Yesterday was the last day of a four-day basketball camp for Caleb and Eli. On the whole I think the major American sports (football, baseball, basketball) are a source of more harm than good when it comes to character-building (see this interesting study about cheating by student athletes, for example). But I believe this has more to do with the low moral qualities of the adults involved, and besides, I want my sons to have the rudimentary skills even if I'll hesitate to let them get very involved in these sports as they get older. And while they think I'm an awesome basketball player because I routinely dunk over them on our seven-foot rim, I can barely dribble. So, basketball camp.
I noticed something interesting as I watched them go through various competitions. There were nine groups of children, segregated by sex and age, gathered around hoops, competing to see who could do the most lay-ups in two minutes, dribble around obstacles the fastest, etc. In all of the boy groups, I saw intense competitive concentration. Through the din of a hundred basketballs slapping the floor, however, I heard a melodic sound that was out of place. In the youngest girl group, you see, they were cheering for each other.
It was endearing, and for a moment I wished the boys could support each other like that, instead of being so intently focused on winning. But then my internal man slapped my internal chick and told her to get hold of herself, that civilization is not built solely on nurturing and acceptance.
This is a challenge in raising boys, to love and nurture them, but also to prepare them for a world where they must struggle, where triumph is not guaranteed, and where a great many wicked people will be set against them. We have to raise them to face challenge and danger without shrinking, to continue striving in the face of defeat, and to crave victory. I want my sons to be gracious gentlemen, to be sure, but the difference between a gentleman and a coward or weakling is that a gentleman can pound a lout into submission, though often he may choose not to.
I'm tempted to write more here about some of the things I've realized about finding the balance between toughness and nurturing with my boys, but instead I'll direct you to (and have I mentioned this already?) my pamphlet on the subject, available from the New Pamphleteer.
C'mon, you had to know that was where I was headed.
If you're wondering what to get that special someone for Father's Day, it's hard to top my new pamphlet, Raising Wild Boys into Men: A Modern Dad's Survival Guide, which is newly available from the New Pamphleteer. At a low price of $4 plus shipping, why not buy several and hand them out to your friends, enemies, and acquaintances? Order now, while supplies last!
(Actually, if they sell out they'll probably just print more.)
And just to tease you a bit, an excerpt:
I've noticed that I walk slowly to my front door when I get home. I'm not a poetic guy, but I linger over the sound of the birds, the whisper of a breeze, the gentle sunlight on the grass. Then I open the door and cover my crotch, because each boy will come barreling at me, head lowered, preparing both to hug and tackle me at the same time. It's how they show love, through fierce hugs and low-level violence...
And that's all you're getting. So buy the pamphlet. Actually, buy ten.
"Do you know a terrific gaming Dad? Here's your chance to show him some Father's Day love and take a shot at winning an awesome prize for yourself. Here's how it works.
Write an original essay about a father (or male legal guardian) and gaming. Do you know a Dad who does a great job balancing gaming and fatherhood? Is he known for his patience with n00bs or his mad fragging skills? Does he play games with his kids? Is he raising his gamer offspring to play fair and follow the rules?
Your essay should be at least 250 words, but no more than 500 words, and must be received by 11:59 P.M. Pacific Time, June 9, 2007..."
This got me thinking about what some of their entries might look like:
To: Xbox Dudes
I totally want to nominate my pops for this kickin prize, b-cause he rawks! Check it - just last night, I was trying to get some boring homework done for my stupid Shakespeare class, and pops was in total azz-kicking mode on some Alien vs Predator, and I was like, Dad, hook me up on my homework - who was that chick Romeo was gettin it with, and Pops was like, don't bother me, cuz I'm all up in some level ten, and then I was like, c'mon Dad, I'm dyin on this homework, and Pops was all, c'mon over and get in on this action, and I was all, are you sure? And Pops was like, dude, nobody needs Shakespeare to get a job - I've had dozens and I never read no Shakespeare. So tell your teacher to bite it. I was all, no way! And Pops was all, Yes way! It was totally awesome. So then we busted out some double-hammer action on the Aliens and Predators and stuff, and it was you know, a total bonding time. No joke Xbox, my pops rulz!
My dad is so great. He plays Xbox every night, and he lets me sit and watch as long as I'm quiet. He lets me play too, when I get home from school and before he gets home from work. Then I sit on the couch and do my homework and watch him play. Once, I was going to get online and learn some cheats for Halo 2, but dad said I shouldn't cheat, that the only right way to get good at Xbox is to play it lots and lots. I'm glad I have my dad to teach me right from wrong. He should really win this prize, because he loves Xbox more than any other dads I know. Nobody works as hard at getting good at gaming as my dad. He is the best dad in the world, and one day I will be just like him.
Not to belittle every father who plays with an Xbox from time to time.
No, the blessed event has not yet occurred. I had some traveling to do, which became much more time-consuming and onerous than it should have been. It gave me a chance to do a detailed analysis of U.S. airline companies, however, and I am happy to report my findings, which are that U.S. airlines are big fat stupid liars. You heard it here first.
In other, happier news, I recently came home to find a big Amazon package waiting for me. I love it when that happens. I tried to recall what I might have ordered, as I opened the box, only to find that it was filled with gift books taken from my Amazon wish list, courtesy of one Kipp Sailors, who is my new Favorite Reader of the Month. Not only did Kipp's generosity extend to four (!) Everyman's editions (Hardy's The Return of the Native; Blake's Poems and Prophecies; Paine's Rights of Man and Common Sense; and Chekhov's complete short novels), he also sent a delightful book called Loving Every Child.
In doing so Kipp revealed his deeply generous nature, as well as his outstanding taste in literature and philosophy. Those of you who know him should count yourselves lucky. I've already enjoyed, in the slender moments of free waking time my youngsters afford me, a sampling from these books. Maybe it's just me, but something about the Everyman volume just makes it read better, almost as if the words are lighter and more exquisite. I'm afraid I'm getting spoiled and will soon have no use for used paperbacks whatsoever.
So, to sum up, Kipp Sailors is a very good man for supporting my reading habit, and a very bad man for supporting my reading habit. You could all learn a thing or two from him. Thank you Kipp!