The boy turned one this weekend. One whole year in which we managed to not kill and/or seriously wound our offspring.
As he grows older he becomes ever his own person, growing and showing hints of the man he will one day become.
That man will, based on current indicators, be a psychotic being of pure energy intent on the destruction of everything around him. Although to be fair this large scale carnage will be interspersed with occasional but meaningful hugs as and when he bangs his head.
The boy is a boy; he loves being thrown around and hung from his ankles. I often stand him on the bed and rugby tackle him (gently, I don’t go all Courtney Lawes on him) to gales of laughter. The other day I was sat cross-legged on the floor reading him a book and after a brief run-up he did the same to me.
I honestly think there is little to match the pure gleeful, giggle of a baby as they shoulder barge their dad.
I think this rough and tumble is important to him realising his physicality and how he interacts with the world around him, it also uses up some of the several million gigajoules of energy he is gifted with.
When thinking about this post I wondered if I should even write it. Would it be met with cries of how bad a father I was, teaching my son to be aggressive when he was so young and that it just reinforces the stereotype of maleness. Honestly, if I had a daughter I would do the same.
Underlining my concern in generating this response is an awareness of how society seems intent on ensuring that everything is so safe that it couldn’t possibly harm anyone. A recent BBC article said that rugby was too dangerous to encourage school children to play. At the same time we are facing a self-made obesity crisis that is killing us slowly.
The upshot of this is that all rough play is considered negative in every context.
When I was at school, if you were caught fighting you were summoned to the headteachers office, given a stern talking to made to shake hands with the person you had been fighting and then sent back to lessons. On the walk back to class, you and your erstwhile enemy complimented each other on particularly successful moves.
Your parents would hear about it if: a) someone got properly hurt, b) it was because of bullying or c) it was a recurring pattern of behaviour.
Now as soon as anyone pushes anyone, it’s all suspensions and parental meetings and discussions about controlling their unchained anger.
I honestly believe that there is an inherent desire in boys to be physical in a way that mimics aggression.
I first suspected that this was intrinsic to the very concept of maleness when I was smoking a cigarette outside of a shop in a tiny village just outside of Longido, Tanzania.
The lighter I lit my cigarette with was a butane, jet thingy that fired out a blue flame like a miniature after-burner. Ideal for starting major forest fires or undertaking a spot of welding.
My lighter caught the attention of two young Massai tribesmen who wondered over and gestured to look at it. The holes in their ear lobes were starting to grow but had yet reached the massive dangle of the older warriors. Their twin ended spears (one end a sword-like blade, the other a sharp metal point) were casually slung over their shoulders. They must have been around sixteen.
I handed the lighter over. The guy I gave it to flicked it open and started it up. He brushed his finger over the flame and let out a yelp and laughed. His friend laughed. I laughed.
He then turned to his friend and laughing, tried to light the end of his friend’s traditional red and black robe.
The friend ran away tittering as he did so and I witnessed them chase each other around a dusty car park, reused tyre sandals flip-floping as they went, trying to burn one another with a butane jet lighter.
This playful act of potentially serious bodily harm, of mimicked aggression, bonds men together in ways that are difficult to put down in words.
We mimic aggression in other ways, in the sports we play or cheer on for example, or in the video games to choose to download. We use these avenues as a cathartic release for aggressive tendencies in ways that are not socially destructive.
So I continue to gently play fight my son, setting boundaries on that aggression as he ages, to show him that being aggressive in itself is not a problem. It is a problem when being aggressive towards someone who is in a position if weakness, or at moments where aggression is unwarranted, or when aggression is caused by blind rage.
These are the lessons I want him to learn as the years go by.