Growing up in an all-girl household - all except for my father who, as an Italian immigrant, wasn't exactly a typical Kiwi bloke - I was shielded, to some extent, from New Zealand's rigid male cultural code.
I was hopeless at sport and so teased mercilessly. I was mostly not allowed anywhere near the endless stream of rugby socials and parties surrounding me growing up in a small rural farming community. I was suitably disgusted, in a typical geeky way, when all members of the first 15 were made prefects in my last year of high school.
I hated, and still hate, rugby. So shoot me!
But now, as the mother of a young boy, I find myself conflicted about this kind of male-ness which my son would undoubtedly benefit from being a part of, even if to me it seems brutal and old-fashioned. I want to encourage a sort of robustness while dampening down the overly aggressive side of his typical toddler behaviour. I want him to become a man; a nice man, but assertive; not aggressive but sure of himself.
It's a difficult balancing act.
The fact of the matter is that I have a son with a rather gentle nature. Until yesterday he's been the kid that's been pushed, kicked or hit at by other kids. While I understand that some kids are rambunctious and some are laid back, I couldn't help myself panicking a bit. Would my son be teased as a mummy's boy? Would he become the victim of a bully? Would he encounter the kind of teasing that I saw boys endure when I was young, when shying away from rugby and other macho displays guaranteed you a school-lifetime full of misery?
Yesterday, however, something happened. A young girl with a streaming nose and sticky fingers came charging toward my four month old daughter, and my son pushed her out of the way. It's the first time I've ever seen him raise a finger to another child.
Of course, I told him off.
Of course, he did it again, and got told off again. I don't want him to go round pushing other kids. But at the same time, I couldn't help but feel proud that he'd tried to protect his sister.
Even if he then goes home and tries to whack her round the head himself with a hardback copy of A Wiggly Mystery.
As a mother who's son is usually on the receiving end of aggression, I know only too well what it feels like to have parents of little shites smile proudly or even laugh along as their (mainly) sons cause total havoc. "Oh he's always grabbing toys" they simper, or "he's full on" said with a giggle, as my son sits sobbing.
My son is a gentleman, as someone politely said while watching him studiously give his place on the slide over to every kid who stream-rolled past him one morning. If the world you're entering abides by the rules of good manners and gentlemanly behaviour, well and good.
But I suspect and fear - despite the fact this country's matured in many ways - that when it comes to the right and wrong ways for males of any age to be "men", that my little bloke may not be quite enough of a "bloke" for what lies ahead.
Dita De Boni
Pictured above: Kids rugby training at Onewa Domain. Photo / Amos Chapple