If you have been following me you know I have two teenage boys.

And if you are not following me, why not? Just do it, its easy. Just check out my site at http://www.fiftyshadesofmasculinity.com or Elephant Journal, or here at Thrive ‘follow’ button and you’ll have easy access and notification whenever my words of wisdom hit the web. Shameless plug over, back to my boys…

There’s been a lot of talk about toxic masculinity and how it is effecting the children we raise. Not just boys but girls as well. What exactly IS toxic masculinity you ask? It’s this idea, the perception of what the man of generations ago was like and how that has carried over into this current generation(s) that is raising boys in such a way as too cause them more psychological damage than it does teaching them how to be men.

What was that man like and why is that so toxic?

Well, its the idea of the stern and stoic male, the one that doesn’t show emotion, the tough guy. The guy who is always in charge and takes care of business. He’s aggressive, he’s on top of things. He’s the alpha male and never vulnerable. He knows all the rules to every sport and played all through his schooling. He gets hurt, he gets up and shakes it off. He gets a bad call, he fights with the ref. He gets hit he hits back. He gets wronged he gets revenge. He’s the breadwinner in the household and he pays all the bills. He takes care of the outside of the house and never the inside, that’s women’s work. He would never be comfortable at the ballet, and God forbid he eats quiche or cries.

Sounds like a casting call description for the new bad guy role on The Young & The Restless. Of course all the women will want him at first. That’s how soaps go but this is real life. And in real life this type of male can be attractive to some people, at first anyway.

It’s the alpha male syndrome.

If I’m being honest here, and it’s my blog so I’m nothing but honest here, there is a lot to be desired in the alpha male.

He takes charge.

He gets shit done.

He takes care of business.

He knows what it means to be a team player because he’s played team sports.

He gets up after falling down because he knows success comes after many failures and isn’t afraid of falling, or failing.

He stands up for himself.

He doesn’t take people’s crap and he fights for what’s right.

So what’s wrong with these characteristics that we find them toxic? Nothing.

Its how we take those characteristics and twist them into gender roles and take them to the extreme when defining ourselves and in teaching our children.

We teach our boys not to cry.

Boys play sports but they play some sports and girls play other sports.

Boys don’t take dance lessons.

We teach the girls to cook and iron but teach the boys to fish and mow the lawn.

We buy girls the play kitchen and boys the tool bench.

We buy girls Barbies and boys Hot Wheels.

We buy girls doll houses and boys get Legos.

We teach them when they get hurt to get up and brush it off, suck it up, move along.

That last one alone is damaging because while no, you may not want your kid crying on the ball field because he missed the catch or he skinned his knee sliding into third. But the more they are taught to stifle their emotions the more they take that to mean hold everything inside. Bottle it all up and compartmentalize. Don’t let it out. Don’t show it. Be a man, suck it up.

Until they blow up or break down.

That’s healthy right?

No, that’s not at all healthy.

That’s a disaster.

And it could be catastrophic.

When raising our boys we didn’t think so much about whats toxic and what’s not, but they were boys…

We bought our boys the tool bench.

But we also bought them the medical crash cart and yes the kitchen set.

We bought them Hot Wheels, and trucks and blocks and Legos.

We bought them scooters, and skateboards, and bikes.

And Gameboys and cameras and clothes.

We bought them things they were interested in, and asked for. Or we bought them things that would foster the use of their imagination. One day they’d be making an obstacle course in the backyard to run through and the next day they’d be dressing up and putting on a show in the driveway. Then the next day they’d be racing on their scooters, then running a lemonade stand, and then playing basketball in the driveway on the net they asked for. Even though they hated playing basketball in the town league.

I mean they hated it! So much so that half way through the second season I realized that a 2 hour fight to get my boys to play a sport they hated for an hour didn’t seem like a productive morning at all. So I finally said ‘Ok, you don’t have to go”.

The look on their faces was like I told them they could eat donuts at every meal.

Why were we pushing them to play this sport?

What was so important about ‘making’ them play this game for an hour every Saturday.

We rationalized it by saying we needed to keep them active, but they were 6 & 4 they were plenty active.

So the condition I gave them was that if they didn’t play basketball we would have to go for a hike every Saturday. They were like ‘umm, okay!”.

We decided to expose our kids to all the options and let them choose what sports they wanted to play. My oldest would not play soccer and still at 18 has never kicked a ball. Ever. He won’t do it. I don’t know why! But he did play tee-ball and then baseball for 6 years until telling me he wanted to switch to cross country and track. As long as he was happy and enjoyed it I didn’t care. I could tell he didn’t love baseball so I was fine with it, though I did warn him it was about running and he rarely made it to first base without being called ‘out’. That was more of a challenge to prove me wrong and boy did he! He LOVES to run and has done incredibly well on his XC and Track teams and has lettered every year and as a senior was captain of his team and MVP. He found a sport he loves and he pushed himself with reinforcement from us. He pushed himself to beat his own time and he does better in that setting than in other team settings. Though he acknowledges and encourages his ‘teammates’ to push for better times for themselves to ultimately help the team succeed overall. He and his team did succeed and he is very proud of that. That’s what its about. Not playing football or baseball “because I played football and all my kids are gonna play football cause that’ll make a man outta ya’!”.

Just stop!

That’s just nonsense. I see so much of it in the suburbs, and everywhere that it turns my stomach so cut the crap. Your time is over let your kids have theirs.

And forcing them to play the sport you played isn’t going to make them a man, it’s going to make them resent you.

My youngest son did like soccer and played it for years. He had friends in the neighborhood and usually were on the same team. Until the league re-organized and he was constantly shuffled down from the ‘A’ team to the ‘B’ team or ‘C’ team. The problem was there weren’t enough coaches. And he needed coaching, not just some parent on the sidelines telling him to run faster, go after the ball. Because they didn’t know much about soccer either but if that parent didn’t volunteer it would be someone else who knows nothing about soccer, like me. The alternative would be that there wouldn’t be a ‘B’ or ‘C’ team because the parents who knew soccer and volunteered only wanted to coach the ‘A’ team. Legit. This is how is goes in the ‘burbs’.

When high school came around my youngest was faced with a dilemma. He liked soccer and wanted to play still, but he loved performing arts and wanted to be on stage more than he wanted to be on the pitch. And they both practiced on the same nights. He asked his mom and I what he should do. We questioned why he was asking us. He said he didn’t want us to be disappointed if he stopped playing sports. We looked at each other and agreed with a glance, and told him this: We’d be more disappointed if he stopped doing something he loved just because he thought we wouldn’t be happy about it. He liked soccer but we knew it wasn’t his passion. We knew he was made for the stage and by sophomore year he was getting the roles held only for the seniors. He’s that good. You can’t tell me I made a wrong choice letting my son choose performing arts over sports. I know he’s not headed for MLS but I have every confidence he’ll end up on Broadway or in Hollywood.

We raised our sons outside of stereotypes. To use their imagination and let them develop their own thoughts, ideas and versions of themselves that came naturally and fostered a sense of self-confidence and self worth. And it worked because they have that in a way their mom and I never did.

We did teach them not to cry during sports and how to stand up for themselves because I don’t want them singled out and bullied. We taught them it’s okay to express themselves emotionally, and when it’s right to do so. I mean you can’t have a meltdown because you don’t like green beans but when your bestest friend up the street suddenly at age 8 decides for no reason he never wants to be friends again (yes, that happened), it’s okay to cry about it. Then I told him he’d make better friends, and he did. (and then I had a chat with the other dad and told him his kid’s a jerk).

We taught them to speak up, and stand up for themselves. We taught them how to mow the lawn and how to do laundry and they can each fend for themselves in the kitchen. We taught them the good qualities of men but we focused more on how to be good people.

I’m not saying we didn’t make mistakes along the way, of course we did. But today we have two high school students who are very well adjusted. They both have amazing circles of friends. Both their ‘squads’ are co-ed and they laugh and smile and have more fun than myself and their mom put together at their age. We know all their friends and their friends’ parents and the adults all thank God we all have good kids that found each other. They ‘hang out’ and go to the movies and out to eat. They make Tik-Toks and have Snap-Chat streaks. They talk to us about sex and drugs in school. They talk to us about their teachers and their classmates and who’s dealing drugs, who drinks and who’s dating whom. They talk to us about how upsetting it is to have to run all the way down near the gym to the bathroom that kids don’t ‘vape’ in. They talk to us about the music they listen to and they talk to us about the movie they just saw or what TV shows their squad finds binge-worthy.

See a trend here? I have two teenage boys, in high school and they actually talk to me and their mom.

About everything.

We raised two boys to be fine young men in today’s society based on ideals of behavior that us as parents found important and valuable, not based on what previous generations, society, marketing or what the neighbors do or say.

Our sons are bright, happy, strong, secure, polite, considerate, helpful, friendly and focused. They know what they want to do with their lives and they work hard to achieve that even at their ages.

Sounds like they have quite a few shades covered, doesn’t it?

So tonight they are making quiche for dinner and after they finish their homework and clean their rooms, these two young men and I are going to binge iCarly reruns. As we often do.