I’m a mom to two energetic, fun loving, and occasionally mischievous boys. A couple of months ago my husband combed and parted my 3-year-old son’s hair and told him he looked just like a Southern gentleman. My son beamed with pride, and every night after he was freshly bathed, he asked my husband to comb and part his hair again so he could look like a Southern gentleman. I thought this was funny because we hadn’t taught him much about what it meant to be a Southern gentleman.
A few months later, he showed up to breakfast wearing jeans and a blue striped button down shirt. He had a plastic pretend knife in his shirt pocket (because he wants to be just like his daddy, who always carries a pocket knife). My 3-year-old matter of factly sat down at the table and said, “That’s what Southern gentlemen do. They put on their shirt. Then they put on their jeans, and they get their knife. Then they eat breakfast.” It surprised me and made me laugh. And I realized it was time for me to start teaching him more of what it means to be a Southern gentleman, so that he knows it’s more than just looking nice and carrying a knife (though obviously that’s very important).
Here are 12 things I want my sons to know about what it means to be a gentleman (Southern or otherwise – because you can be a gentleman wherever you live):
1. Being respectful.
Respect is more than just saying, “yes ma’am/no ma’am” and “yes sir/no sir” (although we’re teaching that too). It’s about looking people in the eye and showing them they matter with your attitude. I most definitely want my sons to give special respect to their elders and to women, but, more importantly, I want them to truly believe that all people deserve respect, even people with whom they disagree.
2. Having good manners.
I believe manners are best learned through practice, so we practice table manners and saying “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me” and not interrupting someone at the dinner table. I’m also to teaching my oldest how to act on a date by taking him on mother/son dates while he’s little. In this way, he’s learning to be a little gentleman by actually going through the motions of what we’re teaching him.
3. Unconditional love for family.
I come from a big family, and we don’t’ always agree on everything; but we have each other’s backs, no matter what. This is something I want to pass on to my sons. I want to teach them to love unconditionally, even when they don’t feel like it. As George Strait sang, “It’s a love without end, amen.”
4. Giving compliments.
I’ve always been a casual kind of girl, and it’s rare for me to get dressed up. The other day when I came out wearing a dress my 3-year-old smiled and said, “You look very beautiful.” He paused to look at my husband and then said, “That’s what you say to a woman.” He’s learned the art of a well-placed compliment from my husband, who is a true gentleman. Giving compliments is one way a gentleman goes out of his way to show love to the people in his life, and I’m thankful that my husband has modeled it for our sons.
5. Having a good work ethic.
A true gentleman knows how to work hard without complaining or taking short cuts. At 3-years-old, my son is already folding towels, vacuuming with a hand-held vacuum, and helping with the dishes. I want my boys to learn how to do all types of chores, not just the traditional male chores like mowing the lawn and taking out the trash, and I don’t ever want them to be of the mindset that they are above doing menial chores. Hopefully, this will set the framework for hard work for the rest of their lives.
6. Knowing how to dance.
I mean this figuratively and literally. I would love my sons to learn to dance, but I’m not too concerned whether they learn from cotillion or bad dance moves that they pick up from me when we were all dancing in the kitchen. More importantly though, I want them to know that life’s too short not to dance and that they don’t need to take themselves or life so seriously that they can’t have fun.
7. Standing up for others.
I love the quote from Edmond Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Now, I’m not saying I hope my sons get in a fistfight with every bully they cross, but I do want to teach them to stand up for people who are being picked on or made fun of and not to cast a blind eye their way. A gentleman stands up for others, even if that means they’re standing alone.
8. Don’t waste time and money unless your “wasting” it falling in love.
My poor husband nearly went broke spending his student loan money to take me on dates when we were in college, so while I want to teach my sons to be wise with their time and money, I also want them to know that falling in love will cost them both. But it’s so worth it! As Diamond Rio sang, “What a beautiful mess I’m in spending all my time with you, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
9. Being a gentleman means being able to say, “I’m sorry.”
Being a gentleman, means knowing when to man up and say, “I’m sorry.” I want my boys to admit when they are in the wrong and not get caught up with always being “right.” A true gentleman knows when to apologize and does so sincerely.
10. Being a man of your word.
One time I asked my 3-year-old how he got black ink on his hands, and he replied, “Oh, that’s just where I touched a zebra.” Little white lies like that are kind of cute now, but when he becomes a man, little white lies are just lies. I want to teach my boys that being a gentleman, means being a man of your word.
11. Who you are on inside is more important than who you are on the outside.
Clearly, my son is already picking up on the grooming habits of Southern gentlemen, but, to me, it’s more important that he understand that who he is, is more important than how he looks. I’ve met many finely dressed men who look like Southern gentlemen on the outside, but prove otherwise by their actions.
12. Embracing gentlemanly virtues for themselves.
Finally, I’m praying it all sticks and that my sons embrace these virtues for themselves, not just because it’s what they’ve been taught, but because they really believe it for themselves.