Husband & Wife Articles


Molding Men from Boys

How I seek to teach my teen son by word and example

By Tom Wehner

In the film “Secondhand Lions,” one of my favorite parts is when Robert Duvall’s character gives his great-nephew a small piece of “The Talk” on what it means to be a man. “People are basically good,” he says. “Honor, courage and virtue mean everything, and power and money … money and power mean nothing. Good always triumphs over evil and, I want you to remember this: Love … true love never dies.”

Tom and Lynn Wehner with their daughters Allie, Leah, Julia and son Zachary.

Tom and Lynn Wehner with their daughters Allison, Leah and Julia and son Zachary.

This never fails to move me, as I struggle and strive to live for the things that truly matter. It’s the same emotional reaction I have when viewing the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Harry Bailey toasts his brother: “To my big brother George — the richest man in town.” These glimpses of truth remind me of the talks I’ve had with my son (now a sophomore in college) on what it means to be a man.

While I’ve tried to lead him toward responsible manhood for his entire life, the bar was raised abruptly early in his first year of public middle school. Some of the things he was witnessing in the hallways unsettled him, as did the way his schoolmates would talk about girls. We had always taught our kids the value of virtue. And it was being tested in my son. I prayed to St. Joseph for guidance.

“There are too many boys and not enough men,” I told my son. “It’s time to put that stuff aside and hit the road to becoming a man. The woman in the picture your friends talked about is someone’s daughter or maybe even a sister. Would you like it if your friends said those things about your sisters?

“Your friends are turning girls in your school into body parts. They were created by God and deserve your respect. … If you get married one day, what would you say if your friends looked at your fiancée or wife like that or said those things about her?”

His nonverbal reaction to my questions didn’t need a translator. He got the message, and it was sinking in. So I set out to teach him as much as he could understand about what the Church teaches about every person’s dignity in the eyes of God, and about his call to look at them the same way. I talked to him about custody of the eyes and praying for virtue. I shared 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish things.”

“If your friends continue to talk that way, tell them to cut it out. Be a man, and tell them that those girls deserve better. And that they, too, are called to better things. And if they just won’t stop, then walk away,” I told him. “It may cost you a friendship or two, but that’s how you are transformed from a boy into a man, equipped with virtue and maturity and grace — and plugged into the Rosary instead of an iPod.”

We would regularly discuss his challenges throughout middle school and high school, and as the years continued, his successes slowly outpaced his failures. While he did lose some friends along the way, he also gained a few. And he has carried that foundation to a Catholic college where men are expected to open a door for a woman, virtue is celebrated, human dignity is honored, and true brotherhood and accountability inspire him.

My wife and I have always tried to surround our children with goodness, and that means keeping company with positive role models and peer models. We have been richly blessed by God with both. And I am blessed to have had a father who was a very good role model for me, leading by example more than words. I also cherish my relationship with the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, exemplars of parenthood.

My son will continue to face challenges throughout his earthly journey, and I hope and pray that his foundation will help him to stand strong. One thing I know for sure: My job as his dad in this area is not over yet. Though our verbal communication on this topic may lessen over the years, it will not disappear. And God will always be calling me to be a role model for him on what it is to be a real man in a world of boy-men. May God our Father lead me — and all fathers — to answer this call with courage, resolve and love.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Tom Wehner is managing editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper, published by EWTN.