It was early morning and Alex and I had just exited the house to head to the car. Our last landlords had wanted to live back in their own house so they turfed us out. In our desperation to find a home we now live a decent car journey away from his school. We were ribbing each other back and forth as we walked to the car; it’s a normal thing for us to do in the mornings. I said to Alex,
“I know your new super hero name! It’s pink glittery fantastic boy! Sugar and spice and all things nice”
He didn’t like that one bit. I knew what I was doing when I was pulling his strings because earlier he was telling me how his favourite colour was blue. But I didn’t expect his reaction to me, not one bit. He erupted in a fiery ball of rage on how he likes blue, and that boys like blue, and pink was a colour for girls. It took me back a bit since most of his childhood was spent playing with a whole range of toys — which did include pink prams and fluffy sparkly teddies.
And yet where did all this come from? I’ve never once told him what colour he should like, or that any colour is specifically for boys, and neither has my wife. In fact when he was really young, his favourite colour was pink — he was always drawn to that colour.
And as I reflect back that was the same with me in my childhood. We all subconsciously knew that pink was a colour for girls and that’s not something us boys should be associated with. I remember when my friend’s parents redecorated their house pink, and oh the ribbing he did take. Poor guy. I could only imagine the arguments over the house colour when they were doing it,
“I’m going to go into school and I’m dead” – is probably the sort of conversation that he would have had with his parents. Not physically dead of course, but the taunts and teases (and shamefully by me too) would have come thick and fast.
Anyway, my sons strong identification with blue – I questioned him about it. He didn’t seem to know why he liked blue, only that it was a boy colour. I was happy with that answer and didn’t continue my line of questioning any further. Why make an issue over something as little as that, right? I mean it’s only a colour. It’s not as if he’s ritualistically sacrificing other boys at the Mayan Pyramid Temple as an offering to the gods for not liking the colour blue. It IS interesting, but I don’t see this as harmful as some people do. The reason being is that he still feels as if he’s in a position to choose for himself what he likes and dislikes.
And I feel this is where society in general gets it wrong.
We’re still fostering an incredible need for our boys and men to fit in. In our wake of trying to be more equal, diverse and progressive thinkers we’re trying to change the outcomes for our boys and men, which at the core are still controlling them in some form. Take my youth for example — there was an incredible pressure to be seen as the Arnold Schwarzenegger type walking around with your toy gun and blacked out shades saying, “I’ll be back” in the crappiest Austrian accent you could imagine. Even the boys that hated that sort of stereotype still played with us to fit in.
But now, in the world of parenting (and little boys), I expect fueled by the mainstream media, there seems to be this exceptional pressure to be the most diverse and forward thinking individual.
In my day our parents used to crow at each other and say,
“Look at my boy, he’s going to be a ladykiller” – Thinking of all the action hero’s that had a ton of women on their arms, cooing at their every move.
Now I feel it’s just the same but dressed up as equality and diversity.
“Look at my boy, he’s the most accepting, diverse and tolerant” — and I expect there’s the same pressure on them at school, and possibly in their adulthood to act and be a certain way,
So essentially we haven’t made any progress, only that we expect them to be and act a certain way and we’re even less accepting of the outcomes that happen as a result of it all.
I was in a group of forward thinkers once and I was challenged because I wasn’t raising my young white boy to be aware of his privileges, I plan to hold back from regularly beating into him that because of the colour of his skin and his sex at birth, things outwith his control, I have to get him to focus on something he will never be able to change. It all seems rather counter productive to me.
I’ll be open and tell you that I had massive problems in my youth. I was one of those boys that didn’t know if he was coming or going and ultimately I ended up in a secure psychiatric facility dribbling all over myself. The only time I ever made any forward progress was when people started letting me choose my own path. They stopped mapping out my destiny for me, or assuming what I was going to be, they just let me be well.. me. Stopped focusing on my outcomes and began focusing on what makes me work.
So I’ve let Alex keep his strong feelings of identity to the colour blue. If that’s what he feels makes him a boy then at his age who am I to argue with him?
Being young is all about discovering your identity and place in the world — I’m positively sure I’m going to have many other quandaries over his identity over the next ten or twenty years. It’s natural for our kids to fluctuate, be unsure, move from one group to the next as he battles to find out who he truly is; if anyone remembers there is no solid state of feeling in our youth. It’s messy, it’s emotional, it’s sticky, and even although it’s usually straight forward, it never is.
The greatest gift I can ever give to him is unconditional acceptance. Whether he wants to be an ultra masculine bodybuilder displaying great displays of aggression and strength to his fans, or a young homosexual boy that’s content with his day job and happy and comfortable with his boyfriend, it’ll all be fine by me. And through my unconditional acceptance he’ll learn to unconditionally accept other people for what they say they are. Gay, straight, man, woman, frostgender, aliengender, whatever.
My tolerance and acceptance will model to him tolerance and acceptance, and not my intense focus on what I expect him to be, rather that I will just enjoy his journey with him. And enjoy what he grows into.