Sunday, March 09, 2008


Warning: Mother Bear Alert

At birth when I held my baby daughters in my arms, I looked at them in amazement and thought of all the women who had fought for their rights. I knew that they could really be anything they wanted to. The world was open to them. When I held my baby son in my arms and looked at him in amazement, I didn't feel the same sense of freedom. There are still so many things it is not okay for men to be. Some radical feminist friends and colleagues have got rather bristled when I have commented on this. But to have a rigid, patriarchal society isn't good for men, either, even if they do seem to have the power. But I digress and this is not really a philosophical post. I encountered these uneasy feelings again when Andrew was in grade 3. When he went to kindergarten, he and his friends used to greet each other with hugs and loving enthusiasm. But by the time he was 8 things were changing. I could see the 'boy culture' that he was a part of and this was my motivation to begin homeschooling him. It was a culture that alienated boys from their parents, that said that to be a boy is to be getting in trouble and to be careless with the feelings of others - to be 'tough' and mean. (I am not, of course, saying all schooled boys are like this. I'm just saying it is a cultural norm that is out there.) I could see him drifting away from me at the tender age of 8 and I knew that he still needed me. Joyfully, homeschooling restored our bond and gave my son's naturally compassionate nature space to flourish.

However, he is 14 now and he spends a lot of time away from me as seems developmentally appropriate. He spends hours and hours riding his bike at the skate park, working on different tricks ( it is better for me not to watch him practise... just him telling me about his wipe outs is enough to turn my hair grey...) He has retained that childlike quality - the ability to play and I love and admire that about him. I love that he has had the experience of growing up in the same town (we moved here when he was only 7 months old) and having that continuity that I never had - feeling like he is well regarded by adults who really know him and that his community is a safe place for him where he is well known.

Yesterday he spent the day at one of his friend's grandparent's place building dirt jumps with a couple of his friends. They came home for dinner and headed back out. On his way to be home by 9:30, he and his friends were racing down a long hill. One friend in front, ducked into a driveway so he could pop out and scare his friends after they went by. But they saw him and followed him into the small driveway. Just then, the owners of the house roared up in their car. Suspecting foul play, the man, leapt from the car and started yelling at them. Drew's friends took off but Andrew stopped. The man demanded to see ID before he left his property so he could know who he was. Of course Drew didn't have any. The man grabbed him and hauled him off his bike and pushed him to the ground. Andrew was terrified and confused. The man wouldn't listen to him and when Andrew swore at him as he was leaving, he chased after him. The man called the police who came and talked to Andrew and his friends on their way to our house and seeing that they didn't do anything, left them alone. Andrew got home and burst into my bedroom and poured this story out to me on the edge of tears. I called the police myself to see about this man assaulting my son but they never called me back.

I was very distraught that Andrew had experienced this and kept waking up all night with it on my mind. I knew I had to do something. Here is the thing. I know the man is a Mormon and a retired Fire Chief. I ranted in my head all morning - all the nasty things I would LIKE to say to this guy but would not actually be a good thing to say. My mother bear was roaring - someone had messed with my cub. I told Andrew that he and I were going to talk to this guy.

So we went. I started off by introducing myself as Andrea Clarke and I said, "I think you know my dad, Doug Clarke". So the guy knew that I knew he was a Mormon and that I knew what being a Mormon was supposed to mean. And I think that helped it go better. Andrew just wanted me to kick his butt. And I didn't exactly but I told him I was very disturbed to hear what had happened and we listened to that guy's side of the story and I told Andrew's. I wanted my son to hear me tell this guy that I knew he was a good kid. And I said it several times. At first the guy was very defensive. Finally he asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted him to know that every teen age boy who happened to be out at night was not up to 'no good' and that in fact, most of them weren't. And I wanted my son to know that I would stand up for him. I repeatedly pointed out to him that Andrew (and the other boys) hadn't done anything wrong other than be on his driveway. He actually eventually apologized to Andrew (after saying there was no way he would in the beginning) for hurting him. He wanted Drew to apologize to him for swearing which Andrew didn't do. He said Andrew could come any time - with me, with is dad or alone if he wanted to apologize at a later time.

I don't really think that Andrew needs to apologize. I think he experienced being powerless and that he retaliated with the only powerful thing he had - language. In those moments he was caught in the horrible, terrible way that male culture works. If that man had come home to find 3 fourteen year old girls in his driveway on bikes, he may have still been concerned but I don't think he would have acted so aggressively.

Why are we as a culture so afraid of young males? (okay, now I am getting philosophical) I think it is because we sense deep down that how we are treating them is not okay. We mentor and encourage young girls to come into their own power but we are afraid of the boys. We want them to adopt our culture's false power illusion - the illusion of 'power over' rather than power from within. We want them to grow up, get a job and aggressively advance in their job; their job must have priority over everything else in their lives - their relationships, their health, their peace of mind. Those men are winners. The others are losers. We (as a culture) harshly ridicule those men who have chosen another path - who have chosen happiness and inner peace over being a 'winner'. A man who doesn't buy into all of that is very threatening.

Back to young teen age boys... People assume they are criminals. And really, are most crimes like vandalism and break-ins really committed by young teenage boys? I don't really think so and crime reports don't say they are, either. Sure, maybe more often by men, than women but most of them are not actually teen agers. Yet we have a sense that it is young teen age men. Why? Is it because we have neutered them - taken their legitimate male power and confined them to classrooms and deny them the satisfaction of contributing meaningfully to society? And deep down we know it isn't right; we know they aren't happy and we are afraid of their revenge. Happy, well adjusted young men don't go out destroying the property of others. Disenfranchised young men who feel powerless do. I know this isn't true for all young men but it is of too many. I saw it again and again when I worked with the unemployed. Men who the school system had completely failed - talented men who had never had their real value reflected to them because they didn't fit into the very narrow role we have for boys and men. And smart men for whom school had seemed irrelevant because it wasn't meaningful to them. Truly I don't know why more people don't homeschool their sons. I think the school system is especially toxic for boys.

And I want to roar by biggest, loudest, homeschooling-mama-bear-roar because I HAVE A SON! And I don't want him to be experiencing the world like this. He is good and he is kind and he knows what is right and has the courage to stand up for what he believes. And he is a young man and he is sweet and very physical and it is OKAY TO BE LIKE THAT!!! I adore my son. I love him so hugely and I would protect him from all that. But of course I can't. I live in the world of women. All I can do is wrap my heart around him and let him find his way in the world and pray that world will change. And I know it is changing - I just want it to change fast enough for my son... He knows his mama sees his soul and knows him. I pray for a world where more men can do that for each other - can look at each other's souls and not see threats to their place in the male hierarchy but see the wonder of each other.

Funny. A long time ago, a mother would love her daughter, would raise her but knew that she had very little power and that her daughter must survive in the unfair world. I don't feel that way about any of my daughters. The world has changed since then for us in the Western World. But I feel that way about my son. My heart breaks. I wish he could be a little boy for longer. But I know he is a strong boy and I know I have done my best to fill him up and prepare him for his life. I believe in him.

4 comments: said...

wow. AMEN! although I personally think the school system, at least high school, is just as toxic for everybody.

Andrea said...

I would agree. I think girls are just better at coping.

Mary-Sue said...

WOW! I LOVE that post!!! VERY powerful. I think it should be sent to the editor of the paper. truly! how else are you going to change the world in which he lives?
GOOD FOR YOU for letting your gentle but ferocious mother bear come out in defense of Andrew. I'm so proud of you!!!!!

Monique said...

I am in tears Andrea - for Drew, for how powerful you both were - him for coming to you and you for not letting this pass.

I think you're right about what systematized power tries to do to boys - and I am so glad that I have kept my boys out of that too, and that one of their role models is your son.