What You're Really Scared Of When You're Raising Boys
My testicles are fantastic. Honestly, you should see them. In just three short years, they’ve created two brand new boys. If I were to leave them to my own devices—which I absolutely won’t, because they are more powerful than you will ever know—my testicles would probably churn out billions of them. Boy after boy after boy after boy, popping out of my balls like gremlins out of a damp Mogwai. My balls are great. They’re basically a two-unit patriarchy factory.
On paper, this is a huge relief. Not having girls gets me out of so much stuff. I’ll never have to raid the bathroom cupboard in a panic because one of my sons had his first period while his mum was out. I’ll never have to glower menacingly at a new boyfriend who very obviously just wants to finger my son’s vagina in the back of a bus. I’ll never have to worry about them getting pregnant, or having their drinks spiked, or being mistreated at work by a horny superior. I’ll never have to jump through all the impossible hoops that Matt Damon has had to lately, rationalising his dislike of systemic sexual abuse on the basis that he has daughters. I don’t have any daughters, so by that logic I’m on Easy Street. No worries for me! Phew!
Theoretically, only having boys is a breeze. Because they’re boys, you see, and boys will be boys, and this basically means I can raise them as sloppily as I like in the knowledge that all future bad behavior will be written off as nothing more than a simple quirk of gender. I’m absolved of everything. I’ve got it made. If you need me, I’ll be asleep in my hammock.
"WHEN I LOOK AT MY BOYS—MY FUNNY, WEIRD, SWEET, SENSITIVE BOYS—I’M TERRIFIED"
Except I haven’t got it made, because it turns out that being a parent means that you’re constantly riddled with worries regardless. For instance, my biggest worry with my boys isn’t that they’ll grow up to be lazy or feckless or anything like that. It’s that they’ll miss the minuscule target of acceptable masculinity, and their lives will be harder for it.
This is partly down to my own experiences as a kid. Growing up in my rough as boots failing comprehensive, boys were expected to adhere to a very small and very specific set of parameters. You were supposed to like football. You were supposed to like cars. You were supposed to dislike both reading and art with a passion that bordered on pathological, but love PE with the verve of a masochist. Fail to meet these requirements and life became more difficult. And I should know, because I barely met any of them.
I hated football. I still can’t drive. I once snipped the date off a sick note my mum wrote and used it to get out of PE for a month. Due to this, and due to naturally being quite shy as a kid, I could never fully fit in with my peers. Although I found workarounds to help me fit in superficially—I arbitrarily chose a football team to support, and deliberately read slightly slower in English lessons–this mixture of false integration and constant suspicion was exhausting. Not to exaggerate, but it sometimes felt like I was being crushed in a machine that wasn’t made for me.
And I was only slightly off the accepted norm. My bigger concern is how my kids will be treated by the outside world if they miss the target by more than that. Maybe they’ll be gay, or trans, or have issues with mental illness, or express an interest in interpretive dance, or be really into jester hats. For the sake of clarity, I will always be a million percent behind anything they do—so long as they aren't hurting people, the happiness of my children is far and away the most important thing in my life—but I hate to think of them getting shat on by the outside world because they couldn’t conform to the narrow constraints of traditional masculinity.
Parents can only do so much, but at least we can put a moral framework in place. When I look at my boys—my funny, weird, sweet, sensitive boys—I’m terrified by the prospect of them ever being crushed by life’s mistreatments. I never want them to conform out of fear. But life’s mistreatments are inevitable, so perhaps instead it’s my job to raise them tough. Not traditional boy tough—I’m not going to force them to like football and Kasabian—but tough enough to treat everyone with respect and not rely on shrieking, fragile masculinity as a crutch. Tough enough be able to openly talk about their problems. Most of all, I want my boys to be tough enough to feel like they can be whoever they want to be, without fear of reprisal. If we can manage that, it'll be a job done well.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.