My Son is Graduating Next Week. But Please Don’t Tell Me How Nice or Polite He Is.

It’s June 2021. Holy crap how did that happen? June is always an emotional and busy month but this particular June brings with it an important milestone – my 18 year old son is preparing to leave his childhood behind and walk across a stage into a new phase of his life.

As every parent would say, it happened both in the blink of an eye, and at the same time in hours and days and years that sometimes felt like they would never come to an end. I do believe the word bittersweet was created for times such as these.

Graduation is such a time of reflection.  Of celebration. Of reminiscing. Well wishers are all around and we welcome each and every congratulatory word.

Except maybe two.

‘Nice’ and ‘polite’.

And right now you may be thinking what in heavens name is she talking about? But bear with me.

To me, those two adjectives have become such broad, blanketing monikers ~ they have little meaning to me anymore. And perhaps that’s unfortunate.

But it seems that whenever I hear of over privileged, highly educated, narcissistic young males being held accountable for something inexcusable or appalling or even criminal they did, I always hear someone from the public stand up and say “But he is such a nice, polite young man. Think about his future.” (Anyone remember some of the male Dalhousie Dentistry Students’ behaviour a few years back that garnered some comments such as these when expulsion was raised?)

So instead of sharing what a nice polite young man my son is, instead maybe tell me one of the following:

Tell me how well rounded he is.  

Tell me he is an athlete who has never been the best, but is tenacious and never gives up on the court or on the field.

Tell me he cheers loudly for his teams and teammates, with vigour and encouragement.

Tell me he is imperfect.

Tell me how he is a gatherer. How it’s important to him to create experiences for him and his friends.

Tell me he is hard working.

Tell me he has jumped to conclusions.

Tell me he has always been full of school spirit and walks the hallways bouncing between clubs and activities.

Tell me about his work as Co-Chair of Respect for Diversity and for PLAYAS in his school. Tell me about the relationships he built and the behind the scenes work he did as part of a team to bring this work to the student body.

Tell me he has made mistakes.  Because he has.  Little ones and big ones.  At home, at school, with his friends. I am always amazed at people who say things like “my child would never”.  If we think our child ‘would never’ they probably ‘have’. Five times over. And if we raise our children to feel like the sun rises and sets on their perfectly coiffed heads, or maybe in fact raise them to not make any mistakes at all in the safety of our family nest – how will they learn to make mistakes out on their own? Yes my son has made mistakes.  He will make more. I just hope that the learnings he had while making them under our roof will carry him through to adulthood better for the world.

Tell me how he goes out of his way to speak to you when you come into his place of work.

Tell me he is kind. Kind is vastly different from nice. It is. Kind seeks you out. Nice placates you.

I really want to absorb that last sentence. I believe it so whole heartedly to be true.

Tell me he is generous.

Tell me you see that he values equity. 

Tell me how he anonymously sticks candy in his friends’ mailboxes who are having a hard time.

Tell me he has said ‘I’m sorry’ and also ‘I forgive you’ when he has had misunderstandings with people in his life. I’ve heard him.

But also tell me that for the bigger things, the real and deep things that affects how he feels valued by others, tell me that he does not forgive easily or quickly. It’s something he has to work on. (It’s actually something we both have to work on).

Tell me he made a difference in your life. 

Tell me he made you smile or laugh.

Tell me he stands up.

Tell me he is sensitive.

Tell me he is sometimes too quick to emotion and has lashed out when feeling hurt. None of us are just one thing.

Tell me he is incredibly diligent at keeping in touch with people who have moved away in his life.

Tell me he is often too sarcastic.

Tell me he is grateful. Not only that he ‘says thank you’ but that you can feel he is actually grateful.

Tell me he wants to be involved in everything.

Tell me he is flawed.

Tell me about his work with Childhood Cancer Canada.

Tell me he wants to make a difference.

Tell me he tries.

Tell me he talks to everyone.

Tell me things I don’t know about him.

Tell me about any and all of these attributes.

But please, again, don’t tell me he is nice and polite.

I have heard about those boys in the media. The boys that say and do all the ‘right’ things for their counterparts and people of authority to see.

I have also met those boys. I have seen how slick and aware they are of how others see them. I have seen them hide and be excused from behaviour that others wouldn’t be. I have heard the nicest and most polite young men say the meanest of things when they believed no one was listening. I have heard them tell of tactics to get popular, to get likes, to become top of the school social chain that makes me cringe and want to re-define what people think of as mean.

All while saying their pleases and thank you’s.

In my opinion, the nice and polite boys are sometimes the boys who become the over-privileged-take-what-I-want young men in this world. The ones people excuse with statements such as ‘boys will be boys’.

So no. “He is so nice and polite” means little to me.

Tell me all the other things. Both about my kid and about yours – the positives, the not-so positives, and the learnings.

Because we are sending them off into the world now. To find their way on their own. To be the men they are going to choose to be.

And nice and polite isn’t going to cut it.

Nor should we let it.


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