What does it mean to be a ‘gentle man?’
As a father, I am both fortunate and incredibly proud of the relationship I have with my son (but in fairness, and in case she reads this, the same is true for my daughter). I look at how my son is in relationships, how responsible he is, how good his values are, and I’m very proud of him.
Imagine waking up in the morning and looking in the mirror and saying to yourself, “You are a good man.”
There are plenty of good books around with recommendations on how to bring up boys so that they become good men. Today, however, we are fed by a media that too often appears focussed on domestic violence, crime and the challenges associated with flawed masculinity in a rapidly changing society. In this climate, we are reminded of the reasons that, as a Catholic, Carmelite community, we must continue to focus our efforts on nurturing the growth and development of our boys into gentle men.
The Whitefriars Mission and Values Statement includes the aspirational statement that, as a College community, we seek to form ‘gentle men’ of compassion, service and tolerance grounded in Catholic faith and Carmelite tradition.
‘Gentleman’ is an old-fashioned word, however, when it is broken down to ‘gentle-man’ we are reminded of its value. It takes a long time to become a gentle man. You grow into a gentle man as a result of a range of pivotal, authentic, life experiences. A gentle man is a combination of the experiences a young man has had and all the good people he has known; father, mother, siblings, grandparents, teachers, coaches and mates.
We know a gentle man when we meet him because his existence reflects his essence, illustrated by:
- Politeness, respect and an understanding of the difference between respect and fear
- Respect for women, the elderly and all members of our complex society
- Confidence and comfort in one’s own skin
- The ability to embrace and appreciate both the sensitive and masculine side
- The ability to communicate with others in a respectful, dignified manner
There is a risk as adult role models that if we try too hard to actively ‘teach’ boys to be gentle men, we can mistakenly do so with unfair expectations of understandings and behaviours. This in turn can impact their natural learning, something that more effectively comes from creating the right environment and influences.
With the Carmelite foundations of reflection, community and service providing a strong framework and a balanced approach, our boys are able to explore their values and establish the capability of making responsible decisions. They are able to explore their own definitions of self, who they are and who they want to become; they learn to develop healthy, positive and respectful relationships.
In many respects, our boys are already way ahead of us. In a sense, it’s time for dads to follow their sons as much as lead them. Younger men are far more gender-equal than previous generations. They’ll do more housework and child care than any previous generation of men. They’ll have more cross-sex friendships than any generation ever and they’ll be playing by completely new rules in the workplace.
While our Carmelite community will always seek to form gentle men of compassion, service and tolerance, we also have a lot to learn from our boys. When we reflect on the manner in which they have become the drivers for support of ‘White Ribbon’, ‘Day for Girls’ and anti-bullying campaigns, in many ways, we just need to get out of the way, and let them lead us home.
Almae InFide Parentis