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My husband and I had our first son, Leason, not long after we married. The second, TJ, arrived three years later. Raising them taught me more about what goes on inside the male mind than all my years of observing and relating to my father, brothers, boyfriends, and even my husband.
To be honest, some days I think I would have given up on trying to divine the nature of the male, if I hadn't had sons. Here's what they've taught me:#1 The best way to a man's heart? Through his feet!
Sure, we've all heard the best way is through a man's stomach. And guys do like to eat. But in a pinch, any super-size bowl of cold cereal will do. But the perfect pair of shoes are what boyhood dreams are made of. Shoes for running, kicking, stomping, splashing in puddles, shooting hoops, or climbing trees. The male love affair with shoes starts with their first pair of light-up sneakers with little Velcro closures. Supply clean, comfortable socks by the dozen and acquire goddess-like status. Need I mention foot rubs?#2 Men have bad hair days, too.
When Leason was 5, he decided to trim his soft brown curls I loved so dearly. The uneven result brought a smile to my face and tears to his. On the way to the hairdresser, he slid to the floor of the car to prevent anyone seeing him and begged me to claim responsibility for the unfortunate haircut. He told me he had to take matters into his hands to do away with the hated angelic-looking haircut I preferred. As I stared back into his accusing brown eyes, I finally saw how important Leason's lovely mop was to him. As it would be to his younger brother.
And as it is to my husband, who though mostly bald, sports a few white hairs. Now I know guys love a simple remark like, "Your hair looks great" just as much as women do. Try it, and you might receive unexpected compliment or two in return.
One day when TJ was 14 or so, he pointed out an extremely thin, perhaps unhealthy young man in the grocery store aisle. "Mom, would you say I'm as thin as him or thinner?" he whispered with an urgency usually reserved for very serious discussions. I stifled a laugh. Not only was TJ nowhere near as thin as the young man in question, but fabulously lean, handsome, and healthy looking. I told him so but he didn't believe me. I didn't object to the protein powder he wanted. Or, later the weight-lifting equipment. For a male, feeling scrawny is a million times worse than fat thighs or cellulite.#4 Men really will rescue a damsel in distress.
When Leason was 13, I persuaded him to get involved in his school play. I think he volunteered to work on lighting. That is until I got a call a few afternoons later from his drama teacher. She wanted to cast him as Bernardo in West Side Story.
"Do you think he'll say yes?" she asked anxiously. Only if you don't ask him, I replied. Tell him he must take the role because there's no one else, I coached. From my sons I learned the secret of appealing to the males' natural gallantry. Sure enough, when Leason arrived home he opened the door with a bang. "Bad news," he said with obvious pride. "I have to be in the play." By the way, he made a wonderful Bernardo.#5 Boys really don't understand girls.
When my boys each entered seventh grade, they settled down -- along with their other rowdy male pals. Even teachers who found their earlier boisterousness annoying began to like them. Especially because at this age, their cute, quiet, and polite female counterparts became nutty, hormone-induced drama queens. When my sons returned home from school, I heard daily reports of intense female hysteria -- crying and more crying. But if I asked my sons what actually happened, they were utterly and deeply clueless.
If I wanted to know, I talked to the girls or their mothers. The intricate complexities of preteen female culture -- the cliquishness, the intimate chats, unforgivable slights, and the like -- escaped my sons. They weren't all that interested. Of course, all that changed only few years later. Then, they had to play catch-up. And they are still catching up. As is their father. As are most of the men I know.
When a boy figures out he's becoming a man, he starts pulling away from his mother. Cuddling on the couch becomes banned. Seemingly overnight a once snuggly pajama-clad tyke morphs into a video-playing preteen pinning "Keep Out" signs on the bedroom door.
Still, the grown man in your bed -- the father of your children -- no longer needs to prove his independence. He loved to cuddle as a toddler and probably wants to do it again with someone. That person might as well be you.#7 The inner boy always prefers action.
Lego castles and outdoor forts. Stuffed animal plays. Marathon bike rides. Long walks to town. Canoe trips down the river. When my boys were young, we were always doing some planned activity. And when they got together with friends they were always running around too. They just didn't hang out and gossip as I remembered doing with my girlfriends.
Raising them taught me the joy of planned activities and projects. Organizing a family hike or paint-the-living-room day was much more fun than checking off a list of tedious chores or heading off to the smelly gym. Given a choice -- horseback riding or out to a movie, a hike or dinner out -- my husband always chooses moving about over just sitting still.
The guys have won me over. I'd rather go riding, too.
Originally published on LHJ.com, November 2005.