For Raising Boys: Is Being a Drill Sergeant Dad Required?

Boys to Men.

My father was not a drill sergeant.  The truth is I didn’t really have one of those growing up.  Except that is if you count the neighbor kids at the Bali Hai apartments, who were always up for torturing each other in the name of “proving who was tougher.”  I very rarely was the toughest one in the bunch, I can tell you that right now.  My methods were more flight than fight, and as a result I became quite good at determining when it was a good time to run and hide.

If anything, my older brother was the one responsible for “toughening me up.”  He didn’t like me saying no and backing down from anyone.  To him it was always better to go down fighting and the size or reputation of his opponent never really mattered.

Yo en cambio, I would always size up my competition first and scan the room or space for the easiest and closest exits to me.  I don’t like to say that I was a “scary cat,” but the truth is I was.  It wasn’t only about physical fights either.  Because I never really tested my own strength against other kids, my age or bigger, in other aspects of my life it became easier to circumvent the undesirable feeling of not knowing how I could or would measure up to others, physically.

In school, on tests, on reading reports, on anything academic really, I was confident.  I knew my abilities were strong and I would gladly challenge anyone to go up against me.  But back at home, at the Bali Hai, in the parking-lot-basketball-court, in the empty lots of grass where we would play, my sense of how much I was really capable of was pretty much nonexistent.

When we’d wrestle and pretend we were the fighters from the WWE, I always tried to go up against my little brother.  If we were running and all of the sudden everyone would jump over a fence, I would either turn around and run the other way or find a way to pretend I jumped the fence too (even though nobody would actually see me do it).  Eventually, I just started avoiding any situations that might require me to physically compete with others.  I was a “sensitive boy” I guess you could say.

My father never questioned me or pressured me to be any tougher either.  In hindsight, I’m not really sure why.

And lately I’ve been kind of wondering what would have happened if he had?  Would I have been more pelionero?  Would I have been more valiente?  Would I be sitting here now writing out this anecdote and sharing so much about myself so openly?   

I kind of wish he had.  Not because I want to be a tough guy, but because now that Edgar is in my life I find myself wanting to push him harder than anyone ever pushed me.  Not in the sense that I want him to see me as a drill sergeant.  Instead, because knowing now what I didn’t know then, I think that challenging myself at every step of my life would have made more of a confident person sooner.  It wasn’t until I was well into my late teens and early adulthood that I began to really challenge myself and discover my own physical strength.  I understand it now.  I know what I am capable of.

The thing is, whether it’s PC or not, boys do turn into men, and men are expected to be strong, to be physical, and to not back down from challenges.  I want that for him.  And in the process I want him to build his self confidence by not being afraid to challenge himself.  He deserves that, I think.

That’s also the reason why today when the basketball bounced into the neighbor’s yard I made him jump over the fence to go get it.  He was hesitant at first, thinking and telling me that he couldn’t do it.  I sat down and told him he could and that we weren’t going inside until he did.  I encouraged him.  I walked him through the process.  And I even offered him a boost from this side of the fence to the other.  In the end he didn’t need it, and when he jumped back over and ran inside exhausted, I yelled at him “Good job!”

That’s all I would have wanted.

That’s not to say I’m criticizing my father.  He had his reasons and his methods, and while he might not have been a drill sergeant, he has always been a great father.