08 October 2008


Everything's a race. Everything's a competition. Whether it's tearing pell mell through the house, from one end to the other (despite frequent admonitions to the contrary), or "winning" at breakfast-cereal-eating (despite repeated reminders that it's not a race or competition). There is this raging river of energy running through my boys, which never ceases to amaze me; not because it's any longer a surprise, but simply because it is so remarkable.

Rearing six boys, now ranging in age from one to nineteen years, I've observed certain qualities that have consistently characterized each and all of them, in contrast to any and all of their three sisters. Three-year-old Frederick and one-year-old Gerhardt, for example, wrestle and roll around like tiger cubs at play, in a way that none of my girls has ever demonstrated (neither with each other nor with their brothers). Whether delighting or dismaying, boys will be boys. It can try my patience at times, as well as the patience of others, but I honestly give thanks to God for these boyish traits and tendencies. They are distorted, misdirected and exacerbated by sin (also inherited from me, after all), but these qualities and characteristics are foundationally by God's design, not to cause harm but for great good, for the service and support, protection and defense of home and family, women and children, neighbor and country, and so also for the benefit of the Church on earth. Boys are built to become men, to put their zealous drive and rambunctious energy to good and useful purposes.

With nine children, I am well aware that each child is a unique individual. Each child has his or her own personality, which differs from that of the next child as much (or more) than appearance, aptitude, ability and avocation. As one of the dear older ladies at Emmaus has long been fond of saying, how wonderful that God has made such a wide variety of people; how boring it would be if we were all the same! He gives differing gifts for differing purposes, that the many different members of His one body, the Church, might work together for the mutual benefit and edification of the whole. So, when I take note of basic differences between boys and girls, I understand that such things are generalities, not hard and fast rules. Nevertheless, the hearts and minds and spirits of boys do tend to be distinctive, even if those qualities are not so readily apparent as other distinctions may be in the image of an ultrasound or immediately upon birth.

On the other hand, I also recognize that each family has its own distinctive "culture," different ways of thinking and going about life. The traits and tendencies I observe in my boys (and girls) may be more or less apparent in the children of other homes and families. That's quite alright, and I would not want to suggest otherwise. I like the things that characterize my family, which help to distinguish and define us in contrast to the rest of the world; and by the same token, I also admire, appreciate and enjoy the qualities that distinguish and define the families of my friends and loved ones. Similarities and differences each contribute to good relationships, between families as between individuals. Christ be praised for all of these things, and for the way in which He gathers all of us up into Himself by the grace of His Cross and Resurrection.

Notwithstanding the necessary caveats, I still marvel at those things so prominent in boys, even from the earliest years of life, in contrast to the qualities and characteristics of girls. This is why people can talk about "boy movies" and "girl movies" (or, if one prefers, "guy movies" and "chick flicks"), and, no matter how politically correct anyone may want to be, everyone knows what these differentiations mean. Setting aside the perversions of sin, the differences between boys and girls originate in God's creation of man as male and female; and, behold, this is very good! Life would be worse than boring without those differences.

Not only are boys and girls different, from the get-go, in more than simply the obvious outward ways, but they seem to be wired to recognize and respect those differences in a variety of ways. Friendships between boys and girls are not only possible, but wonderful and rewarding; yet, there is that special comradery between brothers, that special bond between sisters. Then the wider circles of friendship that emerge outside the home are, similarly, "brothers in arms" or "sisterhoods of this or that." Even conflicts are differently engaged and resolved. Girls are more likely to bicker with words, whereas boys are more likely to fight with their fists — but not when it comes to "fighting" with girls; even young gentlemen know that boys don't hit girls.

No, boys are more interested in impressing girls than hurting them. Leastwise, that's how it is when they are little. I know that sinful selfishness and bad examples bring out the hurtful worst in some young men, but nothing could be less masculine or manly than hurting a girl of any age. Lately I've noticed how intuitive it is for little boys to impress the girls, long before any romantic notions could possibly enter their cognitive processes. Georgie Porgie was a naughty grown-up duke, not a little boy on the playground (and he was wise to run away from the other boys).

Innocent little boys (original sinners, yes, but little in guile) are driven to demonstrate their strength and prowess, but also to demonstrate sweet tenderness to the ladies. Some would chalk it up to evolutionary theories, but I credit the creative design of the Lord our God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. Men are created to be fathers like the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to be husbands like that heavenly Bridegroom, the incarnate Son. If a man does not have a wife or daughters of his own, he is given to guard and defend the honor and life of Christ's holy Church and the dear little ones of the Father in heaven.

That is what I have recognized and pondered in certain behaviors I've noticed in my younger sons in recent weeks. My little Gerhardt has had a fascination with babies; not too surprising, given all the babies born within our circles lately, but one sees the loving strength of a future father in his care and concern for those new little people in his life around him. Of course, he'll quickly go from loving a baby doll to running around and whooping it up with his brothers; which goes to show the difference, I suspect, between future fathers as compared to future mothers.

More striking to me has been Justinian's "flirting" with the older girls at church. He's only six, but he has a reputation for his sweet talk. I'll have to keep an eye on him when he hits the teen years, no doubt, but for now he's simply wearing his heart on his sleeve. I still remember, when I was a lad of his age, how fascinated I was with the older girls at school and at church, and how delighted I was by any attentions they might give me. Even in those pre-pubescent years, boys like girls and will go out of their way to catch their eye. I believe that God designed it that way, and, if we could take sin out of the equation, such attractions never would go awry. By God's grace, all of this can still be channeled rightly and well.

My favorite recent example was on a walk with Frederick a few weeks ago. We were making our way around the block; I was on foot, and he was riding his little bike (with training wheels). Mostly I was having to slow my pace for his sake, and frequently I needed to stop and wait for him to check out some interesting thing along the sidewalk. At one point, though, he happend to spot a little girl playing in her front yard, a few houses ahead of us. Suddenly, he was pumping those pedals just as hard and fast as he could work them; he went sailing past me, and then past the little girl, with a brief sideways glance and what appeared to be a twinkle in his eye. He slowed to a stop a yard or two beyond, then turned to see if the young lady was watching him (she was). I just about bust a gut over that one. Three years old, and he's already showing off for the girls. We continued on our merry way, but I could have sworn there was a new vigor in his pedaling. It gave me a sense of boyish delight in the innocence and rightness of it all. My Fredo can be a little wild and crazy at times, it's true, but he has the heart, mind and spirit of a future husband and father. If he goes about life like he pedals his bike, he'll be alright.


Karin said...

Sander is your boy who pays the most attention to our baby. He looks for every opportunity he can get and he does a good job to boot. Sweet.

Monkey Laughs said...

I love the little story at the end about Fredo! He's such a cute little rascal :-D.

Debbie Theiss said...

What a great story about our dear godson Fredo! He will no doubt make a wonderful husband some day, and a cute one at that! Not unlike someone else in your family that I know so well! ;-)