I barely blinked before buying The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn & Hal Igguiden when it popped up on my recommended list at Amazon earlier this year. I hid it in a shirt drawer for at least two weeks, alongside a copy of Where’s My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson. Then I proudly unveiled the tome, packed with boyhood rites, obsessions and tales, to my husband on Fathers’ Day. (It’s retro, red cloth-bound cover and 19th-century gilded font were brilliant marketing devices.)
According to last week’s Time Magazine, plenty of people joined me in buying that book, which remains a best-seller. David Von Drehle’s cover article “The Myth About Boys” makes the argument that this rekindling of the traditionally magical parts of boyhood – from tying slip knots to knowing the story of the Alamo – means that now is a very good time to be a boy. Apparently, there are (pretty pricey) summer camps devoted to creating outdoor spaces that are essentially safe, but allow lots of room for boys to play, explore and feel some sense of danger. And that’s actual danger, not Nintendo danger.
It seems as though Drehle first dismisses some of the ideas in books like Raising Cain and Real Boys – books that profoundly question, if not indict, the ways our culture raises boys – as alarmist. But he later comes to embrace some part of those notions too, because the cultural dialogue about boyhood and masculinity ultimately benefits boys. This is a conclusion that I can agree with – I am glad to have so many ideas and opinions out there to consider.
I still resist it when anyone tries to define Declan’s actions or personality as somehow definitively or traditionally “boyish.”
I’ve seen toddlers of both genders push boundaries, dig in the dirt and splash through mud puddles. Maybe it’s because we’ve been lucky enough to keep him at home (away from the competition of daycare) for these first two years – not to mention the fact that he’s an only child – but so far, his nature seems very gentle. He fearlessly approaches kids of all ages out in public, especially girls, looking them in the face and saying things like “you have blue eyes.” (Eye color has been his favorite thing to observe about people lately.) But he also cracks up and slaps his knees when he sees older boys doing playground slapstick. He obsesses about outer space and loves to throw a ball, but he’s also an awesome dancer, puzzle-doer and snuggler who often declares himself “scared of bugs” and is thrilled if he gets to teach a grown-up something new.
I worry about the expectations future teachers, friends, family and acquaintances might give him about being male, particularly if they happen to quash any part of his ravenous curiosity or chastise his sensitivity by dismissing it as feminine. Sheltering him from people and experiences wouldn’t be particularly helpful, but I hope I can help him develop the strength to face all of it with the kind of assured innocence he possesses today.