Shaping Boys Into Men
About the Guest
What does a boy need from a father? William Bennett, a father of two sons and author of the book, "The Book of Man," reminds listeners that boys are moral and spiritual beings, and if we forget this, we've lost the key to raising and educating them.
William BennettWilliam J. Bennett is one of America’s most important, influential and respected voices on cultural, political, and education issues. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Bill Bennett studied philosophy at Williams College (B.A.) and the University of Texas (Ph.D.) and earned a law degree (J.D.) from Harvard. He is the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He is a Senior Advisor to Project Lead The Way, one of the nation’s leading providers of training and curriculum to improve STEM educa...more
William Bennett, a father of two sons and author of the book, “The Book of Man,” reminds listeners that boys are moral and spiritual beings, and if we forget this, we’ve lost the key to raising and educating them.
Shaping Boys Into Men
Bill: When the men aren’t up to it, it’s not good for the men; it’s not good for the women, either, because the woman wants that strong arm of man. She wants a man she can look across at and up to for some protection and some guidance. Nobody wins when men don’t do their job—nobody wins. The men don’t win, the women don’t win, and the kids sure don’t win.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 7th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. If you’re a man, stepping up and embracing your responsibilities may be much more important than you’ve ever realized. We’ll talk about that today with Bill Bennett. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. How well prepared do you think you were to turn boys into men when you first had boys of your own?
Dennis: When they handed me my first son, it’s like, “Where’s the instructions here?” I wasn’t prepared at all. I think it’s a job description for a man to impart his life to his son, and he learns that process over a number of years. No man can ever be fully ready for that responsibility.
Bob: You’d had some great modeling with your own father, and that certainly helped. Still, that first time, as you’re trying to do it, guys often don’t know what the model should look like; do they?
Dennis: They don’t. It’s why I think, Bob, we need—as men, we need to constantly be poking around in great literature.
It’s why I’m excited about this book I’ve got in front of me here. It’s called The Book of Man by Bill Bennett.
Bill is joining us again here on FamilyLife Today. Bill, welcome back.
Bill: Thank you. Did you—may I ask you a question?
Bill: Did you have daughters?
Dennis: Yes, I did.
Bill: Is it easier? Does it come more naturally? Did you need the instruction manual as much for the daughters?
I’ve had friends—but I’ve no daughters—say to me, “It was easier. I kind of knew what to do with my daughters—hold them, talk to them, and love them; but sons, they were a problem because they were all kind of bony, and pokey, and difficult.”
Bill: Then, they said, “No. You don’t know girls at 13.” So, I don’t know. I defer.
Dennis: I would agree with your friend, “No, you don’t know girls at 13.” (Laughter) Each group had their own challenge. I think there is something unique, though, about the challenge of raising sons because it is a same-sex transfer that we’re making—some kind of man-to-man call where you go, “You know what?
I’m the go-to person for this.” There isn’t anywhere you can delegate this. There’s—you can’t delegate it to the Sunday school teacher—although, they can help. You can’t delegate it to a coach. You can’t delegate it to education, the school system. “It’s my responsibility to be a dad to my sons and to my daughters.”
Bill: What you just said—you know the play, A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt?
Bill: Thomas More—and son, Roper, says, “You can’t sign it. You know what it means.” Thomas says, “I know what it means, but I have to see what it says.” He says, “Why do you care?” “Because I’m a lawyer; I’m a woodsman. These are the trees, and I will take shelter in the trees.” He said, “What you would do is cut down every tree for your sense of justice—right and wrong—I will stick with the law”; okay?
When my father died, even though we weren’t close and all, this was the one picture, in my head, that just came back to me as you were talking—that this tree, which had been protecting me, was gone; and it was bare now—now the wind.
“Now, it’s up to me.” Now, I have to step up. I thought, “Step up and do what?” I wasn’t sure, but maybe that’s why I dove into all this—to find out where those trees are, what those sources are.
Dennis: Yes. That was going to be one of my questions for you. Here you worked for the Reagan Administration. You’ve been around a lot of great men. You and your wife Elayne had been married 30 years, and you’ve undoubtedly been out with other couples and other, again, great men who have challenged you. What man had the greatest impact on your life?
Bill: Probably, as a professional, Ronald Reagan, because we became, I think I can say, friends. I think I have enough entries in his diary, “Dr. Bill Bennett”—again. He enjoyed me. He liked my company. They needed a fall guy, too. You know, when they were having a party at the White House and they had a magician, they had to have somebody that they were going to pull rabbits out of the person’s ear.
Well, you’re not going to do that to Jim Baker, Ed Meese—“Get Bennett,” you know.
Dennis: Are you saying they picked on you?
Bill: Absolutely, and the President—everybody loves this story. I’ll tell you real quickly. We were in Missouri because I asked him to go to Missouri to visit this great public school system. We were riding in the limo; and he said, “I don’t know if this loud speaker works”—kind of a little loud speaker on the side of the car so he can say, “Hello,” to the crowds as he passes by.
He said, “Bill, get out in the field and tell me if you can hear this. Can you hear me?” “Yes.” “Go another 20 yards. Can you hear me?” “Yes.” “Another 50 yards.” Guess what he does? Drives off! (Laughter) You know, leaves his Secretary of Education in a corn field in the middle of Missouri. Laughs like a hyena—just tells it to the Secret Service. I said, “This is my visit. I arranged this, and I’m the boss. What’s going on?” I’m standing in a field. What do you do when you’ve been abandoned by the Secret Service and the President? They sent a little car back for me.
Dennis: He had a lot of fun with you—
Bill: Yes, he did.
Dennis: —but he made an enormous imprint in your life; didn’t he?
Bill: There was a “father moment”. I was getting in a lot of trouble because I was criticizing teachers’ unions, I was criticizing all sorts of things in education—I was breaking a lot of china.
There was a Cabinet meeting, and there was a big folder on the President’s desk that said “Bennett.” I thought, “Man! I’m in trouble with Dad.” The President is irresistibly a father-figure, particularly, if he is a guy like Ronald Reagan. He starts reading the headlines: Bennett Must Go, Bennett a Disaster, Bennett Attacks Teacher Unions. He closes it up, and he—
Dennis: Now, we’re talking at a Cabinet meeting.
Bill: A Cabinet meeting. He looks around the room and says, “Well, I see what Bill Bennett’s doing. What’s wrong with the rest of you?” So, in that moment, this was a father putting an arm around, saying, “You’re doing fine. Just keep doing it.”
I would have walked the plank that day for him. I would have done whatever. He noticed; he paid attention; he said, “Well done, kid.” That’s all I needed.
Dennis: Every man needs an older man—
Dennis: —who believes in him.
Dennis: —who’s calling him up.
Dennis: Did he ever correct you?
Bill: Yes. Yes, he did. I used to talk to him about—whenever I got him, I talked to him about the movies. I’d say, “Let’s talk about the movies.” “No, I don’t want to talk about the movies.” I’d make him talk about the movies, but he corrected me a couple times.
He’d say, “Slow down, take your time. You’re too impatient on this.” So, yes, he corrected me.
Dennis: Your book is filled with—well, not just readings on the path to manhood, but great biographies, snapshots, stories; and speaking of education, I found one of the more fascinating stories that I really liked in the book about a guy by the name of Jaime Escalante.
Bill: I read the story in the newspaper of this guy, at this inner city Latino high school in LA,
who was getting these remarkable scores on the Advance Placement Calculus. So, I went out to see him.
To make a long story short, he was this fabulous teacher; and in this impoverished school, Garfield High School, he was number three in the country in terms of number of seniors getting Advance Placement in Calculus. Teaching math was one thing, but it was the teaching of character and of boys—you want a man/boy story.
I watched his classroom. He was teaching Calculus to a bunch of poor, Hispanic kids. He said, “You want to get out of the barrio? You want to be somebody? You study Calculus.” This boy stands up and starts to walk out. Escalante says, “Where are you going?” He says, “This too hard.”
Escalante says, “Fine. You go. Where are you going—see your girlfriend?” “Yes, see my girlfriend.” “You should go see your girlfriend, drop Calculus, and then, go to woodworking—learn woodworking.” The kid says, “Why woodworking?” Escalante says, “So, when the Anglo-businessman comes through Los Angeles Airport, you can say, ‘Mister, can I shine your shoes for 50 cents?’”
This kid’s back arches. He says, “I don’t want to shine anybody’s shoes for 50 cents.” Escalante says, “Then, sit down, you dope, and study Calculus.” Now, that is a man. You don’t see that a lot anymore. You want to know why boys are confused? This boy was not confused about what Mr. Escalante meant. You know what? He sat down, and he finished the course. That’s a man teaching a boy.
Bob: You know, as you tell that story, I look back on raising my own sons; and I think, “I probably was not tough enough.” I probably was so concerned about wanting to protect the relationship, or make sure that we were good—that I backed down too quickly. I think I may be typical of what’s going on with a lot of dads.
Bill: I think you’re right.
Bob: Why are we afraid to be tough?
Bill: I think you are right. You know it’s like me and the computer. I got my first laptop. My boys were watching me, just shaking their heads. I was fumbling. They know how to do this stuff. We don’t. I said, “I think I broke it.”
They said, “You can’t break the internet, Dad!” (Laughter) “I think I broke it!” But we think we’ll break them. I remember I spanked Joe when he was little. I’ll never forget. He looked at me with his tear eyes; and he said, “If you spank me again, I won’t be your friend.” You know, I thought about it. I thought, “I’m not going to spank him because I want to be his friend.”
The Marines have something to teach us here. This major down in Quantico said, “You won’t believe how much these guys can take. You guys—you must have done a pretty good job, or they wouldn’t be here.” Said, “But they can take a lot more. They’re boys. They’re men.”
There’s a story in here about Ernest Shackleton and his expedition to the South Pole—puts an ad up in the London newspaper, “Wanted: Man for hazardous journey. Much danger. Low pay. Chances of return unlikely.” 7,000 men apply—chance for honor. Honor.
How many things, that come at our boys today, from TV, from the culture—
Bill: —give them a chance at honor? That’s why you see these—obviously, I’m partial because I’ve got this guy in the Corps—but you see that commercial for the Marines, “The Few, the Proud”—they’re onto something. Boys need to live for something that is important, and the garbage that we’re giving them doesn’t give them that.
You talk about the fight of civilizations. A young Islamic youth being schooled in radical Islam is given a higher purpose. It’s actually the purposes of the Devil. It is the most wicked thing in the world—it is to seek death and the death of the infidel—but they give themselves to this because it is something large. We don’t offer our boys something large, and that’s what we need to do.
In the course of offering them something large, we say, “You have to make sacrifices.”
It is back to that coach thing—this particular horror of the Penn State thing. Sports are a replica of war. I mean, it is. The liberal criticism is right, but there is a point to learning war because we have to do it from time to time. If we can’t entrust our boys to men of honor who will teach them the difference between toughness and callousness, then, we have a problem.
They can take a lot. Yes. I know. I know exactly what you mean—they can take a lot.
Dennis: Back to that theme of honor—
Bill: Yes, sir.
Dennis: —there’s a lot of ways a man can achieve that honor. I think it’s really upon us as dads and as older men to, again, reach down to those on those lower steps, those younger men on their way up—
Bill: Yes, sir.
Dennis: —and call them up to something great. You tell a story about General Robert E. Lee teaching a group of men about manners.
I love the story. It’s not battlefield heroism, again; but it’s the stuff of a man who’s giving his life on behalf of another. I think that is the route of honor; don’t you?
Bill: It is. It absolutely is, and the boys will take these lessons. One thing I learned when I did The Book of Virtues is the magic of the phrase, “Once upon a time.” It still works. It’s what happens after that.
With a guy like—with Lee, who is in this book several times—once on manners, once on prayer—where he talks to his soldiers about the importance of prayer. This is how we raise the next generation. It doesn’t happen automatically; and certainly, we can’t count on the culture.
My favorite way to talk about being a father is to go back to my religion of my youth—I was taught Catholic—learning Latin. We’d learn the Lord’s Prayer in Latin: “Pater noster, qui es in caelis, (Our Father who art in Heaven).”
Remember my Latin teacher—there are two Latin words for father. One is genitor, the biological act of father. We do not have to teach them much about that. They know about that. They get that in the movies; they can get that in school.
The other one is pater. Pater is the one who takes responsibility, the one who shows up, the one who is accountable, the one who is there, the one who takes you home, the one who stands there and answers for himself and, if necessary, for you. It’s that taking up of responsibility—Lee has it in a variety of contexts and talks about it in manners, and prayer, and war, and everything else. That’s the difference. That’s what we’re not teaching the boys.
When I put this book out, The Book of Man, the most interesting thing was—I thought some girls or ladies would be offended because they’d say, “Why did you just cut out half the universe.” My short answer is, “Because I don’t have the foggiest idea about women.” I couldn’t write The Book of Women.
I mean—men, I know; the others—I don’t know—30 years, I’m still learning—the learning curve is still—I’m trying to figure it out.
She guides me, and helps me, and leaves notes for me to help me along, but the women’s reaction to this book is—this is kind of a comment on our time—“You don’t know the half of it, Mr. Bennett. I tell my daughters, ‘Don’t lower your standards.’ My daughters say, ‘We are going to have to if you want us to get married. They’re not out there, Mom. The kind of man you would want me to marry may not be out there anymore.’”
Well, they are out there. I think they are out there, but maybe not in the numbers they ought to be.
Dennis: Robert E. Lee on a train ride—
Bill: Yes, sir.
Dennis: —a woman, an elderly woman, walks into the train. Tell them what he did.
Bill: He got up.
Dennis: Immediately, you tell the story of how a dozen other guys got up and said, “Oh, here, General Lee, have my seat,” and he says what?
Bill: Too late.
Dennis: He says to them, “If there wasn’t a seat for her”—
Bill: “—there’s no seat for me.”
Dennis: “—there’s no seat for me.”
Bill: “Too late—You should have thought of this earlier.”
Dennis: I love your little line at the end. It said that car emptied out pretty quickly—the heat in the car—
Bill: The heat.
Dennis: —the embarrassment—
Bill: The embarrassment.
Dennis: —of men not being men.
Bill: That’s exactly right.
Bob: —that to a New York City subway—where, “First-come, first-served.” I’ve been on the subway, and I’ve gotten up and offered my seat to a lady. How rare is that in the culture?
Bill: How rare it is—you’re absolutely right, and thanks for the reminder. I’m slow to pick up on it; but a young woman I know said, “I think I may have found the man.” I said, “Really?” She said, “He’s nice. He’s not brilliant. He’s done no great thing. He’s a good guy; but after our meal, he paid for it. He pulled my chair out, and he took the tray with all our stuff and brought it to where it was supposed to go.” She said, “I think I may have found a man.”
Bill: How about that?! She said, “I’d never seen a man do that before.”
Bob: Well, I have to tell you as you tell—
Bill: That’s pretty small potatoes—
Bob: But as you tell that story—
Bill: —but it’s a sign. It’s an indicator.
Bob: I was interviewing, actually, Dennis’ son and the woman who is now his wife.
I was asking them about their courtship. She said, “When I first met Samuel”—she said, “He came over, and he said, ‘I’d like to ask you out, but I need to tell you at the beginning I’m not interested in pursuing a casual relationship.’ He said, ‘I want to take this seriously and really pursue this to see if there is something here that would be long-term.’” Her response was, “This is what a man acts like!”—like it dawned on her, “I’ve dated other guys, but I’ve never dated a man before.”
We know—we know what a man should be; don’t we? It’s locked up inside of us.
Bill: We do. A friend of mine told me the other day, and I thought it sounded original to me. He said, “How do we know that men know what the right thing is?” He said, “Because there are only 2,000 Seals.” Did you know that? There are only 2,000 Navy Seals. That’s how small our group is, but “Every Saturday night in bars in America, there are 100,000 guys telling girls that they were Navy Seals.” (Laughter)
They know! There is something—they know what it means.
Bill: They know, “Hats off to these guys,”—that recognition, and we just need to—because you don’t have to be a Navy Seal; you don’t have to be in uniform. We honor these guys—you can live your life out. One of the things in the book, I got a guy who is a garbage worker in here. I profiled Terry Tucson, the best garbage worker in Georgia. That’s what he says when he calls my radio show—that pride in work.
There is a homeschooling dad, Chris Scott, from Houston. He’s in here. I keep saying, “Six kids.” He keeps calling and says, “Seven.” I mean, every time I’m on the show there is another—“Eight.” (Laughter) God bless him! He almost didn’t give me permission to put him in the book—he says, “I’m not doing anything.” I said, “Yes, you are. What you do with each of the kids when they hit a birthday…” Takes them out-he has these individual “Dad Trips.” That’s it. You don’t have to be scaling [Mount] Olympus. You don’t have to be going to the South Pole.
Dennis: So, here’s Bill Bennett, who was given a pretty questionable legacy by his father.
He left your family when you were five years old—showed up occasionally to treat you to this and that, but really wasn’t there to shape your soul, and character, and life the way he should have been as a dad. When it’s all said and done, what do you want the legacy of Bill Bennett to be?
Bill: I guess I’ve answered my own question. Part of this is tied up, Dennis, in my own view of and worry about our country. We need the best we have for the sake of this country. We can’t do it without the men. So, they have to step up. If, in any way, any of this work, Book of Virtues, Book of Man, has contributed to people remembering what it is they are supposed to do and they are supposed to be—couldn’t make me happier. That’d be just fine.
In the meantime, I know—thanks mostly to Mrs. Bennett’s work—
we’ve raised two good boys. She has a wonderful expression about raising sons. She said, “Raise sons to be the kind of man you would want to marry.” That’s how she’s done it. I said, “What’s wrong with the guy you did marry?” She said—we’re smart-alecks at our house. (Laughter) She said, “You can always improve the species.”
Bob: Would you like the list?
Bob: Well, I’ll tell you, you can tell Mrs. Bennett for us that we think a lot of us have room for improvement. But I think what you’ve done is to help a lot of men by compiling The Book of Man. In fact, I just wish my grandson was a little older so that I could read some of the stories in this book to him, and I have to wait a few more years for that.
If your grandson or your son is old enough to have some stories read to him, go to FamilyLifeToday.com, order a copy of The Book of Man by Dr. Bill Bennett. Again the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Or you can order by phone. Call 1-800-FLToday. 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
For those of you who have not been through the Stepping Up® video series or the Stepping Up video event, Dr. Bill Bennett is a part of that series. He’s one of the contributors along with Voddie Baucham and Crawford Loritts and Dennis Rainey and Robert Lewis and Tony Dungy and Matt Chandler and I could go on with the list of guys who are contributors to the Stepping Up video event.
We are hoping that this summer there might be some men’s groups who would look at a special summertime event where you could get guys together and go through some of the sessions from the video event that we’ve created. In fact, we will send you the video event kit free-that includes the DVDs, that includes a workbook,
it includes the hard-back book by Dennis Rainey-we’ll send that to you free if you will order at least ten manuals and plan to take ten guys through the video event.
So go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com all the details are available there on how you can get the video event kit with the DVDs in it for free. Again the website is FamilyLifeToday.com or if you have any questions call 1-800- “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
Now if you are listening to FamilyLife Today right now on KNWC in South Dakota and if you are celebrating your 20th wedding anniversary today then I’m guessing you are Mike and Kim McCart. We want to say congratulations to the McCarts on their wedding anniversary.
They got married on this day back in 1996. They have not only attended the Weekend To Remember® marriage getaway but they have hosted an Art of Marriage® small group.
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Now tomorrow we want to talk about the cultural confusion over masculinity and femininity and what we can do as we try to raise boys to understand manhood in this culture. Our guest again will be Dr. Bill Bennett, hope you can be back with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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