Return Of the Gentleman: What Black Boys Could Stand To Learn From Their Elders—For Our Girls’ Sake

I mean, I get it: he is my father and so Daddy is going to be an absolute gentleman to his little girl—make me feel special and protected and respected and loved, in that order, at all times. It is what he does. What’s he’s always done. And it never, ever gets old.

Still, as a grown woman with two daughters of my own, I notice it more—his opening the car door and building doors, too. How he gently leads me by the elbow when I’m tottering on my highest stiletto, and how he pulls out the chair and slides it close to the backs of my knees when I sit at a table. With him, I buy nothing. I don’t pump my own gas. Car trouble is his worry, not mine. And when I announce a want out loud, Daddy makes it happen in double time. Nothing outrageous. For example, just last week while visiting my father, I pushed “send” on my 22nd book and announced, “We need to celebrate—where’s the chocolate?” And within a half hour, the man produced a chocolate cake.

I love him with abandon.

He loves me the same.

This makes me giddy. It also makes me extremely sad and a wee bit unnerved. I’ll explain: My father is from a generation that believes in being gentlemanly. In his circle, those old school manners are like Gators and well-tailored suits, Marvin Gaye and Cadillacs. Classic. Ingrained. Deliberate. And, for those of us on the receiving end, quite endearing—a reminder of a time’s past when black men revered their women and did everything within their power to put us on a pedestal, particularly because they knew no one else could be bothered. I’m not saying every man from that era did the right thing by their ladies, or were masters at etiquette. But I do know this: I’ve yet to come across a man aged 60 and up who isn’t as thoughtful and attentive as my daddy and my Uncle Berk and my father-in-law and all the other older men in my life.

What makes me sad about this? My girlpies are being reared amongst a bunch of kids who get their etiquette cues from Lil’ Wayne, 2 Chainz and A$AP Rocky—a gang of little boys who display through word and visual deed that women are meant for poles, not pedestals, and respect is not an option. Rather than pay for the meal, they toss dollars; rather than escort a lady by the elbow and open the door, she brings up the rear and gets ignored until it’s time for her to “service” him. Of course, I don’t know if any of those men are like this in real life, but they sure do make that impression in their art.

How does this translate in the real world, with a generation of teen girls and boys trying to negotiate the social etiquette terrain with the opposite sex? It turns into black mothers trying to explain to their daughters why black boys talk about their asses and make comments about their breasts and chase them down school hallways, yelling the lyrics to “Bandz A Make Her Dance” and “Tap Out.” (True story, as relayed from a dear friend of mine who recounted her daughter’s summer camp experience with some black boys.)

Not that I’m suggesting for a minute that every black teenage boy is a heathen who disrespects his female counterpart. I’m sure there are some respectful boys out there. I know a few of them. But my God, what a reward it would be for our girls if the boys in their lives got a little bit (rather, a LOT more) of my Daddy’s generation in them—if they saw the reward in respecting our daughters and reclaiming the ways of the gentleman. I want my girls to know what it feels like to have a boy be kind to her—genuinely kind—without being told to do so, and with pleasure, because he knows my girls deserve it.

What a wonderful world this would be.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

6 Comments

  1. You have just described my own father. And I miss him desperately. I wish all men treated the women in their lives with this type of love and affection…..

    I also mentor young women. I have an older male friend who comes in periodically shows and explains the whats and hows of how a lady is supposed to be treated. You should see the surprised faces on these girls. SMH….

  2. I thought the same thing. I saw a group of teens out for prom. The girls were shivering and all of the guys had on their jackets. I was like, “Wow.” It’s just this generation.. We have to teach them..

  3. I feel the same way about my daddy too! Absolute gems! And thankfully, I feel the same about my fiance’…yes, we are in a dilemma that needs prayer AND action…

  4. You’ve described the men in my life so well. It’s important that we do for them as well. Example: He loves smelling food cooking at the end of a long day…I can see it in his eyes. Doesn’t take much to please him, and I love doing it.

  5. We have to remember that these men are older. How did they act when they were teenage boys? We have to realize that young boys and girls go through stages of maturity and eventually grow up. Also remember the old saying, “there is nothing new under the sun”; young men have always been this way.

  6. One very important fact being overlooked here. That fact being “Women love jerks!” The few of you that took the time to respond are rare exceptions. I would like to know if you’ve been attracted to “gentlemen” your whole life, or if it was something that grew on you later after you’d gone through some things in regards to relationships. I’m curious. I found more often than not it’s the latter. Of course these experiences could just be unique to me, I won’t deny that as a possibility. Say what you will about those girls at the prom but I’m certain they’ll spend at least a good portion of their lives continuing to swoon over men that won’t give up their sport coats. Not only that but chivalry seems to have become a crime punishable by public clowning on behalf of the benefactor. Two very short stories I’d like to share that immediately came to mind. I remember opening a door offering to help push a cart to the register at a grocery store for some lady with two full carts of groceries and being shocked and appalled by hearing raise her voice to a level I’m sure everyone in the store could here so she could scald me by letting me know my behavior was akin to being thirsty and that she had a man. I turned around to see a small crowd of people decided it would be entertaining to stop and laugh. I also pulled over on the way to work to help some lady stranded on the freeway with a vehicle in need of repair. I asked her if there was anything I could do to help. I thought maybe she needed a flat changed or some fuel which I always carry. No such luck… I never found out what the problem was but she did inform me she didn’t want my help in any way whatsoever. Moms was in the passenger seat telling me not to stop the whole time and I didn’t listen. I drove off. Three minutes later I see two sets of blue and whites flashing in my mirror. I pulled over of course thinking I got clocked speeding (notorious for driving fast). It had nothing to do with speeding. After being pulled out of the car and searched and questioned about my interaction with the young lady I was informed that she called the police because she was afraid of me. Two things I won’t do for a woman anymore unless I know you personally… stop to help you with a car or ask you if you need help with something in a public place. Chivalry may be dieing but I need women that are guilty of this sort of behavior to own up to helping kill it. As the father of a daughter I agree that young ladies could benefit as you stated but I can’t help but wonder would they care? Would they appreciate it?

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