The Killer Instinct

God has blessed my wife and I with five wonderful, wonderfully rambunctious boys. By necessity, I find myself more than passingly familiar with the struggles and rewards that accompany the “Nine and Under – Exclusively Male” crowd.

A home as heavily testosterone-laden as ours provides unique challenges, and in a society that seems to struggle with just exactly what it means to be “truly manly,” my role as “Alpha Male” in the Susanka pack has kept me up at night more times than I can tell. They are surrounded by a culture that seeks to suppress their natural, robust inclinations to physicality while simultaneously sending less savory messages encouraging them to indulge certain physical desires to the utmost.

This constant bombardment — and my own less-than-perfect grasp on how to best deal with it — is why I find this blog post from the Archdiocese of Washington’s website (and the First Things article by Sally Thomas to which it points) on the essential need for “true boyishness” so fascinating. Monsignor Charles Pope, who writes regularly for the Archdiocese’s Maybe It’s God blog, excerpts Mrs. Thomas at length, and adds his own comments:

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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These Holy Crusaders are, after all, ordinary boys-sweaty and goofy and physical. For them to take the Cross seriously requires something like a sword. For them to take the sword, knowing what it’s for, requires the Cross. …A boy’s natural drive to stab and shoot and smash can be shaped, in his imagination, to the image of sacrifice, of laying down his life for his friends. In the meantime, this is the key to what brings these boys to church. It’s not their mothers’ church or their sisters’ church; it is theirs, to serve and defend. [Yes, yes! Amen. Greater love hath no man that to lay down his life for his friends. Christian manhood needs to be rediscovered in some segments of the Church. Too many men stay away from Church because it seems feminine to them. Sermons about duty, courage and fighting the good fight have given way to a steady diet of compassion, kindness, being nice, getting along, self actualizing and, did I mention being nice? These are not wrong virtues but they must be balanced by virtues that call us to stand up and speak out with courage, accepting our duties and fighting the good fight of faith, if necessary unto death. Men respond to the call when it is given in a way that respects their manhood. Balance is needed in the preaching and teaching of the Church and it seems that in recent decades we may have lost this in many settings, IMHO. If you think I’m crazy, remember this is a conversation. Hit the comment button and have it.]

This notion of shaping a young boy’s “natural drive” makes a lot of sense to me. As a father, I am all too aware that my children must learn to control certain aspects of their behavior — the need for “masculine men” that Monsignor Pope recognizes so clearly must not be seen as a license for allowing boys to do whatever their inclinations suggest to them. (Original sin starts us all out a bit farther off the path of self-control than is strictly helpful, I fear).

But bending the stick as far in the other direction as we seem to be doing nowadays is clearly not the solution, either. Channeling those aspects and inclinations into healthy, wholesome, and manly behavior is the solution. Now, if I could just figure out exactly what that means…

Any sage child-rearing advice out there from folks more familiar (if perhaps less inundated) with these masculine “Holy Crusaders?”


  • Joseph Susanka

    Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming — “where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks” — he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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