Our son, who just turned 11, is a wonderful guy with a beautiful soul and a great, deep intelligence. He is smart, kind and empathetic; funny, a gifted draughtsman, musically talented and a good actor too. He's lanky and has broad shoulders and long legs and is tall for his age (always has been). He's handsome, too (if I do say so myself), with smooth fair skin, hazel eyes that look right into you, full lips, and straight hair that is one of those colors you can't quite figure out, like a mix between strawberry blonde and light brown, or between gold and mouse, and when he's in the sun, it glows like yellow fire with deep red and gentle brown underneath. Women have come up to him since he was a toddler, reaching out to finger his hair and to say how gorgeous it is. This has embarrassed him, until recently.
I say until recently, because he's probably starting to get interested in girls, and so he understands the attention he gets in a changed way, lately. He doesn't object when the women do it-- now, instead of recoiling or making a face, he rolls his eyes and says "that's what people ALWAYS say to me." He's taking it in stride. It's what women do. Girls like his hair. And I'm starting to think that our son is starting to like girls. Though we have very good conversations about a lot of things, and though he shares with us as he tries to figure out the world, he would never admit the girl thing in a straightforward way.
Liking girls-- standard for growing up into a "guy" or a "man," right? Unless one is gay, or transgender, which we don't know yet, he doesn't know yet, it could take him years to figure out, etc. etc. Most of the other boys in his cohort now come out and admit that they like some girls, and they have started to talk about girls all the time at recess and lunch (making "boob" jokes, etc.; at least, that's what our son reports). So this is par for the course and normal---- but what I want to know is, how do I teach him the wisdom he needs to know, to be not only a "guy" or a "man" in this process of getting interested in girls, but also, a mensch?
My father (who died in March 2010, of complications from a fall-- he was taken from us so quickly) had so many positive qualities as a man/guy. He was a great role model in many ways for my brother and for my son. He was polite, generous of spirit, didn't say unkind things about people, liked to give people the benefit of the doubt, tried to make other people feel comfortable and put them at ease. Physically, he was a clean, very tidy person, always with his shirt tucked in, a belt, cuffs buttoned, etc. Dressed right for whatever occasion; acted appropriately for the places he was in. He loved his children, was a family man who would rather hang out with the kids or grandkids than go someplace else.
How did he learn these things? My father's father died when he was 9, after a long illness. My father's father was definitely not your typical "guy" guy. We're talking a socialist labor organizer in Brooklyn in the 1920s and 30s. A guy who was out of the house trying to organize workers in shoe factories, rather than spending time with his kids. He left behind a wife who had to take in sewing and work round the clock to try to put food on the table for her kids. So she couldn't be there for her kids in terms of teaching them stuff about life or showing them (my father and his sister) how to do the "guy" thing and the "girl" thing in life.
My father drew a lot of inspiration from his uncle, his mother's sister's husband, who was an elevator operator in one of the office buildings in Manhattan in the 30s and 40s. Uncle L** was a loving, hardworking, attentive and gentle man who was full of lively humor and who must have been a great role model for my father when he was my son's age, around 11, 12, just entering puberty.... But I have no way of knowing, as I can't ask my father anymore.
My father also had a bunch of guy friends, guys he grew up with in the neighborhood. The gang he'd play streetball with, and baseball on city abandoned lots; the fellows with whom he went to grade school. These guys all came from the same kind of poor immigrant families. They all stayed in touch as they grew up and as they learned to make their ways in life. (Until a a couple of years ago, this gang of guys would still get together every single year, usually in Florida, to spend a weekend together keeping their bond alive and following their lives' development.) One dropped out of high school and went into the merchant marine; he went to college on a military grant after WWII and got a degree, and went into ground-level scutwork on Wall Street, ending up, after working his way up, as a billionaire by the 1980s. One became President of a nationwide chain of grocery stores. A couple became lawyers. They all married and had kids and grandkids and (some of them) great grandkids that they lived to see before they died. These guys would also have been great role models for my father; huge touchstones for him as he tried to figure out how you become not only a "man," but a good person who does the right thing as a "man."
Our son has two moms. He doesn't have a dad. He knows that I got pregnant through anonymous insemination, and we have told him as much as we know about his anonymous donor (which is actually quite a bit). He calls the donor his "biological donor" and he likes to think that the donor is somewhat related to him as a father, which is fine with me, though we've had long conversations about the subtleties at play here, as obviously the donor is not a "father" in the sense of being involved with our son's upbringing, caring for him, helping him, etc. etc. But nonetheless, it makes him feel good to know that he has a donor, a man who gave part of himself so that someone might try to make a family; and to know something about this male element that is 50% of him.
Here's my issue: A part of me feels as though, because there's not a "man" in our son's life, and because my brother doesn't live near us (we see him only a couple of times a year, even though he and our son love each other), and my father is dead, that there must be some sort of "guy" knowledge that we're supposed to be imparting to him at this sensitive time of growing up--- but we just don't know what that might be.
What should I be telling my son, encouraging my son, to do, or to think about, or to remember, or to strive for, as he grows into this new stage of his life, where he doesn't think girls have cooties anymore, and he is starting to like them, and he is growing hair under his arms and on his pubis (I know this because he told me-- it freaks him out) and on his back? What might we tell him to help him keep his cool, keep a clear head, keep his eyes on the prize of becoming a good man, a great "guy," as he enters the confusing years of pimples and girls and kids calling each other uncool or nerd or loser or fag?