Real boys : Rescuing our sons from the myths of boyhood by William Pollack

I picked up this book at our local library and thought it was good so here’s a review of some of the highlight.

Although dated (late 90s), I’m sure the points Professor Pollack makes still resonate in our culture.

In a nutshell, he says to hold onto your boys – especially during what he calls the crucial periods of kindergarten age and adolescence. Apparently these are two phases where we as a culture tend to push our boys away from us, expecting that it’s time they moved out in the world. He urges parents, grand-parents, and care-givers to continue holding boys close, letting them choose the time to move out in the world, and give them space and encouragement to feel the full range of emotions they are entitled to as human beings.


Pollack talks about the “boy code” of behaviour – the need to deny feelings especially of empathy or appreciation – feelings generally attributed to women, and any other remotely feminine characteristics in order to fit in and be acknowledged by other boys.  Though the code can affect a boy’s behaviour as early as 5 years old, it really hits boys in their pre-adolescent years. And some men never get past the feeling that they must continually deny these feelings.

One thing that struck me from this book is his evidence that boys feel embarrassed to show sadness. For some reason they feel pressure to make it seem like everything is alright even in extreme cases where things in their lives are clearly not going well.

I remember when my own mother died, my nephews and even my own brother did not want to talk about my mom or delve into their feelings or those of anyone else during our time of mourning. They acted as if nothing had happened. It made me feel so sad and confused. But after reading this book I realize they probably were still in denial about acknowledging their feelings. At least I hope that’s the explanation. I thought it was because she held no importance in their lives which made me sad and angry. I see that not only are boys and men suffering from their inability  to express their feelings – especially of sadness or empathy – but they also cause others to suffer when they fail to  show sympathy or understanding and to share sad experiences with their loved ones.

However we got to this place, it’s important for boys to feel alright about being sad and to sympathize and acknowledge sadness as part of being human.

Pollack urges men to stay involved in their sons’ lives –especially in cases of separation or divorce – as a way of keeping men connected and seeing that relationships and the range of emotions that go with them, have value. Men who feel emotionally and/or physically abandoned by their fathers can grieve their whole lives long and in the shorter term lead to many unhappy, closed, and angry boys.

And as I’ve heard again and again from men who work with boys – the way to get them to open up is to do something physical with them – kick a ball, paint a fence, climb a tree, run. The way boys relate is different from the way girls and women do generally, namely by sitting down and having a conversation so for us mothers of boys, it’s crucial to remember this and stay active with your sons as much as possible

Pollack does say that boys and men usually have a more physical, active relationship and that they generally build their closeness in this way, but that boys generally value the nurturing security of the relationship they have with their mothers. But if discussion or exploration of feelings is necessary, it’s the time to get physical.

Boys are suffering in our culture by not feeling entitled to express their full range of humanity. Although more girls than boys attempt suicide, boys are more likely to complete it.

Despite all of this, this book had some hopeful parts, giving evidence of Pollack’s work with boys that convinced him about the good intentions of most boys and their intrinsic feelings about right and wrong and the need to speak up and be true to oneself.

I look forward, admittedly with some trepidation, to the upcoming film, The Mask we live in, to learn about where we are in all of this nearly 20 years later.


This entry was posted in Boys, Divorce, Emotional abuse, Emotional literacy, Fathers, Gratitude, Men, Nurture, Respect, Sadness, Separation, Sons, Sympathy. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Real boys : Rescuing our sons from the myths of boyhood by William Pollack

  1. I bought this book pretty soon after it was published, and it influenced me a great deal. I have four sons, and it really helped me hone my parenting style. I wanted to raise emotionally intelligent and healthy boys. I think I’m doing okay. My oldest is 23 and my youngest is almost 13. For the most part, they are kind, intelligent, and engaging young men.

  2. Sounds wise to me. Men and older boys process grief differently from us. A woman who lost her baby said her husband didn’t want to write and talk about it everyday. He needed to DO, to keep his hands busy. He needed some space to work through his grief before coming together to talk more with her. Interesting point you bring up that boys start feeling that self-consciousness about expressing emotion at the preadolescent stage. Will keep that in mind.

    • Edgymama says:

      Thanks for the feedback and the insight. It is continually surprising to me to realize how different the same situation looks to different people and is, I hope, increasing my own level of tolerance.

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