Posted by: mamaamy | March 24, 2010

Boys will be Men

A while back, Mitch’s sister wrote to us about a terrible bicycle accident that a young boy in their neighborhood experienced. He is in the hospital with his intestines hurt badly. Mitch wrote this to her and I felt that it might speak to some of you who will raise sons, who are raising sons or have raised them. It gives some insight on our philosophy about the bike racing and its purpose in the life of our family. You may not all agree, but I put it out there for comment and discussion 🙂 Amy

Mitch wrote:

I am so sorry to learn of Jack’s injury. These things some times happen regardless of the sport/activity. Skateboarders, football players, soccer players, BMXers all take risks as you know. But does that risk compare with the risk of NOT allowing boys to participate in these activities?

Having grown up with my masculinity questioned regularly because of my size, I fear more how my boys might be hurt if I DON’T offer them the opportunity to prove themselves, test themselves. In my view, arms, and legs and intestines will heal, but a boy’s wounded self image may not. This is not easy to do. I wait with ALOT of anxiety as Matthan and Samuel race their bikes. What Matthan does is VERY dangerous, and there are times when I question whether or not we should be doing this, but so far I believe that this is what God is showing me to do for Matthan, for his development as a man. He thrives on the danger and the opportunity to test himself. The test is not so much about bike riding skills but about self-control and maturity. The downhill racing, that he does, lasts between 3 and 12 minutes and is usually won by fractions of a second. You can’t win if you’re lying on the ground…even for a second. So the challenge, the test is to go as fast as you can WITHOUT pushing beyond your limits. You have to stay with in yourself, no taking chances. You have to keep your head and not be controlled by your emotions. Those emotions will cause you to take chances that will cost you the race or worse. This requires maturity and self-control. He LOVES this challenge.

There are many lessons that we both have learned from this past season of racing. At the last race in Keystone, CO, he entered two events; downhill and dual-slalom. He had never raced dual-slalom before. It’s like a BMX course built on the ski run, where two racers race against each other side-by-side: the looser goes home, while the winner goes to the next round. They keep racing and eliminating racers down to the final two racers. Matthan was winning all his elimination rounds. Between rounds we talked about ignoring the racer in the lane next to him and just riding his own race…as fast as HE could go. Letting the other racer “push” you would cause you to make a mistake or go faster than you have the skills to go. To make a long story short…he got to the semi-finals and was winning the race when…out of the corner of his eye he saw the other guy closing on him. Matthan sprinted for the final jump as fast as he could…faster than he had ever sprinted for any jump. When he hit the jump he flew SOOO high. The back wheel came up over his head (Amy and I watched in slow motion, another kid had just been hauled off to the ER, we were terrified.) He landed on the front wheel. The wheel folded under the force and then broke in half. The bike stopped rolling and Matthan kept going…straight into the ground (I thought maybe he was broken…badly) Then he jumped up and ran across the finish line. I was afraid, then I was furious. He did EXACTLY what we had talked about not doing. He nearly hurt himself badly by listening to his emotions instead of keeping his head. He would have won without taking that chance. He was bleeding from his knees and elbows, hip, shoulder (even though he wore protective gear.) I handled it wrong, I didn’t yell or anything, but he knew that I was upset…instead of being proud that he didn’t lay there crying, that he jumped up and finished the race. THAT’S what he thought I should have focused on, not what COULD have happened. In his mind…he passed the test! He didn’t give up when it got really hard…he proved that he “has what it takes.”

If I could talk with Jack I would try to help him interpret this event. I would want him to know that it’s not his fault, that he’s not weak or stupid or foolish, that it was a “freak” thing, this doesn’t always happen when boys fall and it will probably never happen to him again–even if he chooses to jump bikes again. I would try to find a story or movie to share with him about a hero that is injured and then recovers to come back victorious. In short, I am more concerned for Jack’s self image than his physical wellness (not that I take his injuries lightly, just that I am increasingly aware of the “wounds” that boys receive to their self image.)

By the way, Matthan got fourth overall in that race and then went on to win the downhill in spite of his injuries. Later, we talked about it all and I was able to share with him how scared I was and how that affected me and how proud I was with the way he handled the whole experience.

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Responses

  1. Since Mitch mentioned possibly sharing a movie with Jack, one of the best that comes to my mind in this context is “Cinderella Man.” Yes, it’s highly sentimental, but it’s a great story of a man pushing past pride, injury, and even risk of death for the right reasons as he learns positive lessons from his trials. I teach high school English and tie it in to The Grapes of Wrath, but my ulterior motive is to give the young men in my classes (who often have no positive male role model, or a bad one) the chance to see masculinity in a positive and meaningful light so they can have something concrete to strive for.

    • That is a great one, thanks Brett!

  2. I think an important piece of what Mitch is saying is that the activities that we choose for our children have a purpose – and that purpose is not perfecting our 360 Tail Whip or perfecting our curveball or even learning about a particular sport or activity for our general education. The purpose is to train the soul. Every moment on a soccer field, on a bike track, or at piano lessons or debate team… these are moments that exercise and test our children’s character, and give them opportunities to learn about self-control, suffering, endurance, discipline, etc. And these all have a purpose in the Kingdom, if we use those lessons to train their souls. This reality begs important questions of us as parents, because it ultimately reorients our entire world around finding teachable moments in every day life to illustrate important life lessons. Losing a soccer game is important to my son’s growth; bailing out on a big downhill run is important to my daughter’s development; my job is to help them process those experiences in a constructive way…

    • Yes! Excellent. Mitch has been working on an article about Fathers giving good gifts to their children and it addresses that very thing. Maybe he’ll get it finished to add to the discussion 😉


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