What Makes A Man
My dear sweet Solomon,
You are a boy, which means you will grow up to be a man. As your mom, I have an interesting and unique challenge to teach you about how to treat women — from a woman’s perspective. I’m totally out of my depth here, but hey, it’s never too early to start, right?
How we see the world is shaped not just by what happens at home or at school / work — but also what happens out in the world. My job is to help your young mind interpret what’s happening around you, ask really good questions and make your own conclusions. Even though we can’t talk to each other yet, I often find myself thinking about a current event and how I would talk to you about it. Hey, you’re already watching the news :)
Just a couple of weeks ago, Hillary Clinton became the presumptive nominee for a Presidential election. Words can’t even express how excited I was on that day that a woman has gone this far. I do hope that by the time you read this letter, this will be no big deal. But today it is. The first Black President, (hopefully) followed by the first Woman President makes me believe in the American Dream again and reminds me of why your Grandparents and I immigrated here all these years ago. I am excited about bringing you into the world where there is still hope that anyone can achieve anything.
But as I think about the power we all felt when we got an inch closer to a Woman President —there are still many events and people who take away this power, whether on purpose or not. I want you to never be that kind of person. I am hopeful that your dad and I will do our part to influence you — but I worry about how things in the media and at your school will shape you.
There’s one event in particular that I wanted to talk to you about. It happened a couple of weeks ago — just a few days before the Hillary announcement.
Here’s the (very brief) background — you can Google it (or however you find information) later… A Stanford student named Brock raped a woman, and was handed down a very lenient sentence by a judge who deemed his future to be more worthy of saving than hers. This joke of a sentence is a mockery of our judicial system and a literal slap in the face to so many thousands of people who don’t get a fraction of a consideration for a crime that’s a fraction of his.
But the crown jewel of the story comes in the form of a letter from the Brock’s father. I’ve read it many many times — first in disbelief, then in anger. The more I read it, the angrier I got. I won’t even link to it here. All you need to know is that in his letter, his father makes a plea to reduce the already too-soft sentence even further, because the joy is gone out of his life, and he doesn’t enjoy his food anymore. In one of the most tone-deaf sentences ever posted on the internet, he pleads that “20 minutes of action” shouldn’t derail 20 years of life. Not only is there zero remorse from either the son or the father — he has the nerve to refer to violation and destruction of another person as “20 minutes of action.”
To be clear, I can only imagine the unbearable pain he must be in as a parent of a child who’s gone so astray. Pain makes us do stupid things. But it’s pretty clear that the whole letter is drenched with entitlement — entitlement to special treatment and entitlement to use other people, like they were his property. And that’s what I have a problem with.
And that’s when it hit me.. Brock, the Stanford rapist, which is basically what he will be known as for the rest of his life — didn’t start out like that. He started out as a sweet, innocent baby, with all of his potential in front of him — much like you are. But with a dad who says stuff like that (and who even knows what he says behind closed doors!), how else could’ve he turned out?
And this is what scares me to no end. It scares me that as a parent, I’m responsible for you — not just your livelihood and your health, but how you turn out. You are a blank canvas — so sweet, pure and innocent. How you treat others and yourself is a reflection of the values and behaviors of your dad and me. Your ability to have empathy and understand boundaries is a product of our parenting style.
You are very lucky in that you are growing up with a lot of material and financial benefits that neither your dad nor I had growing up. While we want you to have everything you need, how do we impart discipline and boundaries? Instead of bringing you snacks and ribeye steaks, like Brock’s dad did — we must teach you the value of things and how to get them for yourself. I want you to grow up in abundance, but without entitlement.
How do I create the right conditions for you to learn all this — but without overly meddling and “helicoptering?” How do I let you try things and fail, learning confidence in the process — without falling apart myself? How do I give you the ability to develop critical thinking, while taking the time to highlight “teachable moments” based on real things you see and experience on the news and at school?
In a world where we’ve legitimized men’s control over women’s bodies (in subtle and less than subtle ways) — how do I teach you what respect looks like? How do I teach you to stand up for what’s right — and perhaps let a classmate know that a rape joke isn’t funny?
How do I push you to stand on your own two feet, while still holding you close? How do I let you know that you can become whatever you want — but you can’t do whatever you want — and you certainly can’t take other people’s dignity in the process?
Parenting is a daunting responsibility. Going forward, I’ll be looking at everything I do and everything I experience through your eyes. I will be more mindful of my own thoughts and knee-jerk reactions. I’ll always be thinking of you and how I can help you make sense of the world. I’ll always be here to talk to you, laugh and cry with you — and I promise to give you some space to think on your own.
I don’t know how good of a mom I’ll be, but I don’t think perfection is the goal. Together, we’ll be on this journey day by day, filled with tiny micro-moments.
I have no idea how to teach you about being a man, but I can show you what makes a man. What makes a man is neither the size of his fist — nor the size of his ego. What makes a man is his ability to feel empathy and do the right thing even if no one is a watching. A real man is strong enough to be vulnerable and to build up others, instead of breaking them down.
I love you,