I recently finished reading the latest book by Anthony Esolen, Defending Boyhood, How Building Forts, Reading Stories, Playing Ball, and Praying to God Can Change the World.As a mother of boys, I’ve read many books on the raising of boys. Why Johnny Cannot Tell Right From Wrong, by William Kirkpatrick, and The War Against Boys, by Christina Hoff Sommers, and a few others. My first-born son’s own experiences in public school while in kindergarten through the fourth grade were a definitive reflection of the horrific stories of how boys are forced to conform to a feminist ideal of behavior. Moving him and his then three-year-old brother into an orthodox, Catholic elementary school was a saving grace beyond measure. While my boys are now 23 and 17 and my time raising them is nearing an end, the parents who have young boys will benefit from this recently published book on the raising of boys. In it you will find inspiration on how to raise sons who will do the things that this insane world cries out for now, and why it is so imperative to let boys be boys, as God intended them to be. If we want warriors for Christ, we must foster in our boys the characteristics with which they are born.
In his book, Professor Esolen draws on his own unencumbered childhood of romps in the woods and playing ball. Esolen uses references from Biblical stories of Jesus and his disciples, prodigious literature, classical art, and poetry, from great philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, to authors such as Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain, the poetry of Wordsworth and Longfellow, to name a few. These authors provide us with stories to remind us that boys have an innate imagination, adventurous souls, and hold a wonder of the world that is real and tangible. He even weaves in a bit of popular culture with a “strange series of Christian morality plays, science fiction, and Greek tragedy called The Twilight Zone.” The episodic story he shares ought to smack one upside the head with its message from the episode called, “Young Man’s Fancy.”
This book is for mothers and fathers, grandparents, godparents, teachers, priests, catechists, and anyone else who cares about the boys that we give to the future. I will leave you with this one passage from the fourth chapter entitled, “The Man to Follow.” Here, Esolen begins the chapter with this line, “What was it about Jesus that drew men to him?” In the beginning of this chapter he talks about the real Jesus as found in the Bible. He talks about the Jesus who patiently teaches, who leads his disciples by example, and when questioned by them does not fall prey to explain his teachings in the worldly way of understanding of things. The passage that made me pause in an awestruck moment was how Esolen wrote of introducing boys to Jesus the man.
“Need I trouble to say that women are not going to do this, at least not in any reliable numbers? The messenger matters, even if we presume all the good will and wisdom in the world, which in our time we cannot do. What attracts the woman to the person of Jesus is not exactly the same as what attracts the boy. The woman wants from Jesus forgiveness and consolation. The boy wants—even if he does not know it—severity and commandments. The woman wants Jesus of infinite patience and mercy. The boy wants Jesus eager with a baptism that will set the world on fire. The woman wants peace. The boy wants war. They are both quite right to want what they want, and I do not say that the woman will never want Jesus the fighter or that they boy will never want consolation. But the woman who brings to the boy the Jesus of peace and patience and mercy brings to him, without perhaps perceiving it, a Jesus who will not throw open to him the doors of the world, and life. The boy does not want a domestic Jesus. He wants the Lord of the universe. He does not want to hold hands at the altar with a priest and an altar-girl. He wants to swing the thurible as if it were a sword.”
As we discover “The Arena to Enter” of boys, they find “Brothers to Gather” and “Mountains to Climb.” The boys find “The Man to Follow” and “Work to Do.” They long for “Songs to Sing and Enemies to Slay.” And in the end, in the final chapter, we are once again brought into the very center of Tony Esolen’s heart, for where that which resides is a poet’s longing for meaning and truth, where one will have a Life to Give.
From the back flyleaf:
Anthony Esolen is a professor English and a writer in residence at Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire. A senior editor of Touchstone magazine, Professor Esolen is one of Western civilizations staunchest and most prolific defenders. He has written numerous books including magnificent translations of classic works (Dante’s Divine Comedy), cultural commentary (Defending Marriageand Out of the Ashes), reflections on sacred music (Real Music) and entertaining etymological studies (Angels, Barbarians, and Nincompoops. . .and a lot of other words you thought you knew).
Professor Esolen will begin teaching in the fall at Northeast Catholic College in Warner, New Hampshire.