Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ten Skills I'd Like My Grown Sons To Have

Here's a list of ten skills I'd like my boys to have by the time they're men. I'll be the first to admit that I went a tiny bit meta with this list, eschewing such excellent skills as ironing a shirt, basic car maintenance, and shooting a gun in favor of a few less handy ones. Still, I think they can all be defined as skills, even if they're not as awesome as quarterstaff skills. The preceding are all excellent, but perhaps suffer from a bit of obviousness. The following are all abilities I think it muy importante for a man to have, but none, I think, are viewed as standard or de rigeur man skills. Make note that most of these would be good skills for a woman to have too; they are approached from the perspective of masculine virtues.

I also want to make clear that there are many skills, such as homebrewing, pipe smoking, and knowing proper whiskey, which are traditionally the demesne of menfolk and which would be neat to share with my sons, but would disappoint me not at all if they showed no interest. Such skills were not candidates for the list.

Anyhoo, onward to the list, laid out only in the loosest order.

10. Tying a bow tie.

This is an appropriately modest beginning to the list, just as the bow tie is an appropriately modest choice of wear for any man. How is it "modest" if it has the flamboyant shape of a butterfly, and is usually painted in shimmering lepidopteral colors?

This is a man willing to be made
a fool of. That's a good thing.
Because, also like the butterfly, it is not aggressive. Especially not when compared to its ruder cousin, the drab "necktie".

It is an excellent masculine tie because it is gentle and chivalric.

The tying of it is also nicely masculine. It is simple, and it is hard. How like a man.

The knot is the same knot used to tie shoelaces, but the deftness to tie it and the patience to learn it make the knot an achievement a good man might be worthy of.

9. Having a command voice.

Depending on how one defines skill, something like "leadership" might be a skill. I mean, it is that in role playing games and middle management job interviews. And maybe it is a skill; one can, after all, learn to be a leader. On the other hand, there has to be some fortitude to support that learning.

Having a command voice is definitely a skill, however. A strong heart, the first necessary ingredient, is not trained through muscular repetition (usually), but a strong diaphragm is. The command voice is not yelled, but it is modulated. It suggests that its user is possessed of deep wells of strength and passion that he is keeping under control for the sake of those listening, but that if they don't get their asses in gear, he will have to let loose. All that power is being controlled, is being modulated, and what you hear is its gentlest manifestation. You probably ought to do what it says before things get ugly.

Command voice is learned through repetition and exposure, so you know, make sure your young lad plays sports and learns how to go about...

8. Making a speech.

Making a speech is difficult. I'm not particularly good at it, but I'm better than most.  Which is mostly to say that public rhetoric today is in a sad, shabby state of affairs.

Giving speeches teaches one much. I've given a few, both promptu and im, that were thudding duds. But I've also given a few, both promptu and im, that were well received indeed. I won't pretend it's not a wonderful feeling. A good speech blesses him that gives and him that receives. People, it's worth having and it's worth working for.

I'll be training my boys to be comfortable speaking in front of people, good at organizing their thoughts, effective in communicating them, and in having the magical presence that dominates a room.

7. Woodworking.

Yeah, I know, weird, right? After having a command voice and making a speech. I am trying not to make this a post on the art of rhetoric.
Carving a pipe.

My sister did a similar post to this one, in which she listed whittling as her number-one-super-ooper-dooper man skill she wants her boys to have. Well, I don't know about whittling, but I'll allow that she might have been on to a little something there.

So not whittling, but woodworking. Not straight carpentry, but the ability to make beautiful objects out of wood. Taking good wood, to our lifespan's eyes as eternal as stone but more alive, and making of it a beautiful thing, is something that excites me and brings me peace at the same time.

I've always wanted to take briar in hand to make a pipe, but never have, for this reason or that. Maybe reasons like not having a willingness to give it a go or willingness to be shamed or any perseverance, or a myriad of other manly skills. So perhaps I will leave it to my sons. And they could make pipes, and rocking chairs, and sconces, and baptismal fonts, and benches.

6. Willingness to give it a go.

This is the one that is the least like a skill. You know what, I'll admit it, it's not a skill at all. It's a personality trait. But those are trained too. And once I put willingness to give it a go on the list, I couldn't take it off.

I'm not even going to talk about it a lot. I just want my sons to be willing to try. And I'm not talking about the grand decisions of life, or the nebulous dreamy dreams that your girlfriend makes Pinterest memes of. I want my sons to be the first ones to try that new thing, to step into that gap, to run that new method, to make that move, to have that conversation. Being willing to give it a go is a day-to-day skill.

5. Gardening.

The life of the hobbit is a good life, although I don't know if I'm mature enough to enjoy it.

Pipe smoking, the enjoyment of wine and ale, a bountiful table: these I have mastered. But as for the love of good tilled earth, I have it not. My wife does, and she's passing it on to my children, thank God. Two of my sons have their own garden plots right now, and I hope they only mature in the things I'm seeing in them as they work their patches: patience, tenderness, handling disappointment, stoicism, roughness, joy.

That's a tough combination to beat. I hope you won't think less of me for not loving to garden myself, even after seeing its virtues. I know there's something lacking in me. It'd be nice if the boys had that thing.

4. Arguing cogently and civilly.

Argument and debate are important. Choosing to not argue is often an unloving and hateful thing to do; in that I stand with Penn Jillette. Woe that we live in these days of complicit silence and nambie-pambiness. I don't want my boys to be a part of that.

So I will train them to argue logically, clearly, politely, and respectfully. And those last two not because of the age we live in, but despite it. Christians are usually called to be polite and respectful, that's nothing new. But my boys will have to be taught very clearly what those things mean, since they'll be told that simply disagreeing with someone is disrespectful, and having the gall to talk about it downright hateful.

Ah, sweet rhetoric.

3. Cooking on a stove.

Your fathers taught you that smoking meat was the manliest cookery, and they died in the desert. Yet others said that grilling was the manliest, and they were closer to the truth. But I tell you that greater still is he who
has easy dominion over the kitchen.
Can you make a decent soup?

I would be downright ashamed if my sons were consigned to the ghetto of outdoors meat cookery. How dare I call it a ghetto, I who love to grill up some steaks for the family? Well, boys, it's a ghetto if you're not allowed to leave. And no matter how domineering your lovely wife might be, she'll let you into the kitchen if you have skills. Men ought to have those skills.

Men like to smoke and grill for many good and manly reasons, not least of them FIRE and METAL. But mostly men like to smoke and grill because it plays into our manly wheelhouse: cooking a good piece of meat requires single-minded concentration on getting one thing perfectly right.

Men should step up their game. Move into multi-tasking, which women claim as their own. I'd like my sons to be able to prepare entire meals, not just the meat.

2. Writing a sonnet.

Or any verse, really. I am far from the man who claims that real poetry must rhyme. I do, however, believe that versification (at least in certain meters!) takes virility to do. The strength and rhythm of the verse comes from the strength and rhythm of the words, which is present in the strength and the rhythm of the language, which is in the strength and order of the ideas.

Writing verse is not for slouches. Even if you write bad verse, better to be a man who writes bad verse than one who writes no verse at all.

Give it a shot. I certainly will make my sons do so. Perhaps I'll read them this: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly."

1. Giving a compliment.

Really?! That's your number one?!


No one knows how to do this anymore. My son, you simply make eye contact, find something you find admirable, and let loose. It's gentlemanly, it's kind, it makes the other happy and makes you a better person. Because you'll never compliment without meaning it, and you'll compliment all the time, you'll have to find lovely things in people all the time.

Since you, my son, are the sort of man who can cook, write poetry, make rocking chairs, and evangelize the nations, you are a man whose opinion is sought. Let that opinion be a blessing. Let all the world be your garden, and you a light sunshower.


There you have it. Ten things I'd really like to see my sons be capable of doing. I'm sure I could think of many more. I'm sure I will think of many more. But these are enough to be going on with.

God bless my babies.




  1. Based on your #1, you might appreciate the book Practicing Affirmation, by Sam Crabtree. His thesis is that if you are not praising what is godly in other people, then you are not fully praising God. It gives giving compliments more backbone and purpose.

  2. You inspired me: