It’s been a little while since I’ve written to you. We’ve all been busy, you and your mom and me, between work and going to the beach and playdates and all the other stuff that manages to occupy people’s time. We’ve been having a lot of fun together at the pool, playing catch and getting into tickle fights at home. And I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing it is to have a mini-dance party with you in the living room while Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” plays in the background. But there’s something more serious we have to talk about.
We have to talk about girls.
We’ll have other discussions about girls as you get older, but this one can’t wait. We have to talk about how you act towards girls. How you talk to them, how you look at them and, most of all, how you touch them; it’s all important. There are people in our society that are going to try to teach you that this isn’t true. They’re going to make comments about women needing to stay in “their place” (usually the kitchen) and then say, “It was only a joke.” They’re going to write lyrics that refer to girls and women as bitches or hos (or worse) and then say, “It’s just a song, it doesn’t mean anything.”
They’re going to hear that a woman was knocked out by her fiancée, a professional football player, and then say that there might be “some other story,” implying that she must have done something to deserve getting punched in the face and dragged, unconscious, out of a Las Vegas elevator.
I know, it seems like a big jump to go from jokes and song lyrics to incidents of domestic violence. It is, in a way; certainly there are plenty of married men who make their share of misogynistic comments but don’t go home and beat up their wives. The thing is, you need to realize that all the “little things” add up. Every time you call a woman a name (besides her own, obviously) or make a joke about how girls don’t need to be involved in important decisions because it’s not their “place,” you’re contributing to the culture that sees women and girls as less than their male counterparts. And, if women are seen as less than men, if they’re just objects to be looked at, then there is less of a reason to treat them with respect.
I know that a lot of the things I’m talking about are over your head right now. You’re two years old; you’re not supposed to be thinking about the way American society influences your behavior or the statements that your actions make about your personality. Your biggest focuses at this point in your life are if your pancakes have “caka chippies”1 in them and where you last put your “pee mom boll”2 and paddle. That’s how it’s supposed to be. But as you grow, you’re going to be exposed to a lot of different things in a lot of different ways. Some of it will be good, like learning about teamwork and humor and love. Some of it won’t be quite as good, like when you eventually hear about violence and war and the terrible things that humans do to each other. You’re going to have to decide how you want to treat the people around you and, by extension, what kind of a person you want to be.
Over the last few months, your mom and I have been teaching you not to hit. You don’t do it maliciously; sometimes you just get a little too excited and forget that it hurts when you hit people. I’m not really worried. You’re a quick learner and, even though you’ve been testing the limits more often recently, you know when you’ve done something wrong. More importantly that that, though, you’re a kind and sweet boy who genuinely cares about others, even at your young age. I get the sense that you’re going to grow up to be just as passionate about preventing all kinds of abuse and mistreatment as I am and that hitting women (or anyone, for that matter, but especially someone physically weaker than you) is something for which you would never stand. So I’m not really concerned, but I figured it was worth saying anyway.
There is a saying that comes from the Rabbinic traditions of Judaism: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”3 I take issue with the phrase “Be a man” for a number of reasons,4 but I think Rabbi Hillel got this one right. It’s not always going to be easy to stand up for what’s right and to look out for the people who need help. The road of social welfare and moral responsibility can be a lonely one sometimes. Your friends and co-workers are going to issue all the usual platitudes about jokes and seemingly innocent comments. But as long as you understand the deeper meaning behind all those remarks and remember that you don’t need to use physical aggression to demonstrate your masculinity, you’ll be a man in the best sense of the word.
There have been seemingly endless reports about the incident that occurred between Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then-fiancée (they’ve since been married) and even more opinions have surfaced since the NFL issued Rice a fine and a two game suspension. Feel free to do your own research and formulate your own opinion. If you’re interested, I thought this article by Jane McManus was a really well-written, thoughtful and poignant take on the whole situation. And, for other dad blogger posts, check out these posts by Oren Miller and Jeff Bogle. And, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading. –Aaron