How to Raise a Gentleman: A Civilized Guide to Helping Your Son Through His Uncivilized Childhood

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I picked up Kay West’s How to Raise a Gentleman in Pioneer Book, where it was tucked into a parenting shelf. The book was classy as all get-out. Leather-bound, embossed, and basically looking genteel. I had just given birth to a baby boy. I bought the book.

I was both impressed and irritated with this book. On the one hand, West provides some great insight into raising a child (particularly a boy). Every chapter includes some basic advice, along with a list of condensed pointers and, most importantly, pointers for parents. Parents lead by example – so her book includes rules for parents’ behaviors. If your young man sees you treat others with respect, they will follow suit.

On the other hand, West can come across as rather snooty. Some of this is just because I don’t agree with all her recommendations; I opened the book prepared to take the book as advice, not law. But sometimes, I feel like she crosses a line that most people wouldn’t. For example, when she teaches the proper etiquette for attending the ballet, I would disregard it because I would never force myself to sit through the ballet, let alone my son. But when she states in no uncertain terms that she’d rather sit next to a wailing baby for three hours on a flight than next to a sweaty guy in flip-flops and a cut-off T-shirt because you’re supposed to dress for the occasion, I can’t help but wonder what this woman is like in person. She emphasizes respect for others’ cultures to an extreme – and I approve of that – but she doesn’t seem to include lower classes (or traditionally lower-class behaviors) in that tolerance.

Overall, I think the book is about 50/50. Half of the chapters are spot-on. Half of them just get me irritated. Kay ends the book with an emotional anecdote about a Christmas ornament she’s kept for decades to remind herself how hurt her friend had looked when Kay (as a child) opened the gift box, pulled out the ornament, and reacted with disgust. The friend had made the ornament herself, and was devastated. Kay still has the ornament on her tree every year to remind herself of the importance of appreciating other people. I think her intent was to emphasize that gratitude can go a long way. The message she actually sends is that you can seriously damage somebody if you slip up on your hand-written thank-you notes.

Overall, I think I would recommend the book, with a grain of salt. It has a lot of useful tips, on subjects I wouldn’t have thought of. She seems to have thought of a million situations where a young man might need to behave respectfully, and realistic ways to respond. But her approach is too strict for my taste. I guess I’m not really looking to make my little man a perfect gentleman. ♦

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