One of the hardest parenting lessons I’ve had to learn since the birth of the boys is to let my sons be the people they are. There were times when I thought that this or that aspect of their personality was going to make things harder for them in life, so maybe I should try to teach them/steer them in a different direction. This was a mistake. They’re not me. They don’t have to be like me. They are, you know, them.
Don’t misunderstand. I still try very hard to present a model of (I like to think) honorable manhood, and I (obviously) provide them guidance when they need it, but I try to do that now while recognizing the fact that they’re very different from me, from each other, from everybody, and that’s wonderful.
As an example: One of my sons is (and I mean this quite literally) one of the kindest, sweetest human beings I’ve ever met. It’s just his nature. It bothers him enormously when other people are in pain; he wants to comfort them. It hurts his feelings deeply when someone is mean to him, and it hurts his feelings still more if he inadvertently hurts someone else. He has almost no aggression in him at all. And his emotional attachments are very deep. He just feels things, feels everything, very strongly.
There was a time when I thought: “Oh my God, he has to toughen up. The world is full of assholes and it’s going to eat him alive.”
That, in two words, was completely wrong. He doesn’t need to toughen up. Hell, the world would benefit greatly from the presence of more people just like him.
Of course, I know that given his depth of feeling, he’s likely in for some disappointments. He’s going to have profound friendships, and he’s going to fall head over heels for someone. And those experiences will be wonderful for him because the feelings will be so rich and fulfilling. But invariably, he’ll someday be betrayed by someone he thought was his dear friend, spurned by someone he thought loved him back, and it’s going to hurt him more than it would someone who feels things less acutely (like me, say). That’s okay, and accepting that it was okay was a big step for me. I don’t need to toughen him up or otherwise try to change him in preparation for those difficult days. To do that would be to take away one of things most beautiful about him in an effort to spare him pain. That’s stupid, and wrong. He’s a sensitive soul and a lovely person, his own person. In his life he’ll probably experience some sharp emotional pain because he’s also going to experience some deep emotional connections, and the one often comes along with the other. But that’s who he is, and it’s wonderful. All I can do (and all his mother, brother, and soon to be born sister can do), all I should do, is be there for him when he slips. That’ll be enough.
Meanwhile, his nature enriches our whole family. It’s certainly made me a better person, though he doesn’t know that yet. For that, I thank him. It’s going to a joy watching him grow up.