Australian dad-to-be and men’s counsellor, Adam Blanch, shares his fears of raising his son in a world of changing gender relations.
Sometime in the next few weeks my beautiful new son will arrive into this world. His name is Oliver and he is due to be born in August. He will be my first child, and I can already feel a growing fierceness and determination inside me to protect this vulnerable life.
I realise that I can’t protect him against everything, that life is unpredictable and that into every life a little rain must fall. I’m pretty confident that between my wife and I we can handle the basics of food, shelter and safety. I know that we will love him, praise him, educate him well, encourage him to be himself and support his dreams. For these I am grateful for the privilege we experience.
What I can’t protect him against is society and the messages he will get about who he is and who he is supposed to be. I feel powerless to insulate his precious identity against people who seem to want to define him for their own purposes. In particular, I fear the identity that society will be trying to hand him based on his gender.
I will try to teach him that he is who he feels himself to be. That he is innocent, worthy, loveable, capable, and the equal of anyone else. But I feel like I am up against forces that wish to teach him the exact opposite of that.
I am concerned that my son will be treated differently because he is a boy. I am concerned that people will be slower to respond to his cries of pain or distress; or may ignore them altogether, or even shame him for them. I am concerned that if he displays his feelings he will be rejected and most likely ridiculed, and that he will learn from an early age that he is expected to solve his own problems while his female peers will be supported to solve theirs.
I am concerned that if he has a fight in the schoolyard with a girl he will be punished while she will be protected, regardless of who started it or who was winning it. I am concerned that this pattern will be continued throughout his life and that he will automatically be considered to be the perpetrator in any conflict. I am concerned that he will be judged on the shape of his genitals, not the content of his character.
I worry about the latest statistics, that tell me he is 20 times more likely than his sister to die or be injured at work, that he will have a 90% chance of being physically assaulted and that society will do little to protect him from this. I am deeply disturbed by recent research in Australia showing that 20% of our young men feel that life is not worth living, 10% are considering suicide and 2% will attempt it. I am angered that if television and media continue down there current path he will be constantly bombarded with a narrative that says he is stupid, incompetent, irrelevant, evil and disposable.
I am concerned about research that tells me that in Australia even if he gets exactly the same test results as the girls he will be given a lower grade, because the girls will get extra marks for being more socially gregarious. I am concerned about the media reports that tell me he will be less likely to enter university, less likely to get a scholarship and less likely to have a career that satisfies him.
I am concerned that if he gets divorced he has almost no chance of getting equal custody of his children, and may not get to see them at all, even if he is the world’s best father. It worries me deeply that he can be accused of a crime without evidence and the court will award against him unless he can prove himself innocent of that accusation.
I feel compelled to say this because I’ve been in the trenches with men for the past 20 years as a men’s counselor and now as a provisional psychologist. I regularly see the damage caused by a society that fails to care about the issues and the suffering that men and boys face.
So how do I protect my son?
It is my intention to make sure that my son knows that he is valuable in his own right, not fodder for the industrial machine or a glorified sperm donor. I want him to grow up secure in who he is and following his passions in the world. I want him to know in his bones that he has the right to live life on his terms, by his values and according to his dreams. Most importantly I want him to know that his identity is his to create, and that no one has the right to impose their self serving, limiting and toxic narratives on him.
I feel blessed to have created an equal and supportive relationship with a spectacular and powerful woman, and to be entering parenthood together. I hope our example will help our son find a way to negotiate the rapidly changing world of gender relations, and the sometimes unhealthy gender politics that lurk around the edges of that change.
I am sure we will all grow and learn together as a family—-mother, father and son (and the daughter we hope will follow) —but right now I am fearful that my little boy will be growing up in a society where the odds are stacked against him. I honestly don’t know how I can protect my son, but I do know that I will do everything in my power.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Mike Baird