A letter to my teenage son: Don't be afraid to be a man

As our teenage sons step out into the world, should we cut them some slack?
As our teenage sons step out into the world, should we cut them some slack? Photo: Shutterstock

Happy birthday baby boy. My baby who’s now close to six foot and shaving. Where did those 15 years go? It only seems like yesterday you decided to interrupt a footy game I was watching; contractions started at half-time and you were out by the final whistle.

May’s a big month. Two birthdays, yours and your sister's, Mother’s Day, celebrating all that matters all at the same time.

I penned a letter to your sister a few weeks ago, advice she didn’t even know she wanted. So it’s your turn. I’m your mother, so you have to listen. Or at least pretend to.

Where have those 15 years gone?
Where have those 15 years gone?  Photo: Supplied

Kate Holden wrote a perfect piece to her son for Mother’s Day. In this #metoo age people have a lot to say about raising boys into men. How we, as women, as mothers, should be doing it. Holden’s son is only four, playing with Lego and singing nonsensical songs. I envy her.

You’re 15. Pushing the boundaries, pushing my buttons, yet pulling on my heart strings all at the same time.

You’re on that bridge, as the late Celia Lashlie says, that bridge of adolescence which you must cross into manhood. And here’s the thing, according to the straight-talking New Zealander, I have to step aside and let you cross that bridge all by yourself.

I have to let you go.

And while that’s the last thing I want to do, I know it’s the right thing.

But I’m not sending you across that bridge without a few words.

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Don’t be afraid to be a man.

Drive a fast car, flirt with fast women, flirt with danger. Buy power tools you’ll rarely use. Play contact sports. Enjoy a drink with your teammates. Take the bins out.  Find whatever it is that defines you. Never let anyone tell you you can’t do something, shouldn’t do something, because a “good” man would never do those things.  Except when you're with a woman, but you already know that because you are already a good man. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll treat mates badly, you’ll treat women badly. We’re human. Just work really hard to be respectful and kind. Real men, good men, are both those things.

Fill your life with good men.

I married your father all those years ago because he was a good man. He still is. Even though it might seem, at times, I don’t feel that way. I'm sorry that it might. It’s been a blessing to watch your relationship with him grow these past few years, even from afar. Both of you will probably never understand that. But it’s important, too, to look beyond the confines of family. Listen to your footy coaches, listen to your teachers. Their lessons extend way beyond the field and the classroom. You’ll realise that one day.

Fill your life with good mates.

I don’t think you realise how lucky you are to have such a great bunch of mates. Young men who I’d be happy to welcome into my home at any time. You’re all still trying to work out where you fit in the wolf pack, just keep running together. Yes, you all annoy each other at times, that ebb and flow of teenage friendships. You’ll all sort it out. It’s been an added bonus watching your mates grow up alongside you. Boys who’d barely say a word now happy to chat, even when you’re not around. Boys all turning into men way too quickly too, I’m sure their mothers would agree. Your mates know I’m here for them, but you can tell them again. After all, I’m the cool mum.

Fill your life with good women

You’re working this one out. Girls at school now. Fancy that. You’ve coped admirably well. For the most part. It’s great watching you work out that women are hard work, no matter what their age. It’s great watching you work out that the best relationships with women start with being friends. You’ll get to all that other stuff in good time. Don’t want for it to happen too early. It will happen when it’s right. And when it does happen I can’t wait to see your little heart fill with love. Don’t be afraid to open your heart. Promise me that. Don’t feel as though you can’t because it’s not what good men do. Be vulnerable, be brave, be honest.

And just remember …

That any time you want you can turn around on the bridge and I’ll be there. The next 10 or so years will be tough. We’ve long given up sugar coating things, haven’t we? I like the way we can speak the truth to each other. Your insights already amaze me. Your perceptiveness. Other mothers tell me their sons just shrug and grunt. Most times I can’t shut you up. Never stop talking. To anyone. Never shut anyone out.

When you were younger, not so much a hulking boy-man, you used to come and crawl into bed beside me. Some part of you had to be touching me. A pudgy hand on a cheek while we slept, fingers entwined under a pillow, a little foot on my back. My most cherished moments now are when you reach out for me. Plonk yourself on the lounge as close as you can, a head on my chest.  We’ve always had a connection. And no matter how far that bridge stretches, it will always be there. Remember that.