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My Son was about three when he picked up Freya’s pink pram and wanted it for himself. I remember that my initial thought was to take it off him because boys don’t do that; we’re meant to be rigid pioneers of society, thrusting our chests into anyone that comes into contact with us.
It’s the way I was raised anyway.
Then I remember thinking to myself that actually, I had spent the last fifteen years deprogramming what my parents, friends, and society had put into my head. So, we eventually bought him his own pink pram. We would take him a walk around the block with his teddies sitting in there. Bunny would be first in; Bunny was Alex’s favourite. Then in went stripes, George and polar bear. Alex has never been great with names, but nonetheless, we let him give them their own names anyway.
Alex doesn’t fit in with the cultural ‘definition’ of what being a boy is. He’s a gentle boy like me. He never likes play-fighting with the boys, and he’s much more comfortable playing with the girls because their type of play is far more delicate than what the rough and tumble with the boys are. He’s been a godsend to me really. Not only have I taught Alex that being himself is perfectly normal, but he has taught me the same. You see, before Alex came along I always thought there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t like the other boys.
My play was gentler than what the rest liked. Truth be told I was happier playing my computer than going out and being a lad and mixing with the girls in my community. I just didn’t understand them — girls were fucking weird. Girls were impossible. My Mum, even now, wishes that she had been more rough and tumble with me when I was a boy, yet what she’s really missing is that realistically, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I was always going to be who I am today.
I’ve did a lot of thinking over the last fifteen years and realised that my youth had been stolen away from me. Not on purpose, but because society at the time deemed that all men needed to aspire to something akin to the action man people like Arnold Schwarzenegger would play in movies. Anything else was deemed as a failure, a half-man, a no-man. Because of my personality and emotional type most of the kids on the council estate that I was brought up on thought I was a homosexual, and if they didn’t think I was gay they’d at least bully me for being weak.
My Mum had this weird notion that I needed to toughen up and to do so sometimes I had to fight down 5 kids at once. This just wasn’t fair. At least I’ll say one thing, I’m a gentle man that learned to hold his own. I haven’t been in a fight since High School though, so there you go. I ended up donning a big mask. It wasn’t acceptable to be the person that I was, so I’d just pretend to be someone different. I ended up pretending I was this great and awesome entity because I was too scared that people would learn the truth; who I actually was. A weak man. A puny, weak man.
Through this I discovered drugs and alcohol and twisted down a huge negative spiral of hating myself, being scared of responsibility and alcohol and drugs abuse. That time of my life wasn’t pretty. If we cut a long (and long in the tooth) story short, I’ll say that it ended really well for me. I ended up realising that being different or straying from cultural norms is a good thing. It enables me a different perspective on life, one that isn’t shared by all of my gender.
I had spent too long trying to fit in with the crowd. I was aiming for mediocrity. I was aiming for normalcy. How boring is that? I was aiming to blend in and not stand out. If I had realised that being me is unique, and awesome, and that there are many other men like me, trapped in a crazy spiral between the way they feel and social expectations of men, then I could have begun to speak out a long time ago.
This is why I do it differently with my son. He’s taught acceptance for himself at all times. That crying because he feels sad is normal. That being happy is normal. That feeling silly is normal. And when he likes a girl (which he does) then that’s absolutely normal too.
The core goal with me is that I’m trying to teach my son acceptance for who he is. When he’s angry we teach him that his anger is totally justified, because he is feeling it, and that’s fine. I was always taught to cheer up. My family didn’t like it when I was sad and angry and chose to tell me to be happy. The result? I grew up thinking anger was unnatural, when it isn’t, we all feel anger. So, if Alex wants to play skip rope with the girls all day long then so be it, this is what he wants to do, and that’s fine. This is him.
We spend so long trying to fit in with society; fit our kids into society; want the best for them, when we forget the most important thing. That our kids see the world from a different lens than we do. What is natural to them may not come naturally to us. Is it really that important that a five-year-old boy is playing with a pink pram? Really? Honestly? Mostly we act out of our own fear of how others in society will perceive us. Perhaps it’s time to get over ourselves and do what’s right for our sons.
I’m not saying don’t give boundaries though. Of course, Alex is going to be punished if he acts out; this is how he will learn skills that will help him in later life. He always gets an explanation, why he’s being punished but feeling the way he does is normal for a boy of his age and that doesn’t mean that Mummy and Daddy loves him any less.
He told me the other week that he really liked who he is. I was pleased because it means we’re doing a good job. It means he’s accepting himself. It means he will go into the world trusting his own actions and the actions of others.
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