How to Raise a Gentleman

A friend recently observed my son helping his little sister remount her bicycle after she rounded a curve too quickly and fell off. My friend smiled, turned to me and said, “You are raising a gentleman.”

Receiving a compliment like that ranks up there with losing 10 pounds and watching a Matthew McConaughey movie. More importantly, it validates how hard many of us work at raising well-behaved children, and reflects what we have invested into the most significant job we’ll ever have. It also foretells a promising, chivalrous future for our sons.

I have two sons and one daughter. I’m teaching my boys to hold the door open for their sister and me. I expect their assistance bringing in groceries and lifting heavy objects. I insist that they perform these jobs for other females as well. Does that make me weak or old-fashioned? To some, perhaps. To most, of course not.

The “Code of Chivalry” once provided a foundation for the “male code of ethics,” which influenced European gentlemanly behavior and later, during the 1700s, American gentlemanly behavior. Our Founding Fathers envisioned the male code of ethics as an integral component of shaping our nation’s culture. It was completely normal—and expected—for men to tip their hats to ladies as they passed by on the streets (still a tradition at Virginia Military Institute). A true gentleman stood up when a woman entered the room and sat down only after she took her seat. He even offered his handkerchief to her if she became upset.

What happened?

The freedom our Founding Fathers fought for took personal ethics and responsibility for granted. Freedom unattached to morals can spiral out of control and take on uncharitable, selfish intent. The catchphrase, “boys will be boys” now commonly encompasses unruly, immoral behavior. Parents of undisciplined boys utter it reproachfully, attributing the behavior to their son’s “natural” composure. Since when is it natural to make derogatory comments about girls, snap photos of them changing in a hotel room through a peephole, or treat them as a possession instead of a person.

The Code of Chivalry’s edict to “respect the honor of women” doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? defines “chivalry” as the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor and dexterity in arms.” While we may not have to worry about the latter as much, courtesy, generosity and valor will always be relevant to shaping every boy’s character.

Here are some suggestions for instilling courtesy:

  1. Teach him to say “please,” “thank you” and “your welcome.”
  2. Teach him to refrain from interrupting someone while he or she is speaking.
  3. Teach him to answer the phone politely.
  4. Teach him to listen to others.
  5. Teach him to chew food with his mouth closed, put his napkin in his lap and hold his utensils properly while dining.

Here are ways to instill generosity:

  1. Teach him to hold doors open for females, the elderly and anyone else, for that matter.
  2. Teach him to offer his seat to a female or elderly man or women when there are no other seats available.
  3. Teach him to accept gifts graciously and to write thank you notes for the gifts he receives.
  4. Expose him to charities and non-profits so he can experience what it feels like to give to others less fortunate.
  5. Expose him to other boys and men who act generously and lead ethical lives.

Here are ways to instill valor:

  1. Lure him out of his comfort zone so he can learn to adjust to and face unfamiliar situations courageously.
  2. Encourage him to act heroically: whether it means helping an injured friend, or scooping up a spider and taking it outdoors. (That qualifies as an act of heroism in my book!)
  3. Teach him to stand up for himself and others. A boy should take pride in defending himself or someone else against a bully.
  4. Teach him to respect and show gratitude to other heroes who put their lives in danger to save his.
  5. Teach him to do the right thing. Being a rule-follower may not always be popular, but it will always be right.

It comes down to this: do you want your son to be the boy who skateboards by an elderly woman so quickly she drops her grocery bag, or the boy who picks up the elderly woman’s bag and carries it for her? I think I know which son I’d prefer, and there’s nothing old fashioned about that.


2 thoughts on “How to Raise a Gentleman

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