I am a husband, a brother, a son and also a father to three amazing girls. But none of that qualifies me to speak on other people’s issues or beliefs in such a way as to lead anyone to believe that they must see the world through my lens. While I can come across this way at times, passionate people, who are also stubborn and effusive, tend to be seen as opinionated and demanding. Yet no one is forced to agree or even read…but that doesn’t mean that I have nothing to say. I hope all will keep that in mind if you choose to keep reading.
I have now worked for 20 years with at risk kids. I work with kids who are typically from the lower end of the economic spectrum and who’ve struggled to fit in or even comply at times. In that 20 years, I’ve worked with roughly an equal amount of boys and girls and they haven’t changed all that much in that time. What has changed is the messages that are directed towards them based on their gender. When I began, we tended to love our sons and raise our daughters. “Boys will be boys” and “girls must know their place and role and never be seen as difficult or, heaven forbid, bitchy.” Having three daughters, I can tell you that the message needed editing; thoughtful and careful editing.
Sadly, the messaging has been edited ad nauseam and with little regard for how the new messages would be perceived by the most vulnerable.
Masculinity became toxic and something that everyone got to weigh in on as to how it could be lost.
Meanwhile, femininity became something that girls were allowed and even expected to define for themselves; as long as empowerment was a part of the definition. I am thankful for this as my girls have options that seem limitless and unbelievable.
But as a result, the boys that I work with are truly struggling. They tend to be timid, insecure, risk and conflict avoidant and, in many cases, defeated. Every one of them is struggling to know how to become a man and has far too much experience with being told that they, for one reason or another, simply aren’t enough or good enough to be a man. Well, they got the message.
Meanwhile, the girls that I work with tend to be bolder, more risk oriented, sometimes fearless and often aggressive; much like the boys of yesteryear. They got the message too.
Boys in the back seat, because girls deserve to be in the front. Never mind that there are plenty of front seats available.
As a father of three girls, I am thrilled that the shackles of days gone by have been removed. As a man that works to help boys to become men, I’ve never been more concerned for their futures.
So I teach and persist in helping the kids I work with to be more comfortable with themselves and less at risk.
I try to show them masculinity that isn’t toxic. For me, masculinity is about protecting those that need it most and those that I am fortunate enough to love. The first thing I protected my children from was the lies that some fathers tell. I chose to be honest because my masculinity demands that my children be able to trust me. In addition, sometimes I protect loved ones from being hurt by others and sometimes I protect them from my negative emotions and my pain; not because they can’t handle it, but because they shouldn’t have to. I tend to protect my loved ones most from my hurt, my sadness and my struggle with what I cannot control. I don’t spend as much energy protecting them from my anger as allowing myself to be ok with anger serves to remind them that I can protect them from the scariest and worst people that may try to hurt them. Sometimes my drive to protect them serves to limit their ability to see my most human characteristics but it also insures that, whenever possible, they don’t have to worry about me or about protecting me.
I also try to celebrate the femininity that is most healing. The nurturing and selfless giving by strong women to meet the needs of others. Moms.
If I am honest, I’ve been accused of nurturing at times and I can’t really deny it. But most men are. We tend to nurture with information and wisdom and occasionally with a little extra cash or an early morning “I love you.” Dads.
So, while I get that the backseat got to be tiresome I have never really wanted to sit in the backseat, it was time to support social change that made the front seat available to all, I am hopeful that we can careful message that boys still have a place in the front seat. They no longer need to be defined by being the only driver, but there is still room to be supportive and complimentary to the women that we love. Young and old.
Years of injustice will never be solved by additional years of injustice for a different group of people that we deem deserving of our injustice.