Raising Men: 10 lessons

Tonight I witnessed a battle between boy and man. At a dinner at my home, Jonas, my 16 year old son, verbally took down a 45 year old man. Why? Because of what I, his mother, taught him. Never disrespect a woman, and it’s unacceptable to disrespect your wife; and unforgivable, if you do it in front of your children or others.

Jonas witnessed a man chastise and insult his wife at our dinner table in front of his family and our guests. The man stepped outside and Jonas laid into him. I guided Jonas back inside and into my room. Jonas was livid, he was full of rage and tears. It was difficult to witness his indignation, yet I was proud.

I am a part-time single mother of 3 sons. Gabriel, age 18, Jonas age 16, and Hillel age 9. I’m not an expert at raising men, but believe my greatest legacy will be how my boys live, love and impact the world.

Here are my 10 lessons to raise men:

1. Love

Teach your sons to love. To love their family unconditionally, to forgive and accept those closest for their shortcomings. To love their friends and to rush to their side when they’re in need. To love their teachers, guides, mentors and those who believe in them and push them to be better. To love their mate with exuberance, passion, poetry, art, song, food and gentle touch. Teach them to say, ‘I love you’ by always saying it to them.

2. Feel

Teach your sons to feel and express it. Allow them space to cry, to scream and talk to those who will listen. I hate to see my boys cry, but as they grow older I respect their tears as feelings too powerful for words. I’ve learned to embrace their tears as a sign of strength. It pained me to see Hillel, my 9 year old, cry every night with fear the first year after my divorce, but I honored his tears and held a space for his sadness and anxiety.

3. Believe

Teach your sons to believe; believe people are genuinely good, whatever happens is for the best, and you can achieve anything. Bring G-d into their lives and remind them of G-d blessings. Even after 9 years of Orthodox Jewish education, my son Gabriel spent his 14th year arguing with me nightly about the existence of G-d and attacked our religious traditions. When I stopped arguing, he found peace and returned to our faith again with respect. Throughout high school he faced major disappointments socially and professionally, which he was able to accept as a test of faith.

4. Defend

Teach your sons to defend their truths. First teach them right from wrong and imbue a strong sense of principals; then empower them to defend them. Lead by example and they will follow. My boys saw me organize hundreds in our city to defend attacks against Israel in the media and the streets. They knew I had an armed body guard and I had no fear. Now Jonas is working hard to attend the Naval Academy and to then serve our country.

5. Fight

Teach your sons to fight with perseverance. My sons see hanging in my bedroom my 3 rules of life: 1) If you don’t ask, you don’t get 2) Don’t take no for an answer and 3) F*ck Fear. Fighting doesn’t mean to be aggressive, it means to be focused to fight for what you want in life. I was in awe of Gabriel’s fight to study at a prestigious art college and become a fine art photographer. He earned scholarships at 3 universities, visited them alone, made his choice, met the financial team, asked for and received a full ride scholarship. He felt proud that he fought hard and achieved this accomplishment.

6. Fail

Teach your sons to fail with dignity and grace. Allow them to own their mistakes, accept the consequences, learn humility and grow. In his senior English class at a diverse public school, Gabriel read aloud an essay which his classmates misinterpreted as racist. Anger escalated, rumors spread, 200 students held a silent sit-in of protest. Gabriel wrote a letter of apology to explain himself and read it to the class and the administrators. He stood before the protesters and passionately apologized for his insensitivity and begged for understanding. They embraced his humility and forgave him. He failed with grace and learned the power of his words.

7. Trust

Teach your sons to trust themselves and show trust in them. My boys are grateful I am not an overprotective parent. My mantra is, ‘I trust you until you give a reason not to’. We’ve traveled globally to Israel, Southeast Asia, Cuba and more and I gave the older boys freedom to explore on their own. They know I trust and expect them to be responsible and self-sufficient. On the home front, when Jonas recently had a girlfriend and wanted to cook her dinner, I left them alone at the home and trusted he would treat her respectfully and not burn the house down. He even cleaned the kitchen.

8. Play

Teach your sons to play, create and laugh. My goal is to keep the fire of youthful playfulness burning for a lifetime. One example is every Passover, friends gather at our home and adults wear costumes and act out the story of Exodus with elaborate props. My youngest, Hillel loves being the burning bush, Jonas manages the 10 plagues that kids throw at the performers, and Gabriel runs the fog machine to manifest the angel of death. My boys see that tradition is one way we live playfully. Quick! Duck! Frogs are flying!

9. Give

Teach your sons to give and expect nothing in return. You have to not only model generosity but also involve them. When our single mom neighbor was attacked by a dog, they saw me cook meals and they delivered the food and served it. Through my involvement with a homeless outreach group, my boys helped provide meals and care for homeless kids. I see in them the kindness I’ve instilled. One night Gabriel was late for dinner and arrived not hungry. I was angry. He said, ‘Mom, please don’t be upset, I was downtown and photographed a homeless man and then took him out to dinner and he told me his story.’

10. Dream

Finally, teach your sons to dream; to dream of who they want to become and how they want to change the world. I tell my boys, success is not defined by wealth, but by pursuing your dreams with determination and sincerity.

As they grow, I ask and keep asking them, what are your dreams, how do you want to be remembered?

It’s hard for me to hear, but Jonas says, ‘Mom, I want to restore honor to our country, fight for our values and destroy those who threaten what we hold dear. If I die for my country, I will die defending our ideals. That is my dream.’

I hold dear the three parts of my heart that live externally within each of my sons. As my eldest Gabriel has left the nest, I won’t wallow in sadness but celebrate he is ready to live in the world. He is loving, sensitive, curious, brave, determined, creative and kind. I am proud of the man he has become. I have two more men in training, to guide them to evolve from boy to man.

Today is Mother’s Day. I wish to empower all the mothers of sons to raise great men. The world needs them and Moms have the power to mold them.

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