I can’t change my history. I wish I could. I’ve been the “token male” (minority) in my family, in academics, and in my career. I don’t have the sports gene. I don’t have any interest in it. I’ve tried. Alas, it’s a lost cause. During my high school years, I was bullied by jocks. The “f” word (rhymes with hag) was hurled on me, (and my friends), every day. We ALL had absent fathers who didn’t/couldn’t model masculinity. Back in the day, (maybe even now); being active in sports was the way boys bonded. If you excelled, you WERE a man. If you didn’t, something was wrong with you. It’s hard to navigate your life when you buy into what “society” says is the way you should be.
Recently, I read a book (What I Know For Sure) by the respected talk show host, Tavis Smiley. It’s about his experiences growing up poor and African American in the U.S. Due to some familial circumstances involving his aunt; he became a product of a 14+ family. His step father took on the responsibility of his, and his wife’s (sisters) children. The stress was unbelievable, and eventually caused his step father to lose his temper by calling Tavis the “f” word. He beat him with an electrical cord. This action placed Tavis in foster care. His relationship with his step-dad was never the same.
I had forgotten my history with those high school taunts. After reading Smiley’s book, I thought about how parents use that word (toward their sons), when they want them to follow a societal map, vs. a personal map, of who they should be. You hear many parents say they love their child unconditionally, but I wonder how that unconditional love changes when there is even a hint, that their child goes off the path of ultra-masculinity. Maybe their interests are geared to the aesthetic or cultural areas. Anything that’s off the beaten path may “ignite” the word.
Many times, parents put their sons in sports to teach them skills and to place them in a “masculine” environment. The parents get angry at the coaches, and shout at them, when their kids sit out a game. These same parents demean their kids in public in an effort to measure up. In actuality, they’re dealing with an element of shame. These dads see that maybe their sons don’t like a sport (or sports in general), and constantly push them into an arena that doesn’t fit. The sons try to assimilate and learn the skills, because they want to please dad, and want his approval. But what is learned LOUDER is that they’re not masculine enough, and maybe dad is right. Once that message is in place, it grows like a nagging, stubborn weed. As many times as you try to uproot it, it grows back with a haunting message that the son isn’t good enough.
Many of the guys that went to my high school, didn’t have dads that spent time with them. These dads were the bread winners. Their established roles were to “make the babies” and leave the raising of them, to the “wife.” While this type of family dynamic was the “norm,” it didn’t have positive longevity. The son felt abandoned in that, their dad wasn’t there for them. In addition, the son felt ridiculed and shamed by the dad, who believed they’d change their son into “macho men,” only to realize that the damage was done. Calling them the “f” word (or even suggesting that they were gay or unmanly (by dad’s standards) already created a confusing path of “what is masculine and normal.” It only takes one moment to degrade a son. The seed is already planted. The son looks for validation from his father. If it’s not provided, the son continues to believe what the dad (and mom) believe in their spirit. The son’s spirit splinters because he wants to prove he’s worthy to his dad. He also wants to pursue those interests that he knows he’s good at.
Case in point. One of my childhood friend’s dad, enrolled him in many heavy-duty contact sports (football, hockey, baseball). While the son did well in these sports, he excelled at tennis, swimming and volleyball. The dad continued to push. The son established his own path. In addition, the son gravitated to theatre and music. The dad didn’t approve. In fact, the son’s seventh grade teacher degraded the son’s interest in theatre by saying, “only girls act.” These comments, and overt behaviors, crushed the son’s spirit. He put his interests on “hold” and never pursued them. He grew angry with his decision to not pursue his passions, because of what others might say/said about him.
All of these comments destroy a spirit, until one day the person is filled with such utter despair and feelings of worthlessness, that they commit suicide. For many, this seems a logical solution to what society says a boy/man “should be.”
All of this, as a result of a parent using the “f” word in order to move a boy into what they believe is “masculine.”
Focus: Masculinity, Parents, Spirit
Question for you:1) Are you a parent who’s pushed your son into a situation because you can’t handle/understand a softness/sense of empathy that goes against your model of masculinity? 2) Are you aware of your biases toward men who don’t meet your standard of masculinity?