Untangled: Lessons from my sons on being a good man
by Maram Behairy
I asked my two boys what it means to be a good man. I recorded it because I was expecting some profound thoughts that I wanted to preserve for the future. Instead, I got a 20-minute recording of laughter and nonsense with a sprinkle of truth. Sigh. Isn’t that life, though.
Interestingly enough, both my boys, 7 and 12 years old, pretty much gave me the same answer:
To be a good man is to take care of the world and others.
How does a man take care of others?
During this makeshift interview of mine, I asked my 7-year old how his understanding of being a good man differs from his understanding of being a good woman. He said, “How would I know, I’m a boy. You should as a girl about that.” I was floored.
Then, he wanted to put our tortoise on a leash and take him for a walk in the rain. I asked him if taking care of our parakeets would look the same as taking care of our tortoise. He said, “No, of course not.” Then, I asked him to consider what it means to take care of a tortoise. He asked me, “How do you know he wouldn’t like being on a leash and going for a walk?” I told him, “I don’t know actually.”
So, I guess my little boy uncovered the first lesson of what it means to take care of another:
Find out from others what their needs are and when they feel cared for.
Most of the way truth comes out of my kids may seem silly. But they are still deeply connected to their fitra, as are all children. And their understanding of things is always so refreshing and beautiful. Their answer is exactly what it means to be a khalifa (representative) of Allah on earth (see Quran 2:30).
I came up with these simple steps to guide my boys into proper caring of others.
First, ask our kids when they feel loved and cared for and when they don’t.
Our understanding of other people’s emotions stems from our own experiences. If we want our young boys to have greater empathy, we first need them to notice how other people’s actions impact them. Be open and responsive to their feedback. If I hurt their feelings, I always apologize.
Second, ask our kids how they respond when they feel loved and when they don’t feel loved by another.
This awareness will guide them to be more aware of the different ways others respond. This will help them get more accurate feedback from the way people respond to them in the world.
Third, observe and point out the subtle signs when others feel loved and cared for by us and when they don’t.
In a perfect world, people could clearly tell us. Often, however, people don’t. When people feel uncared for, they may go silent and hide their true thoughts and feelings. They may even misrepresent the truth in an attempt to protect themselves. If someone is lying to you, ask yourself why they don’t feel safe telling you the truth. Some people may behave aggressively when they don’t feel loved by you.
Finally, practice being loving and caring even when upset.
Oftentimes, we allow ourselves to be unkind and unloving to others if “they deserve it.” It is important to distinguish between speaking up to request your rights versus being unloving towards others as revenge, which is infringing on other people’s rights.
I teach my boys that you don’t fear the anger of a good man.
We have the capacity to be both kind and upset. We should always express ourselves, but in a way that is not harmful to others.
It may be helpful to ask, “Do your actions show love and care right now?”
In summary, being a good man means taking care of others. By increasing self-awareness and awareness of others, we can raise our young boys to grow into good men who care for the world and others.
About the Author:
Maram Behairy is a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and heads the writers’ group of South Florida Muslim Federation
‘I like to understand the bigger picture, deeper reasons, and nuanced connections. I have always been more interested in the roots under the ground than the fruit above. I complicate and explore in order to find the simple, deep truths. I live those with conviction. My dream is to use my gift for words to inspire and guide others to live with purpose and greater ease. So as I experiment on myself, I will share what I learn along the way. My roles in life (by default my areas of exploration) include being a Muslim, woman, wife, mother, writer, and youth mentor.’
Have a question for the author or want to reach her? Email her at email@example.com.