As the father of boys – five of them – my leash is even longer than the average guy. Boys have gotta take an occasional ER run in order to experience the fullness that life has to offer. No pain, no gain, right? Boys don’t climb to the treetops because it just looks so safe up there. Boys don’t launch their bikes and skateboards off ramps, steps, and railings because they shy away from risk. Boys don’t try to light stuff on fire because they simply long for serenity. No sir. They are as addicted to adrenaline as they are to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. And somewhere in the heart of every Dad is that 12 year old daredevil explorer we used to be. We understand. Climb that tree, kid. I’ll drive you to the hospital if you break an arm.
However, there are moments. We Dads know that there is a threshold. We know because we’ve had to cross it a thousand times ourselves. These are the “big boy” moments along the road that lead to growing up. We can see it in the eyes of our children, and we remember. They are the times when we wish the incline wasn’t quite so steep and the roller coaster wasn’t quite so aggressive. Sometimes the hard path is a necessary one. Sometimes the hard path may not be entirely necessary – but good, nonetheless. These are the times when we must look our boys in the eye, and with all the compassion we can muster, utter the words every child needs to hear once in awhile…
“Man up, Nancy.”
Sure, there are people out there with kids actually named Nancy. I don’t think that makes it any less effective.
Real life example: This past weekend I drove my 11 year old son Isaac to meet up with a youth group from our church on their way to a weekend retreat across the border in Wisconsin. I had to drop him off at a suburban Applebee’s where the van would pick him up about 15 minutes after I left. His bags were packed, the list was double checked, Bible securely stowed, sleeping bag and pillow in the back of the Jeep, and Ike was a bundle of energy. I could tell that his adrenaline habit was being fed right now. Heading off to a retreat away from the family, out of state, no older brother with him this time. His first “on his own” outing with the youth group. He was stoked.
But his eyes were sending mixed messages. Flashes of trepidation between the smiles. Traces of concern peeking out the corners of his eyes, betraying his “I can do this” adventurous gaze out the windshield.
“Are you nervous?”
Pause. “Nah. I’m excited.” Pause. “I mean… first time I’ve really done this.” Pause. “Seth’s not gonna be there…” Pause. “But it’ll be awesome.” He said it like a declarative statement, and then his face looked at me like he had just asked a question.
I grabbed the bill of his baseball hat and jerked it around with a grin. “You’ll do great, Ike. You’ll have a blast.”
That was it.
Sometimes the “man up, Nancy” moments – the big boy moments – don’t require many words. I knew he’d be OK. And this independent moment was both good and necessary. He knew it was worth a few butterflies. The best rides are, right?
Someday I won’t be dropping him off at Applebee’s and waving goodbye for the weekend. Someday it will be a college dorm. Then he’ll be the excited one, and the tears will be mine. Amy will likely be giving ME a much needed “Man up, Nancy,” when that day comes.
The point here, after all, is that I am not primarily seeking to shield my boys from pain. I have friends and family in the Marine Corps. who tell me “pain is just weakness leaving the body.” My boys love it when I quote the Marines.
Pain avoidance is not our job, parents. Character development is. Maturity is the goal. These objectives are long term and require stretching. Sometimes, the hard path is the best one.
Isaac and I never talked all of this through. But I knew that getting dropped off at Applebee’s with his pile of bags to wait by himself for the Youth Group van was a big boy moment for him. And when he came home, among the hugs and high-fives, I was sure to look him in those just-a-little-bit-older eyes of his and tell him, “I’m proud of you.”
“big boy moments :: why i tell my boys to man up, nancy” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.