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Why We’re Writing Letters to Boys About Love

We must teach our boys how to be good partners while being good to themselves and stop pretending that this is some easy trick. It isn’t. It never was. So, we start here: honest words.

Love may be patient and kind to adults, but for boys, it is often sudden and confounding if not violent and all-consuming. While girls are constantly (and cruelly) shoved toward romance — all those be-hearted onesies — boys are told very little. Men let their sons learn from experience, which is less than ideal when the experience is defined by existential panic. The girl or boy across the playground becomes a referendum on the self. First love brings sudden joy, then sudden despair.

Parents need to change that. Authored by great, truthful writers, Fatherly’s “Letters to Boys About Love” series is intended to spark a sure-to-be uncomfortable conversation too long in the offing. What do these letters say about love? Different things. Lots of things. But pay attention to how they say it, how direct and kind they are. It is simply not possible to teach lessons about love without being generous with stories, without flaunting scars from early tussles with passion, without remembering the exhilaration and humiliation of it all.

We must teach our boys how to be good partners while also being good to themselves and stop pretending that this is some easy trick. It isn’t. It never was. So, we start here: honest words.

“How My Rage Surrendered to Love,” by Andre Dubus III
The acclaimed novelist Andre Dubus III explains to his adult sons how, during his youth, he was more focused on fighting than on finding a wife. Then he saw a woman dance.

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She Was Not Yours to Violate,” by Jessica Lahey
A teacher contemplates how a promising young man became something else entirely.

“Anything Love,” by Seth Fishman
The children’s book author tackles the difference between how he feels about ice cream, his wife, and his son.

“Sloppy Chemistry Doesn’t Make Love Less Special,” by Patrick Coleman
In a letter addressed to his young sons, Patrick Coleman explains how it’s tempting for them to believe that mom and dad were made for each other. In a way they were, but only because of what came before.

“You’ve Got to Choose Love, Dammit,” by Nathan Rabin
The author explains to his sons that love makes both people and societies better — even though it can hurt like hell.

“Someday You Won’t Mind Kissing in Your Books,” by Sarina Bowen
The bestselling romance novelist tells her son the truth about Happily Ever After.

“Sometimes the Heart Wants What It Can’t Have,” by Adam Nemett
The novelist reminds his son that no one is perfect the way they are.

“Love Is the Greatest Act of Empathy,” by Tyghe Trimble
When it comes to love, the writer informs his son, every detailed story and neatly packaged piece of advice is a well-meaning fabrication. Sweet, but lies nonetheless.

“Love Makes Calculation Impossible,” by Joshua David Stein
We all want our lives to add up, the author tells his son. But that’s not how relationships work. That’s not how life works.