The Heart of a Boy

I have a son who is a cardiac surgeon doing heart transplants and other intricate surgeries.  We won’t discuss my fatherly pride, although obviously it is there. He told me a story this week that has burned its way into my brain and I cannot escape it.

He was called to harvest a heart from a brain dead young man. Flying into one of the worst crime ridden neighborhoods in the country, he arrived to find a 13-year-old boy who had shot himself in the head with his own handgun. My son was there to take the heart and to give it to a person whose life would be saved. Noble work, but I cannot shake the image of that young boy.

Flash to a recent Wall Street Journal article about the gender gap between males and females in education in this country.

It struck me that these are problems on either end of the same spectrum. Young men are achieving less, have less motivation, interest, higher depression, addiction, and suicide rates than ever before. Explosive, as the media like to call it. I myself have had six adolescent boys in my practice who have had active suicidal plans within the last several months.

What is going on here?

We live in a crisis time of mental health for our young men. It is time to think deeply about our responsibility. How we are raising them? What messages are we giving them?

We have known for a long time that boys are raised to be tough. They are raised to be performers and not people. To repress their feelings and “man up”.  Beginning in the crib, we know that it takes longer to respond to a male infant cry than it does to a female.

Somehow it has become inculcated in our culture that the emotional life of boys is less important. That embracing them, keeping them safe, recognizing them, giving them space and room to discuss their feelings, is somehow not required. “Rough and tumble” remains the ideal, instead of compassionate concern and nurturing their growth.

As we continue to ignore the heart of our boys, we will see an increase in the acting out of their pain.  It is time to change this perspective before the tragedy continues to unfold in front of us. As it will.

Angela Duckworth said it best: True strength, resilience and grit, only emerge within the crucible of connection, protection, and the encouragement of self-awareness.   Let’s recognize the heart of our boys, as a first step toward supporting their long and healthy lives.