A Letter to My Son…

A not so quick note: (skip it if you want 🙂 I wrote this a few weeks back. And then I started to think. I started to wonder if maybe it would be seen as sexist, or too demanding or…something. And so I didn’t post it. The thing is, I’ve seen a lot in my feeds lately about the unfair treatment of women in the workforce and the “rise of western women” and the battle between the sexes. (And I didn’t even know we were battling. I kind of wish someone had given me a heads up. I would’ve packed some snacks or something.)

Despite the rather off-color joke I made at the gym the other day…I’ve been a woman my whole life. And there have been times when that made me vulnerable (hello, creepy, leering 40-something year old boss with the inappropriate comments when I was 16). But mostly not. And mostly, I’ve always been in a position with enough power to manage it. To find a new job. To speak up. To get out. But…from the stories I’m seeing and hearing, that’s not always true. I can’t fix that. But I am also getting 3 people ready to launch here at home. And maybe, all of us together…we can.

Dear Paul,

I saw this image the other day…

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and I thought of you. Because you’re a boy. Because I think that “boys will be boys” is sometimes a way of explaining why you have to “slam dunk” everything single thing you put into the trash can…but sometimes it’s used to excuse things that are bigger than that.

And then I watched the guy’s TED talk on the topic…and it made me think.

The thing is, there is no doubt in my mind that you are growing up believing that men and women are equal. I see it in the way you interact with your sisters, with the girls in your class…and in the way you treat me. I see it when you stop and hold the door for me every single morning.  (And I hope that thoughtfulness will be enough to offset your inability to get your dirty clothes in the hamper for your future spouse.)  BUT…I also want you to understand something else. “Equal” does not mean “same”. Kind of like a quarter is worth the same amount as 2 dimes and a nickel; every single person is of equal value…but men and women are not the same.

About a year ago, you asked me why we are here. On Earth. You were at the breakfast table one morning and I think you may have meant it to be funny, asking me a deep question before coffee. Or maybe you were trying to delay clearing your dishes…I’m not sure. But you asked and I answered. It was a busy morning, so I didn’t think first. I just said the first thing that popped into my head. I told you that we are here to help. That’s our job, I said. We help other people. 

I don’t think that’s a terrible answer, as busy-trying-to-get-3-kids-out-the-door answers go. But I don’t think it was necessarily your answer.

We are here to help, buddy. All of us. When I say that or type it, it feels real to me. And when I said it, I said it without thinking. The things we say without thinking are almost always what we really believe…or at least part of a larger truth. The thing is, there are lots of ways to help. I’ve been watching you, and I think that you may be a specific type of helper….I think you may be a protector. Protectors are all around us, all the time…and the world needs more of them. Protectors are the people – men and women – who see something going wrong, who see someone being hurt…and they stand between the person and the harm. They shield them. Cops and firefighters, they’re protectors. But being a protector doesn’t mean that it has to be your vocation…only that it’s your calling. Protectors are brave and strong…and they have a very strong sense of “fair” and right and wrong.

Your sisters are in middle school and high school now, and sometimes they tell me some of the things that boys (not all boys, not even most boys….but a few) will say to or about some of the girls. Once in a while it gets posted on social media or thrown out in a group chat for everyone to see. Every time I hear about it, I get the same pit in my stomach. It makes me sad. I don’t mean that they make comments about who’s pretty or who they might like to date or even who has a nice body. I don’t mean that they’re flirting. I wish I meant that. Some of the things they say…they’re violent. They’re degrading. They’re designed to make the girls feel afraid. To feel less than. Those boys? I don’t know what happened to make them think the way they do. I don’t know if they even really believe the things they say…or if it’s bravado designed to convince the rest of the world that they’re tough. They’re not tough, by the way. That’s not what tough looks like. But they are frightening.

What I’m asking of you, my love, is pretty big. It should probably be enough for me to tell you not to act like that. It’s not. Because I believe that we are here to help…and not doing something bad is very different from doing something good. You know that women are strong…and they’re capable of standing up for themselves. But it is so much better when they don’t have to stand alone. A few years down the line, you’ll be standing in a hallway or a locker room…and you’ll hear it. You’ll hear a girl that you know being degraded or shamed for something that may or may not have happened…for the way she looks, the way she walks…or for no reason at all. Don’t let it go. You’ll know, by then, how to shut it down. Do it. Stand between her and the harm. Not because she can’t stand alone…but because she should never have to.

In this world, my love, there is no “us against them”. There is only us.

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