‘Boys will be boys.” It’s a phrase used to cover up the behaviors of young men, from something as small as rolling around in the dirt to explaining away a sexual assault case.
During this year’s Super Bowl, Gillette aired an ad titled, “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” that called for an end to the mantra of “boys will be boys” and promoted a positive view of masculinity.
A voice-over in the ad asked, “Is this the best a man can get?” as teen boys in the ad watched news reports of the #MeToo movement, young boys bullied each other, and a grown man cat-called a woman walking down the street.
The ad took a pivotal turn when the voice said, “We believe in the best in men: To say the right thing, to act the right way.” At this point, men in the ad began to point out signs of sexual harassment and other forms of inappropriate behaviors, such as bullying.
The nearly two-minute long ad finished with the poignant line, “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”
Shortly after its release, a debate erupted on social media over the razor company’s decision to challenge “toxic masculinity,” which refers to some male norms that can potentially harm individuals and society.
Some believed the ad went too far in challenging masculinity, and posted with the hashtag, #BoycottGillette. Others, however, felt the message was positive overall.
With Father’s Day being celebrated Sunday, The Sun Chronicle recently put out a request on Facebook asking area fathers to share their approach to parenting in today’s world.
One response came from Mike Wilkinson of Mansfield, who found out he was going to be a father a little over two years ago, and was pleasantly surprised. Although it was unplanned, he was ready to take on the challenge of parenthood with his girlfriend, Leah, whom he married this past week.
“Being a father was something I always dreamed about,” Wilkinson, 29, said. “And when it finally happened, I was overwhelmed with happiness.”
That happiness continued to grow after his son Danny was born, and now that the child is 2, Wilkinson hopes he can begin to teach his son about the importance of respecting everyone.
Raising a son in the era of the #MeToo movement, in which women publicly shared personal stories of sexual harassment and assault, made Wilkinson think hard about what he wanted his son to look for in a male role model.
For Wilkinson, that meant teaching his son the “little things,” from opening the door for others to showing kindness to all.
“The #MeToo movement was something that uncovered stories that were right under the surface for centuries,” he said. “I hope all that was brought to light can allow more parents to impart lessons on their kids at a young age about how that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable.”
Important female figures in Wilkinson’s life, including his grandmother, mother and wife, inspired him to teach his son the importance of respecting women.
“I want to show him that although I work hard for my family, it’s important to always be respectful and kind — no matter how stressful life can be,” he said. “All of this can be learned at a young age so that he can hopefully internalize these lessons.”
Wilkinson said fatherhood has been the most cherished opportunity of his life and he hopes to be his son’s foremost role model.
“There are some days when I’m just so tired, but I have to set aside how I feel and match my energy level to my son,” he said. “Sometimes that means putting on a smile and showing my son that everything he does matters.”
Rita Morris, a parent coach and psychotherapist with a practice in Westwood, said the goal for fathers should be to raise boys who are “habitually respectful and considerate of the physical and emotional safety of those around them.”
“Good parenting is developing a child that has empathy, self-esteem, honesty and self-control,” Morris said. “Human beings are social animals; we learn from modeling behavior.”
According to Morris, in a family where the father is present, he is one of the most powerful male role models that a young boy will ever have.
“If Dad’s behavior is loving, kind and respectful, their children will be the same,” she said. “Early patterns of interaction are what children know. It is those patterns that affect how they feel about themselves.”
Using the phrase, “boys will be boys” contributes to a “toxic foundation to a boy’s sense of self,” Morris said.
“We often underestimate the power of linguistics,” she added. “First, it perpetuates gender stereotypes by implying that boys are biologically wired to be violent, rough and tumble.”
And, it allows biases to form which assign behaviors to a particular set of genders, she said.
“Furthermore, it condones and excuses aggressive, disrespectful behaviors by linking them to biological impulses, thereby excusing said behavior.”
In the end, Morris said fathers should model respect for their sons, show them love, show up, and accept them for who they are.
“Showing up” is something Attleboro resident Steve Bertsch considers to be the most important part of being a father.
Bertsch has a 6-year-old son, Zachary, and considers himself very involved in his life. Growing up with a father who worked full-time, Bertsch always wished his father could have been around more.
From showing up to his son’s swim lessons on Saturday to reading books every night, the 40-year-old father said he does his best to be involved in any way possible, even while working a full-time job in information technology.
When Bertsch and his wife, Jessica, found out they were expecting, they were overjoyed and nervous over what was to come.
“I remember thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’” he said. “It’s not like the baby came with a manual.”
Six years later, Zachary has completed kindergarten and is ready for first grade.
“There are so many days when I think back to the 5-pound-6-ounce baby he used to be, and now he is already a big boy,” Bertsch said. “It just all went by so fast.”
Over the last six years, Bertsch said he has learned the importance of patience, perseverance and trust. At the end of the day, all he hopes is for his son to treat everyone equally and with respect.
“Fatherhood has been one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of my life,” he said. “It’s something that no one is truly prepared for, but if you go by instinct and what is right, everything should turn out fine.”