This anecdote on The Thinking Housewife really struck me:
As I watched, I became aware of something that’s been gnawing at me for some time now. The young fathers and the not-so-young granddaddies had a peculiar way of speaking to the male children. They squatted down to be on eye level with the lads, or they leaned way over to appear less tall. And when they spoke, the mens’ voices were…feminine. I don’t mean lisping or mincing or effeminate. I mean feminine. No matter how low the voice might have been naturally pitched, the men without exception raised the pitch of their voices and lowered the volume until they sounded like spinster Sunday School teachers, whispering in calming tones, asking questions and making observations.
And so I began to search my memory, and I could not recall a single adult male in my boyhood speaking to me or my friends in such tones. I cannot recall any men routinely squatting down or leaning over to make themselves appear closer to my own height. I cannot remember any men putting a breathless wheezing whisper into their words. I cannot bring to mind a single incident in which a grown man opened his eyes and mouth as wide as possible and talked to me like some grinning, masculine Norma Desmond. What I do remember are the grown men who picked me up and lifted me to their naturally imposing height, instead of lowering themselves to mine.
I don’t spend much time around kids, but I have seen this out and about. There are tons of “emo dads” in NW Portland who talk to their children this way — the way that lonely old women talk to lapdogs.
Like the man who wrote the comment, I can’t remember my grandfathers ever speaking to me that way. They weren’t cruel or abusive. They took me places and taught me things. They supported me even though I was an oddball. But they never spoke to me in baby talk. They were men. They were authoritative. And, to this day, years after lingering illnesses and deaths, they both maintain a certain command presence in my memory.
Kids pick up on weakness quickly and they learn how to exploit adult behavior. There’s a joke in my family about how good my youngest sister was at fake crying. Even at five or six years old, she would turn on the tears — and then smile devilishly at my sister and I as our parents reprimanded us.
Feminists and pop-psychologists may be telling men to be “softer,” but I wonder if these young boys will ever truly respect their fathers. Boys will pick up on submissive behavior. Even dogs pick up on it.
“Dad was always nice, but he was kind of a pussy…I really did whatever I wanted to…”
This posture seems to be a post-Boomer cultural default. Modern Dad isn’t supposed to be “The Man;” he’s supposed to be your little friend and super-fun playmate.
But, if Dad isn’t The Man in your life, who the hell else is going to be?
When you bend down to a boy’s level and emasculate yourself, you’re teaching him that boyhood is more important than manhood. Boys should look up to you and aspire to be more like you, not the other way around.
What’s particularly helpful about this anecdote is that it offers an easy fix.
A grown man, even a small or otherwise unremarkable man, can still be a god-like giant to a little boy.
You don’t have to be a dick. You don’t have to make the kid feel small.
All you have to do is be big.
Instead of leaning over, make him look up or pick him up. Instead of talking down to him, make him talk up to you.
Be big, expansive, benevolent. Be authoritative. You can be playful without being a little boy.
I have three nephews, and while I don’t see them often, this advice is going to stick in my head when I do. It’s an easy way to make a powerful impression on a future generation — to show them how to be a man.