The New Fatherhood
Tonight’s party started out with seeing an acquaintance again, after quite a while. From the first moment she got to talking about this guy she beat up the night before, because he had been repeating “I’m going to rape you” to her and her friends as they were leaving a bar. Even after the police came, she continued to slap him and wouldn’t give back the clothes she tore from him.
It was hard to wipe the grin off my face as she told me. Violence might not be “the answer” but a rape threat is pretty damn violent in itself. If you want my opinion (and everyone does, right?) he had it coming. What he did was way out there and perhaps now, as he is treating his burst lip in jail, his penny might drop after all. I later commended her for sticking up for herself and her friends.
It had been a long time since I got to witness the passing of an evening in a small “brown” café, as we call them. As usual, I was the only sober one there and saw how the girls sought shelter in each other’s company, away from the men, who swayed after them, babbling about football or something equally interesting.
They still accepted their drinks though, pouring one half-full glass of wine into the next as it was shoved in front of them. They didn’t spend much money there but I couldn’t help but wonder how dearly they were paying for that alcohol. Say what you want about how accepting a drink doesn’t mean you owe them anything; I’m pretty sure the men didn’t see it that way.
I went to say goodbye to my friend and perhaps slightly drunk, she said “Good, we don’t need any more men here.” She was obviously joking but I couldn’t help but agree with her. By the time I left the place, my faith in the male sex had reached an all-time low.
“The answer doesn’t lie in telling our daughters to be afraid of the men. Instead, we should be telling our sons to treat all people with equal respect.”
I read this when I knew I would be having a child, but didn’t know the gender yet. And although I didn’t do this consciously, I feel like a relatively young part of my mind raised its hand and vowed that if I had a son, he would learn this lesson.
My father never taught me any of it. I do remember vaguely how he said all people were born equal, but we never really had a talk about it, mostly because I never asked. He was remarkably quiet about these things. But he did mimic my mother’s hairdresser’s behavior and said he was a little bit “from the other side”, and he might have cracked the occasional sexist or racist joke. I thought all of that was hilarious. In fact, I still do.
Even though that gap in understanding has been largely filled, this is still the situation I was brought up in and the values and ideas that my parents had, are deeply rooted in my psyche. The idea that cross dresser are freaks, that homosexuals behave a certain way, that colors have a gender, and so on. All nonsense, I realize now, but still firmly embedded in my mind. And because of a lack of exposure to anything proving otherwise, these preconceptions stubbornly refuse to leave my head.
I still have strong emotional reactions when I see a man in women’s clothing, or even wearing pink. I honestly can’t help it. The absolute best I can do at that moment is to get over it and compensate for my unreasonable feelings enough that on the outside, I show no difference with my treatment of that person, compared to that with someone who does fit into my narrow little definition of “normal”.
I hope to teach my son that around me, he will be able to express himself radically and not feel any shame whatsoever in portraying how he feels inside. I think it’s important that he knows, he can be anyone he wants to be. At least, in theory.
He is my son. And I love him. I want to do things with him, in fact I can’t wait to teach him about dinosaurs and the stardust we are made of. I want to take him on hikes and show him what an amazing thing capoeira is. But just as much, I will have to allow him to teach me things too, that I might not find interesting at first, but he will. And if these things deviate from anything my stupid reptilian brain thinks is tolerable, I might feel some reluctance I will have a very hard time hiding. And my big ideas of giving him absolute freedom to pursue his own identity, go right out the window.
This was, ironically, something my father is extremely good at: Accepting that my choices would sometimes be drastically different from his. I often heard him say “I have no regrets, except for my time in the army.” And yet, when I told him I had enlisted, he blinked a few times, and said, “If that’s what you want.” My most extreme decisions and even mistakes didn’t even phase him and if he was ever disappointed with them, he never showed it in the least. I genuinely hope I inherited that skill, but somehow I doubt it.
Teaching him things differently than I was taught: It will be a matter of putting reason above emotion, and luckily I am quite good at that. It’s just a little hard to do when caught off guard, which will probably happen sooner or later. If he ever says that he feels uncomfortable telling me things about himself, things that concern his identity, I will consider myself a failure as a father. But just as much, if I ever see him disrespect someone because of their identity, he’ll have hell to pay.
And I don’t intend to let either of those happen.