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    Playing it Safe: Making Room for Danger

    September 7, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast night, I read a chapter of the book I’m reviewing {Raising Real Men} to Si while he was working out. The first chapter starts with a little boy, who is disappointed because while his big brothers and father are climbing a waterfall, he’s staying behind with Mom and the little girls. Here is Mom’s response:

    She looked around for a climb that would allow her to compromise, to allow him to exert his growing manhood without taking too big a risk.

    She finds one, of course; a little hill he can conquer on his own. He is ecstatic.

    On raising boys to be men: Being Careful is not the path to forging heroes -- not even normal, everyday heroes.

    Soon after, the book tells me:

    It may not seem important to let your little ones take reasonable risks, but it is part of a principled attitude toward raising our boys to be real men, godly men, warriors for Christ.

    More than once, I’ve wondered where these wimpy, effeminate guys behind the counter at Starbucks come from. Oh, I don’t mean that every guy has to be That Guy. {You know the one, right? The man with the machismo, or maybe the Texas cowboy type.} I couldn’t think of how to describe it exactly, but this first chapter had words for that, too:

    But what about the dirt? Why do boys love dirt? And blood and guts and worms and insects? Because one day he might be waist-deep in a swamp, pulling your family out of a wrecked automobile. Or splattered with arterial blood while pioneering a new surgical procedure. Or eating roasted grub worms with the natives to earn their permission to share the Gospel. It might not be our cup o’ tea, any of them,. but would you rather have men able to overlook things like that for the higher business at hand–or would you prefer fastidious pseudo-men who are only good to wait for someone else to take care of it? {emphasis mine}

    I found all of this very interesting, because we just finished up reading Men of Iron.

    {**spoiler alert**}

    Myles Falworth doesn’t realize until close to the end of his training {from squire to knight} that he is being carefully raised up for a purpose. He initially thought that he was simply being given the best possible start in his career as knight errant, something he would need in light of his father’s fall from the king’s favor. His family having plummeted into poverty and forfeited all their lands and riches to the throne, Myles needs all the help he can get.

    But it turns out that the Earl of Mackworth {under whose care he resided for many years of his youth} was not giving him a “good start.” Myles was being carefully groomed to perform a very special task, the effects of which would ripple throughout the kingdom.

    He was to challenge the Earl of Alban to a trial by combat.

    This requires many details to fall into place, which I won’t go into at this time. All of this is the just the context for two connected passages I’ve been pondering for a few days now, both of which tie neatly into the above point:

    So Myles went to France in Lord George’s company, a soldier of fortune… He was there for only six months, but those six months wrought a great change in his life. In the fierce factional battles that raged around the walls of Paris; in the evil life which he saw at the Burgundian court in Paris itself after the truce — a court brilliant and wicked, witty and cruel — the wonderful liquor of youth had evaporated rapidly, and his character had crystallized as rapidly into the hardness of manhood. The warfare, the blood, the evil pleasure which he had seen had been a fiery, crucible test to his soul, and I love my hero that he should have come forth from it so well. He was no longer the innocent Sir Galahad who had walked in pure white up the Long Hall to be knighted by the King, but his soul was of that grim, sterling, rugged sort that looked out calmly from his gray eyes upon the wickedness and debauchery around him, and loved it not.


    The Earl of Mackworth stroked his bear softly. “Thou art marvellous changed,” said he. “I would not have thought it possible.”

    Myles smiled somewhat grimly. “I have seen such things, my Lord, in France and in Paris,” said he, quietly, “as, mayhap, may make a lad a man before his time.”

    “From which I gather,” said the Earl, “that many adventures have befallen thee. Methought thou wouldst find troublesome times in the Dauphin’s camp, else I would not have sent thee to France.”

    What does this have to do with the quote from Raising Real Men?

    Well, did you notice that in both instances, a youth was directed toward manhood through putting him in a position of risk? In both situations, the possibility of danger-as-tutor was considered and used.

    I’m not one to say we need go back to the wild dangers of knight-errantry. I do not pretend to understand the extremes of that time in regard to hazarding a man’s life. But I do think that something has been lost over time, until we have reached the point of today, where we coddle and protect boys, smothering their natural instincts, and telling them that the most important thing they can do in this world is to Be Careful.

    I don’t pretend to know much about raising boys. Generally, I feel more competent with girls. But I do know that Being Careful is not the path to forging heroes.

    Not even normal, everyday heroes.


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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 29, 2011 at 2:00 am

    Wow, Melanie! I’m honored that you visited my post! Thanks for affirming that I’m on the right track…and thank you and your husband both for helping me learn to better raise my sons. 🙂

  • Reply Melanie Young September 29, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Love, love, love that you got this so perfectly! We first read Men of Iron many years ago and it really impacted me as a mother. It was one of the things that helped me to see that the ideas I learned from our culture were wholly inadequate to raise heros! 🙂

    Much love,

  • Reply Jen September 8, 2011 at 4:07 am

    Last weekend we went to a potluck with the Mommy & Me group from church. The home we were at had a play structure that was decent size. I watched from a distance as Nathan carefully climbed to the top of the ladder. I yelled out to him (I told him “be careful” which is funny since you mentioned it, but for me I say it more out of affirmation to him that I see and accept the risk he is taking). However, one of the other dads there also saw him and rushed over & got him down. Later on, he climbed up the ladder & went down the slide on his own maybe 10 or so times. Pretty much all 5 couples there watched and commented on the fact that I was allowing him to climb by himself.

    I ALMOST caved to peer pressure & made him stop. But I didn’t. I had assessed the risk, as well as his individual abilities, and decided it was an acceptable risk.

    All that to say that I appreciated this post as affirmation that I really was being prudent & not careless with my little man!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 7, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    I don’t know how much I’ll post on it the first time through because I only have a month to get my review out, but Si wants me to read the “important” parts to him and so I’ll be going back through at a slower pace later.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Though I don’t agree with it 100%, I found Raising Maidens of Virtue helpful when I was transitioning into girl-mindset with my first daughter. Other than general parenting books, though, I had a girly Mom, so that helps. I feel like some of my best ideas have come from fiction, though. I love the mothers in, for instance, Jane Austen’s and Louisa May Alcott’s works.

  • Reply Mystie September 7, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    I read this book in June, but I gobbled it up too quickly and was left with not enough of the ideas lingering. I’d love it if you post on it. I have it on my desk to pick up and linger on myself.

    Still, lately I’ve been thinking that there is plenty of material on raising boys, but I often feel like I have no idea what’s going on with my 3yo girl. Where are the girl books? Sigh. I had a tomboy mom, 4 brothers, and a tomboy sister until my baby sister, who was 4 when I left home. I know I felt like I wasn’t understood, and I know I was all girl, but I learned the straight-forward, plain-dealing style of my mom. I have a hard time reading my girl’s fussing. It might be harder to turn a boy into a man than a girl into a woman, but it’s a lot easier to deal with young boys than young girls, in my opinion.

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