Teaching Men to be Emotionally Honest

by Jason Rosewell

…Yet when they are immunized against this deeper emotional honesty, the results have far-reaching, often devastating consequences.

Despite the emergence of the metrosexual and an increase in stay-at-home dads, tough-guy stereotypes die hard. As men continue to fall behind women in college, while outpacing them four to one in the suicide rate, some colleges are waking up to the fact that men may need to be taught to think beyond their own stereotypes.

…By the time many young men do reach college, a deep-seated gender stereotype has taken root that feeds into the stories they have heard about themselves as learners. Better to earn your Man Card than to succeed like a girl, all in the name of constantly having to prove an identity to yourself and others.

Read the full article here at NYT.

Thanks, Kimmy!

When Bryce Said, “I Hate White People!” (pt 2)

Dawn’s Perspective

It was the final evening of a lovely week at Grammie’s in Charlotte. Grammie makes sure we have the best time possible in her city, a city that has southern hospitality to spare. With such an inviting combination, how can anyone on vacation lose?

Grammie thought it’d be nice if we went to Maggiano’s on our last day before returning to our routines in Chicago. Somewhere between the discovery of the best artichoke dip I had ever had and bites of fried zucchini, my then 4 year old says aloud, “I hate white people.”

Mind you, our server was white as were the dinner guests at the table next to us, and the majority of the dining area. As I recall, my toddler son did not yell the shocking declaration. There was no anger in his voice. Instead, he made his announcement with a sad resolve and perhaps resignation.

The three adults at the table, myself, his father, and his grandmother were stunned to absolute silence. “Where did this come from,” I panicked internally. “Have I given him a reason to hate white people?” “Has he heard hate come from my mouth or seen it from any of my private actions?” I was literally stupefied.

My first external reaction was to vehemently dismiss his words and to protest, to chastise him for making such an “obscene” statement. “No, Bryce!,” my face grimacing. “No! You do not hate white people!” Bryce, a wonderfully expressive child, who heard my reprimand and took in the perplexed faces around him, immediately began to cry.

I then knew that chastising him was the wrong response and frankly not at all consistent with the way I had been parenting him. I’ve always encouraged Bryce to speak the truth, that there is nothing at all wrong with telling the truth about how he feels. Sometimes, I even go so far as to reward Bryce for telling the truth. This time around, because I was embarrassed by Bryce’s truth-telling, I reacted in fear.

The wisest of the bunch, our dear Grammie, naturally found the words to ask the reasonable question, “Why, Bryce? Why do you hate white people?” Bryce responded matter-of-factly, “Because they killed Martin Luther King.”  It was interesting to me that he said that “they,” white people, killed Martin Luther King. He saw fit to tie the actions of one white man to all white people…a generalization that causes me to question the role we all play in our complicity when an unjust crime occurs. Grammie’s non-verbal response was priceless. She nodded and said nothing at all.

What was great about the moment was that there was nothing to be said after Bryce’s answer.  Bryce had been learning in school about the work of Martin Luther King and about the Civil Rights Movement. He goes to a private school that is intentional about African American history as well as Christian principles. So Bryce learned that an innocent man, who used his life to challenge, oppose, and resist hateful violence, oppression, injustice, and savagery was murdered because of his race, because of his life’s work. Why wouldn’t that cause anyone to feel deeply and to have strong feelings against the perpetrator and his actions?

As Michael said in his post, we knew that Bryce didn’t hate white people. He calls his godparents, Aunt and Uncle, not because we make him, but because it’s a natural term for him…they are family. When Mommy and Daddy cannot pick him up from school, and Uncle David or Auntie Maggie shows up, he runs to them and greets them with a hug. He eats food from their hands, he shares a bed with their son, he is comforted and consoled by their hugs, and their words of love. The same is true for Aunt Sheila and Uncle Alan, and “Bonsai” and Ms. Wendy…Bryce has love for people in our lives who are white.

But the truth of that moment and what made me so proud of Bryce for saying what he said, is the courage it took for him to say how he felt. He knew it could be problematic for him to say aloud how he was feeling, hence his preface, “I don’t want God to be mad at me.” But he pressed through the baseless facade, something that I couldn’t do as an adult of 36 years, and he spoke his truth, which gave us an opportunity to clarify his feelings.

He doesn’t hate white people, he hates whatever it is that causes people to treat other people so dishonorably. I marveled at how he could make such an honest connection at his young age. It reminded me that one of the gifts of a child is to remind us what the truth really is, to face it, and to uncomfortably sit with it…something that frankly seems like the honest thing to do concerning race in this country.

Why Fathers Reject Affection

I read the Baby Center Bulletin the other day and the article was about why toddlers may reject affection from their parents.  If you aren’t familiar with Babycenter, it’s a website that captures most, if not all, of what you need to know about babies–from pregnancy to delivery to infancy and so on.  I’ve been reading weekly emails from them since I signed up after we found out we would have a baby the summer of 2009.

The article got me thinking.  I have my own reasons for rejecting my boy’s affection.  And since my reasons are often similar to my kid’s, I’m going to list the same reasons they gave in the Baby Center piece, and reflect on them, in a sentence or two, from a father’s perspective.

  1. He’s had a bad day.  While grown people should handle our bad days differently than our children, we do have them.  And bad days affect us in a variety of ways.  One way is by us withholding ourselves.  Another way is by rejecting the people we love.  Acknowledge the day, bad or good, and go to sleep at night hoping that the next one won’t be a twin.
  2. He’s recovering from a tantrum.  I don’t know that I have tantrums, but I do go off from time to time, and I need my wife or my friends to bring me back to my senses by knocking me around in whatever way works.  They may need to give me space and let me roll in the floor until I notice that I look as foolish as ever.  They may need to be patient as I come back to myself, recovering slowly and trying to find my pride.
  3. He’s upset with you and doesn’t know how to say it.  I’m a father who’s new at this, and when it comes to interacting with my son, I don’t know how to express all my feelings.  I tell him when I’m upset.  I tell him when I’m happy.  He only recognizes the changes in tone, the bass or the soprano underneath my words.  He’s just now starting to realize my expressions, particularly when I’m not including the phrases, “Don’t do that,” or “Stop,” or “No.”  How am I supposed to communicate with this kid?
  4. He may be going through an “independent” phase.  I have to remind my wife that Bryce owns nothing, that he doesn’t work, that he’s entitled to nothing, and that his contributions to our household are best measured in decibels.  I tell her and him that I and we had a life before the boy and that that life is sprinkled across the home that the kid is trying his best to overtake.  That’s independence and that’s smart.  Because it’s true.  Sometimes I assert those truths better than I integrate being  a father.
  5. He’s in a Daddy-favoring (or Mommy-favoring) phase.  My son is in a permanent Daddy-favoring stage.  He loves me, but I don’t always reciprocate.  Don’t misunderstand me: I love the boy.  I care deeply about him.  But I know too well that as much as I want my love and care to be unconditional—the I’d do anything for my son kinda love—I know that’s not true.  That’s because I’m too good at being selfish.  Yes, parenting is working that out of me.  Parenting is making me give my attention, time, money, care, ideas, and money to someone else.  But selfishness is a slow beast to kill.
  6. He may not be the touchy-feely type.  Bryce is the touchy-feely type.  For people he likes that is.  He loves to hug and kiss.  In fact, if I ask him for a kiss, he’s subject to giving me 14 of them.  I like to express my affection physically, but I don’t give 14 kisses.  Each time my boy runs to me after I open the door in the evening or when I go into the room I let him live in to pick him up out of his crib, he’s grabbing and hugging and singing some song that I can’t understand.  Perhaps he’s not always singing and hugging.  Sometimes he just walks to me and turns in a circle as if to say, “Oh, you.  You keep coming back.”  I hope in all those moments that my disposition doesn’t poison him.  I hope that his touchy-feelyness brings him joy, and that I don’t dampen his way of loving.
  7. He isn’t feeling well.  When fathers don’t feel well, we need space.  We need to walk or run or bike or sit or read or play or groan.  Sometimes we know what we need to make us feel better.  Other times, like the mothers of our children and like our children themselves, we have no idea what will heal us.  And we don’t always know what sickens us either.
  8. He’s experiencing real anger or distress—and acting out inappropriately.  I am like all fathers.  I experience distress.  Real distress.  My kid, well, what does he have to be angry about?  He doesn’t know distress.  He may know impatience, but he knows nothing about distress.  That said, I know that I haven’t handled my early days as a dad in the best ways.  I’m glad that my wife can call me on something, that she can give me that look, and that my friends can also bring me back to my senses when I go off and stay off a little too long.  I wouldn’t be able to father without them.
Why do you think fathers reject affection?