How many parents do we know who refer to their adult sons as “boys” and “kids?” Lots. Yet there has been an explosive response to President Trump characterizing his son Donald Jr., who will testify next week before a Senate committee investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, as a “good boy” and a “good kid.”
As Jennifer Weiner recently pointed out, allowing men to be eternal boys excuses bad behavior by absolving them of responsibility for their actions. But “boyhood” as a social category has never been fully distinct from manhood. Calling a man a “boy” can mean many things, some of them contradictory. It can be a declaration of love, a call for sympathy, a warning of imminent violence or a calculated strategy to deflect attention from a crime.
In early America, whether rich, poor or somewhere in between, boys were expected to work as soon as they were able. The early achievements that Lin-Manuel Miranda ascribes to the Founding Fathers in “Hamilton” — Aaron Burr’s matriculation to Princeton as a 13-year-old, or Alexander Hamilton’s clerkship at 14 — were not unusual for young men of their class and race….
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