I will ask society to stop putting our men in boxes of masculinity, stifling them and shaming them and stripping them of the very things that make them humans.
My partner and I are sitting on our living room floor, our son between us. Blocks and flashing toys and a miniature basketball and an unnecessarily loud contraption surround us; a minefield of palpable childhood. We’re thoughtlessly playing, stacking blocks and pressing buttons and making truck noises when – without warning, reason or prompt – our son walks to me, kisses me on the lips, then walks to his father and kisses him on the lips. He does this for ten minutes, back and forth, kissing his parents and giggling.
When we stopped smiling and the searing warmth of pride subsided and I had sufficiently wiped the tears from my eyes, I started to feel afraid. A feeling that was as overwhelming as it was surprising.
My son is naturally affectionate. He loves cuddling and giving kisses and dishing out hugs. I see a softness and a sensitivity in him, even at a young age, and while many are quick to attribute these characteristics to simply being a one-year-old, I know plenty of children his age who don’t kiss or cuddle or hug as often as he does.
I know my son, and I know that the natural attributes he’s exhibiting so early in his life, are a small sample of the young man he is going to grow up to be.
We so often talk about the scrutinies and pressures women face in today’s society. We speak to the characteristics women are expected to embody in order to be considered feminine or attractive or acceptable.
And while the aforementioned is a discussion worth having, nationally and otherwise, so is the conversation concerning men, and the pressures they face to adhere to a societal standard of masculinity.
A standard that left me afraid on my living room floor, moments after my son had finished being his normal, kissable self.
A standard that could strip my son of his natural instinct to be sensitive, loving, caring and affectionate.
A standard that is as terrifying as it is cruel.
The world tells our sons that they shouldn’t cry. That because they were born with a specific set of anatomy, their feelings are not worthy of expression. We tell them that they cannot justifiably be upset to the point of mourning or sobbing and if, just if, they do become tearful and emotional, they are less than. They are lacking. They are weak. We tell them that they’re not strong or capable or brave.
We tell them they’re not men. We tell them to suck it up and “man up” and be strong.
We tell them not to feel.
The world tells our sons they shouldn’t be affectionate. That to show a woman, or a man, that they care about them with sensitive, physical action, is to be whipped or vulnerable or soft. We tell them that they cannot have the upper hand in any relationship if they falter and—in a moment of weakness—are the first to exhibit any semblance of sensitivity. We tell them they couldn’t possibly be considered leaders or authoritative or in control.
We tell them they’re not men. We tell them to be cold and aloof and indifferent.
We tell them not to care.
The world tells our sons that they shouldn’t be understanding or sensitive. That to weep when others weep or feel when others feel or hurt when others hurt, is to be unreliable and ineffective. We tell them they should be steadfast in their convictions, to the point of closed-mindedness, because if they change their minds they must not be passionate or honorable or decisive. We tell them that putting themselves in other people’s shoes is to not care about their own pair. We tell them they’re delicate if another person impacts them in a powerful, altering way.
We tell them they’re not men. We tell them to be sure and steady and unquestionable.
We tell them not to learn.
My son is sleeping on my chest now, his tiny arms wrapped around my neck as his wild head of hair tickles my nose. I feel his chest rise and fall with each seamless breath, and in this moment I am not afraid of the world telling him he cannot be who he is. I’m not afraid of the world stripping him of his natural instinct to be kind and loving and sensitive and affectionate, because I am here to tell him it is okay. I am here to assure him that these attributes do not make him less of a man.
I am here to tell him he will be a great man, because of these things.
But one day, I won’t be.
And with that realization, the fear creeps back in, and like the minefield of toys that represent his childhood, I am left navigating my way through the dreaded concerns I cannot seem to sweep away.
So, I will cherish these moments—when my son is free to walk back and forth between his parents, kissing them freely without fear of being seen as weak or inept or less than—and I will ask the world to be better. I will ask society to stop putting our men in boxes of masculinity, stifling them and shaming them and stripping them of the very things that make them humans.
And I will continue to see the natural attributes my son is exhibiting so early in his life, as small samples of the young man he is going to grow up to be.
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