The Boy Code: be independent, hide your feelings, be tough. Feel free to show your anger, but not your pain. Stereotypical, limiting, inhibiting; nonetheless, these are the unspoken messages our boys receive, the ones they struggle to interpret. What a mixed bag in this day of Sensitive New Age Guys. Expressed in the most simplistic terms, they hear that it's OK to cry over the loss of a pet; but don't cry, be a big boy on the first day of school. We want our boys to be good friends to their male companions, but flinch at expressions of love --- a hug, a shared tear.
While Pollack illustrates the squelching of creativity and compassion with enough examples to make us weep, his hopeful message is clear throughout the book. We --- parents, teachers, friends, society --- can rethink this code. We can learn to read boys, we can respond differently. In what is one of the most powerful truths of REAL BOYS, Pollack states: "Many parents today feel terribly ill at ease and struggle with the myths of boyhood, knowing in their hearts that they do not truly reflect the true nature of their own boys." Parents, with their celebrated instinct, need to respect their own inner twinges in order to help their sons break free of the stifling myths of masculinity.
A particularly revealing chapter of the book, How Boys Relate, describes the many ways boys reach out for others and express their love for others. Their expressions of love are demonstrative: loyalty to friends, a need for action to right a wrong, a desire to help. Pollack asks us to see the similarities between --- and motivations for --- a son's invitation to watch a movie and a daughter's hug. An apology from a daughter might come in the form of speech or a note slipped under the bedroom door; a son might clean his room, or perform some task he generally tries to avoid.
REAL BOYS is a thorough and practical work, addressing parenting roles, depression, violence, divorce, sexuality, schools, substance abuse, relationships, and sports. Pollack's insight is based on decades of research and immersion into the world of boys through his clinical experience and research. His string of accomplishments and positions, impressive as they are, do not add nearly as much weight to the book as do his obvious sensitivity, understanding, and compassion.
Reviewed by Annamarie Knapp on April 1, 1999
Real Boys : Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood