Gentleman Lessons – originally pub. Nov. 13, 2008

“Gentlemen chew with their mouths closed.”

“Gentlemen don’t interrupt other people when they are talking.”

My four and five year old grandsons are giving me a rundown on their “gentlemen lessons” Their father, an authentic southern gentleman, imparts these bits of wisdom at the supper table. While the boys may not always live up to the ideal, they are forming a picture of proper behavior.

The other night, I witnessed another “gentleman lesson” being taught while watching a black and white episode of the old Leave it to Beaver television series. As a junior in high school, Wally Cleaver was maneuvered into escorting a less than popular young lady to a school dance. He was an unhappy camper, worried that his friends would give him a rough time.  His father explained to him that a gentleman’s only concern should be that his date has a good time. His own discomfort is unimportant.

I often hear pundits disparaging the “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “The Donna Reed Show” version of America. It is true that the image of an all white America where woman clean house in pearls and high heels may never have been an accurate depiction of the country. And the lives of the fictional characters portrayed may have been worlds away from the actual lives of the actors.

Nevertheless, I don’t think we should allow those shows to be so easily dismissed.

Is there any parent of a girl; white, black, Asian, or Hispanic, who doesn’t think it’s a good idea for boys to be taught to focus on a girl’s dignity and happiness rather than their own desires? Is it wrong to hold a picture of regular family dinners as a desirable goal, even if you are a woman who holds down a job outside the home? Isn’t it good for parents to be reminded that they, not the schools, not the community and not even their religious guides, have the responsibility of teaching morals, good character and proper behavior to their children?

I’m not a big fan of spending time watching TV. And the generation raised on these wholesome shows didn’t translate what they saw into how they lived their own lives. But I think might be a good idea for parents to watch a few hours now and then and be reminded that when you have children you have chosen a career and imparting upright values never goes out of date.

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