Friday, April 15, 2011

Manly Men

Miguel asked to shave the other night.

"But Miguel, you don't have any hair on your face," I said.

"So," he said. "I just want to shave."

So I went to the front desk of the hotel we are staying at in Boynton Beach, Florida, and asked them for two complimentary razors (I'd forgotten mine) and shaving cream. Miguel lathered up, though he was disappointed by the generic brand's lack of froth, and started to drag the razor across his cheeks and above his upper lip. When he finished, he rubbed his face and said, "That feels smooth."

He announced in the car last night that he wants a Gillette Fusion.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it has less tug and pull," he answered.

"Where'd you hear that?" I asked.

"On a TV commercial."

My stepmother chimed in that if he starts shaving now his facial hair will grow in that much faster and darker.

"Is that really true," I wondered, "or just some myth?"

I think I shaved for the first time when I was 14. I'd noticed darker strands of hair amid the virtually invisible peach fuzz, so I grabbed my father's razor, the one with the blade screwed into the middle, and gently removed evidence of my burgeoning adolescence and early manhood.

I was so afraid of my parents' reaction that I never told them. I guess the statute of limitations has long expired should they read this blog entry.

But I did wonder what was behind Miguel's desire to shave and, as he informed me tonight after he mowed away nothing but facial air, continue shaving. Does he identify shaving with becoming a man? Is he growing more aware of his body's changes? What does he actually think becoming a man means?

These questions do not reside solely in the blogosphere or in my mind. Miguel and I are dealing with them as he is perched to jump into young adulthood and is preparing for his bar mitzvah ceremony in August. In the Jewish tradition, one becomes a man when he turns 13. Of course, that Talmudic (Jewish legal) rule grew out of a time when the life span was much shorter.

But in our society, what does becoming a man mean? Miguel isn't old enough to drive a car, drink, or vote, but he has babysat and cooked hot food for his sister. And while he is biologically capable of fathering a child, he has only recently shown any interest in girls at all. So I think grandparenthood is a long way off for me. Whew!

I recently asked several friends--male and female--to share some of their wisdom about what it means to grow up, become a young adult, and accept responsibility. I eagerly await their responses.

I have tried to instill in Miguel the importance of making a difference in the world, always choosing to act right, and knowing when to walk away from trouble or danger. Sometimes I am gentle, other times I am heavy-handed.

While we stood outside a mall today, I saw two young people, around 18, smoking cigarettes. I said to Miguel, "If you ever smoke I will cause you bodily harm."

"Really?" he asked.


"Really?" he asked again, his eyes widening.

"No, but I will ground you for life and make your life miserable."

I also hope he learns about being a man from watching me and not just listening to my rants. I am a decent role model--now that I have abandoned my fanny pack--and sometimes the lessons he sees are the best ones for him to absorb.

But the world can be a crazy place and not everything is easy to control. Some of the music he tries to listen to, for example, contains messages I often abhor. Then again, some of the rock and roll and R&B I boogied to had some questionable lyrics as well.

And I am not even talking about the drinking and partying that so many kids in our county engage in on weekends. Or the stress levels among teens. The suicides and other dangerous behaviors and peer pressure. It is a veritable minefield out there at times for boys and girls. Bullying, drugs, alcohol, unprotected sex.

A man chooses wisely. But Miguel is still in so many ways a boy, whether or not he enjoys the pleasure of a Gillette Fusion gliding across his baby face.

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