It is quite possible that your boy isn’t divulging every little detail of his life to you (or anyone else).
Imagine a boy who spent much of his primary and high school years dwelling in the shadows. Evading his tormentors was a full-time job he never applied for:
Like a seasoned actor, he drifted in and out of character effortlessly, depending on his audience.
He appeared graceful and attentive whenever his teachers were present, fronting the ultimate duck face—cool as ice on the outside, boisterous and tempest on the inside.
The looming presence of the big, bad wolf, who sat directly behind him, cast a perpetual dark cloud over his head. When it rained, it indeed poured.
No one could say anything or point accusatory fingers because he ruled with an iron fist.
Every day, he continued to master the art of hide-and-seek at school—and at home.
It was difficult for anybody, even his parents, to understand him because he was good at concealing his sorrows.
Sharing his escapades with other boys was embarrassing enough, so telling his parents was not an option.
He knew exactly how it would play out.
His dad, a strong man with a thunderous voice, who seized every opportunity to tell stories of his youthful exuberance, would scold him for allowing other boys to use him as a punching bag.
His mom would demand the names of those responsible for the mysterious bruises on his back so that she could pay their mothers a visit.
At the end of the day, he’d have to explain—in an unscheduled and uncomfortable conversation with the big, bad wolf—why his dad came to school to make a scene in the principal’s office, putting his network of terror at risk.
There were no happy endings for him.
Whichever way it turned, he would get hurt, so he picked his poison and stuck with it. The plan was simple: suppress and endure until the last day of school.
He even created a fantasy world in his subconscious, where he constantly disappeared into for peace of mind.
There was always an air of anonymity that enveloped him, even when he hung out with his friends. He was always around, but no one ever saw him.
He discovered and connected to an unexplainable energy vortex (testosterone brewing in his testicles), which made him feel immune to pain and invisible to ridicule.
“It’s only a few more years, so whatever happens, just absorb and move on,” he’d say to himself.
The longer this went on, the stronger and obstinate he became—physical torture, and psychological abuse were highlights of his day.
Bruises for breakfast, mind games for lunch—dinner was a bore because anxiety and fear overwhelmed his soul.
There was limited access to this unholy broadcast. His abuse was indeed televised, but only his classmates had premium and exclusive access.
Many of them found humor in his pain—laughing at him was perhaps a clever way to mask their fright and deflect attention from their own big, bad wolf.
Others did their best to stay out of it, turning a blind eye to every punch and a deaf ear to every cry for help.
Only a few had the courage to meet him in a secret place when no one was watching, to ask, “Why do you let him bully you?”
He always replied with a weak smile.
He was a tiny little kid with skinny legs and frail arms. For a kid who looked so lean, he was dreadful at running, but not from his problems.
However, he made up for his lack of pace with quick thinking and an appreciation for tight spaces.
Football (soccer) was his love language. The playground was the perfect platform for self-expression.
The ball didn’t tease him for how he looked or spoke or walked, so he took it everywhere he went. It gave him the freedom humans denied him.
Whenever it was time to play, he made it a point to dribble everyone on the playground before scoring—this was his way of exerting revenge.
He performed tricks with the ball and made people fall on their faces so they could taste the sand beneath his shoes.
He never failed to take mental pictures of those moments because they represented a temporal shift in power, a pacifier for his weary soul at night.
Unfortunately, recess never lasted long enough.
He always got an earful for showboating and embarrassing the naughty wolf pack.
“See you again tomorrow,” he’d say to himself.
A story like this probably applies to many now-men who used to be scared, little boys.
As an adult and future parent, thankfully, my understanding of the world has developed.
I can tell you now that my own endurance came at a cost.
I still experience a cocktail of psychological challenges, including a lack of self-esteem and limiting beliefs, which I am working really hard to overcome.
Contrary to what many parenting books teach—the many prescribed steps for raising the “perfect” kid—the world isn’t perfect.
The idea of “raising the perfect kid” (whatever that means) in an imperfect world is a paradox that provokes a feedback loop from hell.
Despite the hurtful and harmful events that we experience—many of which left us emotionally scarred—the resolve to keep them locked in remains firm. It is out of ignorance and fear—not the absence of love.
It is easy for many parents to feel stunned and helpless when boys display unusual characteristics, which makes you question your ability to parent.
Here are some ideas to help you find some middle ground:
1. Acknowledge that he is growing up in a skewed world (and time).
And that you don’t have the power to control each of his experiences—both internally (DNA) and externally (culture, environment, etc.).
2. Be aware of his transformation.
The transition from a baby to a boy and from a boy to a man happens so fast you could miss it if you took your eyes off him. Also, pay close attention to his mental disposition—changes in behavioral patterns are signals you shouldn’t ignore.
3. Educate him.
Let him see the beauty of the world and also understand the dangers that abound. There’s a time for fairytales and a time for real-world truths.
4. Be intentional with what you can provide regarding his psychological needs.
Whether it’s a listening ear, hugs, unconditional love, or a safe space, repetition is crucial. At the end of the day, you should always have your arms wide open to welcome him, even as a prodigal son.
5. Be supportive.
If the line of communication is open, then let it be open 24/7. When he is old enough, you could also let him talk to a professional. Reassure him that it is okay to ask for help.
Like I said before, there is only so much you can do to control the inflow of information in this day and age. With the right framework in place, as he continues to grow, his understanding of himself and the world he lives in will nudge him into the path of self-discovery and healing.
If you mute all the bullsh*t, these are some honest, real-world options you can offer yourself. And for your offspring: may they know that truth.
And believe that the truth will set them free—just as it did for us.
This article is dedicated to my friend Cynthia Rukira, a mother of three who lost her last born (a three-month-old baby) earlier this year.