three-year-old little girl.

We laughed so hard our bellies hurt, and we both cried several times throughout the book. Our two kiddos sat clueless in their car seats devising ways to make guns out of Wendy’s straws and ammunition out of the plethora of leftover fast food found throughout the car.

The book begins with Tony’s confession: “By the conventional measure of a real man, I am sorely lacking.” He goes on to explain that he doesn’t enjoy those things that are usually associated with manliness, camping, building log cabins, and prefers warm beds and BBC movies.

And much to his surprise, he and his wife were blessed with three very boyish boys. Now, for those of you who don’t fit into the “Dad” category, like myself, or have girls rather than boys, keep reading. In fact, many of the parenting challenges and mishaps explained, especially if you know my daughter, are very much applicable to girls.

I think our first belly roll occurred a few pages in, still in Kansas, with Tony’s introduction of his mother: “Before we came along, my mother could finish complete sentences. She read things. She danced ballet. She rarely raised her voice…I remember her cackling (this is how crazy people laugh, you know), and predicting that I would have three boys of my own.” I think it goes without saying that we moms can relate. I never thought I would be a yeller—before children, I condemned moms in the grocery store for raising their voices, and even now have people tell me that I must be so patient with my children. So, I hate to break it to the world…but my kids drive me so crazy sometimes that I often resort to “extreme verbal persuasion.”

Tony goes on to describe his father, mostly absent, and a stepfather, a hardened Vietnam vet, who had little time for raising children except for the fear he instilled to be sure they didn’t interfere with his fishing and car racing. His few examples of manhood were skewed and dysfunctional at best. He then explains that he finds conflicting advice from society on the subject of raising boys as well. On a plane, while consoling and entertaining his one and three-year-old, he overhears two women’s studies professors discussing “the social construction of gender.” Exiting the plane, one of the professors leans over to him and says, “You should have had a girl. They’re less trouble.”

The tears began for Scott and I in the second section with Tony’s discourse on what a “real man” might actually be. He says, “Something in my bones tells me, however, that if we insist on molding wild-hearted boys into compliant creatures, then we destroy the essence of what was meant to emerge as courage and strength.” What an extremely hard thing for me, a person who mostly just wants to keep my composure, maintain some semblance of peace, and avoid any situations that may cause me embarrassment. This is not a recipe for teaching “courage and strength.”

Still in Kansas …reading between bathroom breaks, reflection, and a few passenger naps, my husband and I realized that most of our parenting is motivated by one single thing (my husband’s a pastor, by the way)—don’t embarrass the pastor. Ewwww…ugly, I know, but very true. We really do want our children to be brave, to stand for what is right, alone, if that need be, but often what we teach them is to be people-pleasers, crowd-followers, “yes-men”, essentially. It was in the section “Chasing Ice Cream Trucks,” and maybe, just maybe, crossing the border into Oklahoma, that we began to see our short-comings, and truly, become convicted, of our fear-motivated parenting.

The next few paragraphs of his pamphlet are thick, moving, and I’ll try not to over-explain. But, I’ll quote one section and let you read the rest for yourself:

We are quick to teach our children what they can’t do, or fill them with platitudes about being able to do anything, yet never joining them on an adventure so they can discover that the lie is actually closer to the truth. We teach them to be just like us—fearful, painfully aware of our limitations, realists, instead of adventurers. We kill their spirits before the world ever gets a chance.

Scott and I were moved, to say the least, by this little pamphlet, these little stories about raising courageous children. And I think you might be encouraged as well. You can find more from Tony Woodlief on his blog Sand in the Gears at www.tonywoodlief.com, in RUMINATE’s Issue 04 and our upcoming Issue 12, and really just about everywhere else these days—The Wallstreet Journal, the London Times, and WORLD Magazine, to name a few.

*Unfortunately, Raising Wild Boys into Men is out of print. 

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