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Want to understand men? Have a son

Posted on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 in Men, Parenting, Relationships, Women

It was one of those rare occurrences in my life as a daughter; when I called home on Sunday, my dad didn’t immediately say, “Hold on, I’ll go get your mother.”

Of course, it was Father’s Day and not to diss my mom, but really, he was the main event. There’s only one other day of the year like that — my dad’s birthday.

Dads are a strange breed, or least the ones of my generation. They talk a lot but rarely about themselves. I’ve learned loads from my dad, but not a lot about him. Who knows what he really knows about me, if anything. So I was blown away by a comment he tossed out as we caught up.

“Well, honey, you made me
a b-tter man.”   

“What did you say, Dad?
The phone cut out.”

But by then he was off on
one of his rants, this time about the Gulf oil spill and the “idiots” running his condo association and the next
thing I knew my mom was
on the phone and he disappeared.

“My Dad said a weird thing
to me yesterday,” I told Sean the next day as we snuggled in his bed.

“Oh, so convoluted thinking runs in your family …”

“Hahaha. Well, he either
told me that I’ve made him a bitter man or a better one. The phone got all static-like, but I’m hoping for the latter.”

“I’m sure that’s what he said,” he said as he kissed the top of my head.

“Don’t patronize me!”

“I’m not. But, as a dad of a daughter, that’s what I say, too.”


“Because having a daughter has taught me so much more about women.”

Which is exactly how I feel, about men, that is. The beauty of having a son is that it’s a petri dish of manhood. I’ve watched — sometimes in bewilderment, sometimes paralyzed in fear, more often than not thinking, WTF?!? — how The Kid has transformed from the quintessential superhero-idolizing, truck-obsessed, gun-loving, nonstop macho Boy into a sensitive, kind, gentle Man.

Don’t get me wrong — there are still a lot of mysteries about him, mostly about his logic, or lack of it. He has a male brain, I have a female one and that is a huge difference right there.

But I’ve seen the vulnerabilities behind the “suck it up” facade, how he was just as devastated as any woman I’ve ever known by his first heartbreak, but didn’t have quite the same safe place to express it. How finding his place in the high school pecking order, how looking cool in the eyes of his peers and girls he might like to date, meant he had to have status — like wheels.

You just can’t have a child of the opposite gender and not see that gender — and the world — differently.

How could a father not want anything but the best for his daughter, whether in the workplace, the home or in men’s eyes?

And for moms of sons? It’s why I freak out when I read that men don’t count; that some gal might consider him nothing more than a sperm donor, thank you very much; that he might be fodder for a male-bashing gals’ night out.

Sorry, but not my kid!

I know that if I had a daughter, I’d feel just as passionately about things but with a different perspective. I’d know exactly what she’s feeling because I was that girl once. We’d be speaking the same language.

But I don’t have that language with men; I have to learn it. And that’s why I love having a son — I don’t know what it’s like to be a man, but I know for sure that there’s a lot more going on than what’s on the surface.

Studies indicate that fathers of daughters tend to be more supportive of women’s issues. That makes sense.

No such luck for moms of sons, however; seems all they do is mess up our health. See, men really do make us suffer!

  • Has having a child of the opposite sex helped you understand that gender more?
  • If you have children of both genders, which has been easier or harder to raise?

Photo © the saint –

Bring on the comments

  1. Steve says:

    It is interesting to read that raising a boy has taught you about men.

    Over the years I have seen articles from hardcore feminists explaining how becoming mothers have changed their views about how the two sexes are basically the same, save for how they are raised.

    That is probably relevant to that “end of men” article. Such women have viewed research that stated that what works for girls in education, child rearing etc, doesn’t work for boys, as being attacks on feminism.

    Now that such things are becoming more apparent maybe people can fight for what helps BOTH boys and girls.

    Academics tend to be the biggest “should makers” ( idealists, ideolouges ). IMHO it seems like most prominent feminists are academics and writers. Theory gets tempered by practice. Looks like being a parent is becoming the lab work for these and other women.

  2. Honey
    Twitter: honeyandlance

    I don’t even want another male cat!

  3. BigLittleWolf
    Twitter: BigLittleWolf

    Ha! I’ve raised two of them. Those he-creatures. Not sure I understand men, still. But I like them!

  4. david foster says:

    Steve..”Academics tend to be the biggest ‘should makers'”…interesting & useful phrase. I was just commenting on another blog that it’s strange how we as a society have accepted professors both as arbiters of right & wrong and as guides to practical action. Earlier generations would have considered this fairly strange.

    I think maybe what happened is that the *real* achievements of academics in certain fields (nuclear physics, biotech) somehow created an aura of wisdom that spread from the disciplines where it is valid to the disciplines where it is questionable to say the least…and some fields (education) are inhabited by people whose IQs would not allow them to become professors in any traditional scholarly discipline.

  5. Steve says:


    Thanks for the comment, but I’m afraid to say that I don’t share the rest of your views about academics.

    I don’t think our society does accept professors as arbiters of right and wrong as guides. We would have different problems if we did, but I think we would be better off. I would prefer that to our culture looking towards infotainment news hosts, alcoholic celebrities, money grubbing TV evangelists etc.

    I have both a technical background a liberal arts background. IMHO some of the best thinkers come from the former and I mean this in no snotty way, but as someone who has been in school on both sides I would say that someone who has a technical background is trained, but not necessarily “educated”.

    That said, academia does have excesses and silliness. One of them is bloviating on about theory after theory without touching ground in reality often enough.

    A number of feminists/WMST writers have been guilty of that and my comment was about those who became mothers which helped them discover that.

    In my life’s experience few people can admit and own their wrong. These women have my kudos for doing so.

  6. vincent says:

    Children are the best and I appreciate your mindfulness about raising them and learning from them. Here are my thoughts about raising my kid and sorry for rambling.
    I’m male and raising a son and he’s taught me tons about myself for sure. My son is a treasure and a terror. First arrested at age 5 for illegal skateboarding and then again at age 7 detained by the Chief of Police for intentional violation of the Alameda County court’s injunction against giving food or water to the Berkeley tree sitters. The Police Chief let him go when he said Chief, when I grow up I want to be a cop too, the kind of cop who arrests cops who harass starving tree sitters. This year at 8, he ran away from home (barefoot) and got all the way to Fairfax. He likes freedom, building things and nature. I’m still hoping that he’s only half as bad as I was when i grew up. I’m taking some parenting classes and bought some parenting books b/c parenting is the hardest job of all. One time he said dad if any child is threatened by war, then no child is safe. I’m tired of having the world run by children and their petty and endless conflicts and wars. The “war” in aphganistan is cruel joke and why are we spending billions on that losing battle when we are laying off teachers here in the U.S.? war=children killing children in my opinion.

  7. nekochan says:

    My mother was one of those who used to believe that men and women were the same, I do think that over the years, with me, she learned it is not like that. I don’t think she really understands me but she has showed some improvement.

  8. T
    Twitter: tsquest

    Kat, I’ve been considering a blog post of my own about this topic. As you know, I have two daughters but I’m dating a single dad of two sons. We’re there for each other in terms of giving support as fellow single parents. However there are times that I simply don’t comprehend the father-son relationship. Raising a boy is SO different than raising a daughter.

    I’m learning… all the time. Thank you for this insight.

  9. david foster says:

    Steve…to clarify, I’m a strong supporter of the liberal arts when they are taught intelligently…see for example my post here which excerpts some thoughts from Michael Hammer on the relevance of both the liberal arts and hard sciences to education for business. Unfortunately, too many universities have turned undergraduate education into a sort of “social studies” mush. And too much professorial research in the humanities has become dominated by trendiness and political correctness.

    Re popular culture, I suspect it is influenced by academia more than you may recognize. There was an old Royal Navy saying: “Tonight’s wardroom roast beef is tomorrow’s lower-deck stew,” meaning that whatever is being discussed tonight by the officers will be discussed tomorrow..probably in distorted the sailors. It would be interesting to trace the evolution of ideas on, say, Oprah from their “wardroom roast beef” incarnation to their “lower-deck stew” incarnation.

  10. Kat Wilder says:

    Raising a son is like a petri dish of manhood. Lots of "Oh, now I get it…"

  11. dadshouse
    Twitter: dadshouseblog

    I grew up in a family of boys, and my first child was a girl, and I am grateful for the experience of watching a girl grow up.

    Did I see the world differently through her? Not exactly… I changed a lot, but that was more me getting to know me. Spirituality, buddhist leanings, that sort of thing.

    Is my daughter different than my son? Sure! Does she see the world differently? Not so sure. I don’t think we have different brains. I think we have different energy centers. Women are centered in the heart, and men aren’t.

  12. Kat Wilder says:

    Steve — well, it has taught me a little more about men; I am hardly an expert. It did help me see that their vulnerabilities are no more or less than women’s, but we’re allowed to express it — or indulge in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s — while men “can’t.”

    Honey — LOL; it’s why my dog is a girl!

    BLW — Yeah, headline is misleading, but “Why to try to understand men a little bit better?” was too long. everyone tells me I talk too much anyway …

    David — I haven’t “accepted professors both as arbiters of right & wrong” since I graduated from college. I think … But I disagree on Oprah; by the time it hits her show, most of us have experienced it in one way or the other. Same like by the time I hear a “new” band, by teen says it’s a has-been…

    Vincent — “treasure and terror” is putting it mildly!

    T — this is why we have kids; to learn, about ourselves and about the world. We think they’ll learn from us, but it works both ways.

    Dads — Do you really feel that way, even though she’s a teen … and you remember being a teen boy? Maybe you haven’t been paying attention! 😉

  13. Steve says:

    Steve — well, it has taught me a little more about men; I am hardly an expert. It did help me see that their vulnerabilities are no more or less than women’s, but we’re allowed to express it — or indulge in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s — while men “can’t.”

    “Can’t” implies a bias, as if men are broken where women are not. There are many areas of life where men’s psychologies are better adapted..and vice-versa.

  14. Kat Wilder says:

    Steve — That’s why I put it in quotes — we, society, often do not allow men to show it. It certainly isn’t encouraged. I didn’t mean that men are unable to.

  15. Don says:

    We are all just grown up children. I think everyone still has the desire to have fun, it’s just that society has beaten that desire down as your grow older to the point where you tell yourself all the logical reasons NOT to go do something spontaneous and fun. We should all strive to watch our children closely…and emulate THEM more than the stupid shit we see on TV…our society would benefit immensely.

  16. Kat Wilder says:

    Don — Funny thing Paula Poundstone said: “Know why adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up? They’re trying to get ideas …”