I look down at my little boy’s smile- I watch his complete lack of reserve, his total vulnerability. He buries his head into my chest and with my whole being I pray to God that he never feels ashamed of his tenderness.
I recall the many times I’ve heard a boy or man say that “nice guys don’t get anywhere.” “Girls don’t like nice guys.” And I guess they think it goes without saying that guys don’t like nice guys. We all watch it happen around us. Suddenly, the once sweet and genuine little boy– the little boy who used to feel– turns up to third grade and he’s got that new look about him. He saunters with his hands in his pockets and he hangs his head. He doesn’t smile or laugh except at crude jokes or in making fun of other people. He’s scared to say he loves anybody. He’s scared to say he cares. He’s scared to say he hurts.
And who would blame him? He may feel like he’s the last one to finally man up. Finally. It’s a cruel world and it wants it’s men to be cruel too.
So what do we do?
A lot of people say it falls in the hands of fathers and other male role models. There’s no doubt about that. One football coach can make all the difference in the world on a boy’s tenderness. We know this.
But are women powerless in the cause? I think we are often too quick to assume so. We are too likely to watch the leagues of little boys pass by, their tenderness robbed or stifled, without saying a word because we figure that’s just how things are. That’s just how boys are and we don’t know what or how to do something about it.
But then we expect them to just figure out the tenderness when they need it. To go from tough guy to flowers and letters and date night and Daddy. We turn a blind eye to the suppressed tenderness but then expect it to come out easily, full force, when it’s for us. This is obviously a contradictory and ridiculous expectation. So why do we perpetuate it?
In the end, women want two different things. We want the lover, but we don’t necessarily want to do what it takes to encourage him. We don’t want to spend the time and energy on the nice guy when he’s not our guy. It begins in elementary school (or even before.) Tenderness, especially male tenderness, is delicate and sometimes awkward. To recognize it, embrace it- you have to be willing to be shunned. Tenderness makes many people uncomfortable. So the girls on the playground shy away from the nice guy. Associating with him requires too much courage. The jerk gets continually affirmed over and over because nobody wants to be the one to change that. The nice guy assumes he’s not wanted and he quits.
This is unacceptable. As mothers, as sisters, as daughters, as teachers, as friends, we have to be proactively aware of the tenderness in the men around us and proactively encouraging of it. We have to be willing to stand by them when they feel foolish or lonely or embarrassed. Too often, women make the careless remark that there “just aren’t any good guys anymore.” And I wonder– of those guys who aren’t “good”- weren’t they once? Weren’t they all once little boys on their mothers’ laps? But in a world of cruelty, the tenderness won’t stick around on its own. We have to encourage them. We have to let them know it’s worth the fight. We, women, have to want them. We have to want their tenderness before the romance. We have to cherish and cling to the tenderness of the men around us- from little baby tears to grandfather hugs. We have to be willing to stand by it even when all the world rejects it.