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Raising Boys to Be Good Men

A Parent's Guide to Bringing up Happy Sons in a World Filled with Toxic Masculinity

"If you are the parent of a boy . . . this is the book you need . . . insightful, enlightened, practical."  —Peggy Orenstein, New York Times bestselling author of Boys & Sex

From the dad who created the viral tweet supporting his son wearing nail polish, this essential parenting guide shares 36 parenting tips for battling gender norms, bringing down "man up" culture, and helping sons realize their potential.

Our boys are in a crisis. Toxic masculinity and tough guy-ism are on display daily from our leaders, and we see anger, dysfunction, violence, and depression in young men who are suffocated by harmful social codes. Our young sons are told to stop throwing like a girl. They hear phrases like “man up” when they cry. They are told “boys will be boys” when they behave badly. The “Girl Power” movement has encouraged women to be whoever and do whatever they want, but that sentiment is not often extended to boys. Just watch the bullying when boys try ballet, paint their fingernails, or play with a doll.

But we can treat this problem—and the power lies in the hands of parents. It's not only possible to raise boys who aren't emotionally stifled and shoved into stereotypical gender boxes; it's vital if we want a generation of men who can express their emotions, respect women, and help nurse society back to a halfway healthy place. We can reframe manhood. From Aaron Gouveia, who gained viral fame after tweeting his support for his son’s painted fingernails (and who knows toxic masculinity very well), learn practical and actionable tips such as:
 

  • Don’t accept different standards for moms and dads
  • Teach boys that “girl” is not an insult and retire phrases like “boys will be boys”
  • Show boys that expressing their emotions and being physical is a good thing
  • Let boys pursue nontraditional interests and hobbies
  • Talk to boys about consent and privilege
  • Model healthy and respectful relationships for boys to emulate

Penned with equal parts humor, biting snark, and lived advice, Raising Boys to Be Good Men is the essential parenting guide for raising sons to realize their potential outside the box. ​

When I became a father in 2008, I had never encoun­tered the term toxic masculinity. Although Google searches for the term increased after the 2017 social movement of #MeToo when women in Hollywood reported Harvey Weinstein’s crimes, and public exposure to the phrase spiked to peak levels when Gillette released its now infamous commercial in January 2019 criticizing toxic masculinity, I first heard about it in 2011. I had just accepted a part-time editor position with the Good Men Project and was spending countless hours reading essays by feminist authors. I rolled my eyes initially and silently lamented the “pussification of America,” bristling at the thought that my strong, manly son would be feminized to the point of demoni­zation. Which is ironic, since, you know, that reaction was an example of classic toxic masculinity.

But when I stopped and listened to the people in my life, who are far more intelligent and thoughtful than I am, I realized something fairly disconcerting—not only is toxic masculinity real, I was living it out on a daily basis and running the risk of passing that mindset on to my three sons.

That’s why, when my publisher suggested I write a book on raising boys in the age of toxic masculinity, the first thing out of my mouth was, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy.” I guarantee that if you tell anyone who knew me in college that I would be writing this book many years later, they’d laugh. Then they’d get really confused and angry, because I had been representative of the problem for years (and still am, at times).

Back in 2008, I remember getting upset when my wife put pink socks on my infant son because I was worried it might make other people think he was “gay” or “effeminate.” I didn’t want any of my boys to be baptized, at least in part because I didn’t like the idea of them in a christening dress (and also because of the Catholic Church’s rampant child abuse and decades of cover-ups; but that’s a different book). I would only shop in the blue-colored boy toy aisle, I scolded my oldest for throwing a baseball “like a girl,” and I frequently used the phrase “man up” in a way that was unfortunately devoid of irony.

All to say that writing a book about a problem I had clearly contributed to for a long time felt like an instant no-go and mas­sively hypocritical.

But the flip side of that argument is: who better to reach people potentially open to change than a convert? Just like I wouldn’t want to read a book about getting sober from an author who has never had a drink in their lives, maybe all my (many, many, many) past mistakes might be recognized by readers who are in the same boat. The hope is that my experience will reso­nate and help readers take stock of the situation so we can start to build critical mass and fix this problem.

I wish I could pinpoint a specific moment in time when it all clicked. It was because of my job with the Good Men Project, where I edited essay after essay of thoughts on this topic. It was joining online forums and Facebook groups and getting to know the men I had been thoughtlessly mocking to realize their words had merit. But mostly, it was watching my kids get older and take up interests that didn’t align with traditional masculinity, and feeling that natural parental instinct to protect and defend the people who are most precious to you. If my kids had been star athletes and had fallen into the “normal” pathways for boys, would I be writing this book? I’d like to think so, but I’m just not sure. Unfortunately, it seems people don’t truly get it until it becomes personal when it happens to them or someone they know. That’s why I hope this book will have an impact—reading about a parent’s angst after bullies come for their son over nail polish is something that really can change minds.

That’s why I’m writing to all the parents who still tell their young sons to “rub some dirt on it” and who scold them for crying. Or who excuse clearly problematic behaviors with the response, “boys will be boys.” This book is one small attempt to reach the people still willing to listen to reason. It’s not meant to preach or shame, and it’s certainly not an orchestrated attack on masculinity itself. There’s a mistaken belief that those who criti­cize toxic masculinity are criticizing everything masculine—this couldn’t be further from the truth. Caring for and protecting one’s family; hard work; strength—these are some positives in men that are worthy of celebration. However, we need to reframe the discussion about what makes a “real man.” Because I guaran­tee you that real men cry, real men will know to seek help when they need it, and real men do stay home with their kids.

It’s not only possible to raise boys who aren’t emotionally sti­fled and shoved into boxes; it’s vital if we want a generation of men who can express their emotions in a healthy way, respect women, and help nurse society back to a halfway healthy place. That’s why we need to illustrate the problems and talk about the small ways in which we can work toward solutions.

I guarantee that if a stubborn idiot like me can recognize he was once part of the problem and admit he was wrong, and then took the steps to become better, anyone can. And I also guaran­tee that if we don’t change the way we treat and raise our boys, things are only going to get worse. Our boys are too important for us to fail, and when boys go bad, we all lose.
 

"In his new book, [Raising Boys to Be Good Men] Gouveia offers parents a handbook to guide parents along the rocky journey to bringing up boys, better."
 —CNN.com 

"He’s an engaging guide whose writing is informed by honest mistakes, solid research, and social media flare-ups . . . Gouveia approaches his subject with honesty and concern for the dad as much as the son."
Washington Post

"If you are the parent of a boy—especially a dad—this is the book you have been waiting for, the book you need. Gouveia, who has three sons, has thought deeply and sometimes uncomfortably about his own masculine identity and how it informs his fatherhood. His insightful, enlightened, practical guidance will help you raise not only ‘good' but in fact the very best of men!
 —Peggy Orenstein, New York Times bestselling author of Boys & Sex

"Whether we admit it or not, every guy struggles with the question of what it means to be a man. With good humor and practical advice, Aaron Gouveia tackles the question head-on in this unflinching but tender account of his own journey through the minefield of masculinity to become a better husband, dad, and human. The perfect read for any father or father-to-be." —Michael Ian Black, New York Times bestselling author, actor, and comedian

“This book is gold! Not only is this a great parenting book, but it’s a great book about life in general. Raising Boys to be Good Men is a fun, hard-hitting, enjoyable read that will make people rethink how they’re raising their tiny humans in today’s world.” —Doyin Richards, bestselling author of What’s the Difference and Daddy Doin’ Work

"How refreshing to see a man, and dad of three sons, take on the 'restrictive bullshit that's been choking boys forever' and teaching them a different way." —Upworthy

"Aaron has been an important voice in the online parenting community for years, and he delivers this important message with his characteristic bluntness, passion, and erudition. He'll call out anyone's behavior—including his own—to make sure his three sons inhabit a world with a healthier appreciation for what men can and should be. And we'll all be better for it." —Doug French, co-founder of Dad 2.0