Messages To Sons

Let's prepare our sons for the future.

Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up
and the world is in their hands
when you teach the children
 teach ‘em the very best you can.

                                               - "Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes

We are still learning how to navigate in a global society that few could have imagined a mere generation ago. World economies, politics, competition for natural and energy resources, and seismic demographic shifts mean future generations must learn how to live and work with differences and redefined norms. This entails developing competencies to effectively work across human diversity dimensions such as race, gender, ethnicity, culture, faith, or someone’s openly identified sexual orientation or gender identity.   
Nowhere are these redefining norms more evident than with respect to women. Specific trends associated with women include 50% of the U.S. labor workforce and 40% of primary family incomes are now female. Beginning in 2008, women outnumbered men on college campuses by over 2 million. By 2018, 61% of all college degrees are expected to be awarded to females. Finally, beginning around 2015, an estimated 75% of entrants into the U.S. workforce will be women and people of color.
These irreversible changes will have lasting impact on our children’s children, and beyond. As such, what are the messages we need to share and teach our sons and daughters to prepare them for this type of world?
And that is exactly the question I asked a wide spectrum of family, friends and associates to respond to. Their perspectives cross race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and age. Responses came from couples and single parents with children, (both opposite and same sex) as well as those without children. 
This month I share their unedited “messages to sons.” In November, I will share “messages to daughters,” and conclude with “messages to sons and daughters” in December.  I hope you will find the following messages as powerful, touching, challenging, and insightful as I did.    

  • Remember that equality is not zero-sum, no matter what spin you hear. You do not suffer, or benefit less, or have less opportunity when women make progress. When we create environments in which we all can thrive, we’re all better at what we do.
  • Never deny privilege—whether it’s gender, race, sexual orientation, class or physical ability.
  • The lion is not the King of the jungle. Rather, the lioness—sleeker, swifter, and more agile than the male—is the hunter and protector of the pride. Working in teams, lionesses form a sophisticated social organization and are one of the most efficient—and lethal—coordinated killing forces on earth. Don’t buy into the false male scripting that makes the lion the King and perpetrates many other untrue myths. Instead, learn the truth, fearlessly, about yourself and others.
  • The next time you’re tempted to ignore the sexist remark, joke, or comment that another man says, just think: What would I want someone to do if that comment or remark was made about my mother, sister or wife?  Wouldn’t I want someone to put it in check and then behave accordingly?
  • Expand the best of what it means to be team mates outside the traditional realm of sports. Decide to win and lose, support, encourage and give tough love to women and men who are “different.”
  • Character ALWAYS counts. Integrity and authenticity are crucial to being an inclusive advocate.
  • Know what you don’t know. Men are oblivious of what is going on inside other people. Make a concerted effort to concentrate on women’s sensitivities by asking questions and then LISTENING.
  • The simple act of listening is all a woman wants from you when she is upset—it is not your job to solve her problems.
  • I would tell white sons to understand that soon they will be the minority. Sons need to ponder the notion of white as a race and a gender.
  • Set the example. Be respectful. Make this a part of many conversations. Talk consistently about respect.
  • Always put God first in every situation, even if you must do so silently. 
  • Humor can be a powerful form of communication, but it comes with great risk.  If used, ensure it is self-deprecating humor.
  • Listen actively and think before you comment. If your comment is not an improvement on silence, don’t speak. 
  • When having sex, no means NO!
  • You have as much right to put your hands on a woman as you do a piece of artwork in a museum. She does not belong to you, and she never will. If you want to gain her respect, you must first learn about what’s in her heart, mind, and soul.
  • Don’t ever accept when people tell you can’t do it or you’re not good enough.
  • You own and take responsibility for your semen. In other words, you take a life long accountability and responsibility for any child you father.
  • Sex and gambling are two different sports. Wear a condom.
  • It is okay for your wife to be the bread winner. Every bread winner, male or female, needs a supportive partner.
  • Just like a woman, a man has two hands.  They can be used to change diapers, wash dishes, and clean the bathroom.
  • Racial profiling… the police are not your friends. They may shoot you down because God made you black. If ever stopped by the police, put your hands where they can see them. Don’t make any sudden moves. Do not argue with them.
  • Vote—people have died so you can have this opportunity. Never allow anyone to take voting rights away from anyone.
  • Don’t accept anything in your life (people, places or circumstances) that brings you misery. Choose change. 
  • It ain’t all about you. Give back, share and advocate on behalf of others, expecting nothing in return.
  • Do not denigrate or be abusive to a woman during sex. Be caring. 
  • My mother used to say “if you make your bed hard you have to lie in it.” There are too many options/opportunities worldwide for that to make ANY sense today.
  • If you have a daughter, tell her everyday that she is special and can do anything.    It is the father that affects life-long confidence in girls.
  • Feel what you feel and express your emotions authentically. You don’t have to “suck it up and be a man” when it’s not in your best interest.
  • The social spaces, familial, community and government that have provided contexts that enabled roles for men have been changed forever. Along every dimension of these factors that once (inappropriately) defined what it meant to be a man, the definitions have evolved, power has to be shared, and identity claims have been significantly changed. Women’s rights mean men are able to share the burden of decision-making and governance and the associated joys and pains of the same. With the LGBT community, the sexual dimension’s of what it means to be a man, and the claims that once were held exclusively, are no longer valid or accurate. 
  • You are always going to have to work much harder than your white colleagues.   You are always going to have to be better. You are always going to have to prove yourself because of your skin color.
  • Love thyself; believe in thyself. You can be a man of value, regardless of environment, family background or education. If the good example has to start with you, then so be it! 
  • Have strength, character and backbone. Honor and stand up for your beliefs.  You must take responsibility for your own actions… good, bad or indifferent.
  • Being a man means sharing your hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities with your life partner.
  • It takes “STRENGTH” to be a man. That strength today isn’t necessarily the physical strength required in the past for him (and his family and community) to survive. In 2012, physical strength is not a necessity, although the appearance of physical strength (i.e., a sculpted, muscular physique) is still rewarded. What is required is strength of character. It actually takes some emotional strength for a 21st - century male to allow himself to be vulnerable, and intellectual strength requires a certain amount of flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Taking a position and insisting on its rightness in spite of all the evidence to the contrary is not intellectually strong, but intellectually weak, and will eventually lead to a life outside of integrity.
  • Listening is undervalued and should be elevated to the highest of social skills. Don’t interrupt the speaker, male or female, ever.
  • Value your feminine and masculine sides.  Emotions and feelings are okay.   Decisions made by intuition are just as valid as those made by reason.
  • The numbers build fear—more women here, less men there.  Where are the qualitative measures? “I want to go to school with smart people.” “I want to learn to build good relationships.” These values are universal, not gender-based.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Acknowledge the impact of your behavior regardless of your intention. Apologize when you give offense. Assure the person the behavior won’t be repeated. Accept whatever consequences come as a result of your behavior. 
  • If you are gay, we will always love you and be there for you. It doesn’t matter.
  • If you fall in love with someone who has a different skin color than white, is of a different faith, belief, or sexual orientation—that is fine. Love transcends all societal barriers. 
  • Don’t always think you must have “the answer” all of the time.  Listen; reflect upon a wide range of perspectives.  It’s not weak to say “I don’t know.”
  • Acting like a gentleman, to men and women, brings respect. 

Here are two questions for MARC readers to consider: What are your reactions to the messages shared? What are your “messages to sons?”


Posted by Frank McCloskey on Oct 22, 2012 12:09 PM America/New_York

Blog Post Comments

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These are really inspiring! I'd like to add - Admitting your wrong can often garner more respect than being right.
  • Posted Wed 24 Oct 2012 12:35 PM EDT
Elizabeth, what a wonderful addition to the list. I hope we get many more in addition to your contribution. Quick question. Were there any messages that inspired or challenged you more than others?
  • Posted Wed 24 Oct 2012 02:56 PM EDT
Frank, these are words of wisdom for all to read and to be taught as a foundation of respect.
  • Posted Thu 25 Oct 2012 11:25 AM EDT

Mitchell, thank you for your comment and perspective. I agree wholeheartedly with you. Even though many of these messages were taught to me by family, school, friends, church, sports, and work, I had to experience something before I could internalize many of the specific message/lesson being taught. And unfortunately, many of the most meaningful lessons learned and deeply internalized was as a result of pain and hurt I inflicted on someone else or myself. Also, I am constantly trying to unlearn many of the messages and societal scripting I am unconsciously being bombarded with daily. It struck me that so many of the messages listed were counter to what I was unknowingly being raised to do...and still remain challenged by.
  • Posted Thu 25 Oct 2012 02:08 PM EDT
Awesome article Frank. Definietly some new words of wisdom to live by here. I am going to hang this in my office so our leadership team can see it. Thanks!
  • Posted Tue 26 Nov 2013 03:50 AM EST
Dafina, it is wonderful to hear from you. Thank you for your continued support and reading the article. Have an enjoyable Thanksgiving and hopefully will see you soon.
  • Posted Tue 26 Nov 2013 05:35 AM EST


Do you know a man who has taken more than 10 days of paternity leave?

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