“I’ve done a lot of foolish things
That I really didn't mean
I could be a broken man but here I am…”
—Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours
I also added that I liked her a lot, and then I ended it, "Love, Kevin."
We were only nine years old, and it wouldn't be the first time, or the last, that kids write each other notes in grade school professing their "like" for one another. I remember my mother reading the letter because I had to ask her to help me mail it to the girl in question. Yes, I mailed it; I was just way too shy to physically hand it to her at school. So Mom read it, but I don't remember her saying anything about the "Love" part. Maybe she thought it was innocent enough and would be taken in that context.
It wasn't. Her mother called my mother, and while I don't know exactly what they discussed, Mom broke it to me gently that I shouldn't use the word "love" in my notes, and that I probably shouldn't send her any more notes, but that we could still be friends.
I felt horrible. Embarrassed. Mortified. I was painfully shy in the first place. But now? Good God, I didn't want to even go to school the next day. I never thought about the fact that the girl I liked was from a Japanese-American family whose traditional cultural values were such that boys like me did not send girls like her love notes, especially in third grade.
I practically hid from her the entire next day at school, although finally she told me it was okay and she still liked me. Phew. Fast forward decades, throughout which there would be many other like/love letters, most of them appropriate and well-received (especially with the Mama), but then there were others, inappropriate and awkward, moments I'm not proud of, moments many of us have choked on like the unnecessary horse pills they are.
And now, like the Ben Folds song Still Fighting It, "It's so weird to be back here." Beatrice, who's now in second grade, is experiencing this in full bloom -- receiving notes and sending them, from boys and girls alike, to boys and girls alike. It's different for girls than boys I think; they have more open emotional friendships even at this age than boys do. And us boys? Well, we're not as good with that happy/huggy stuff through most of childhood, the teenage years, young adulthood, middle adulthood, old age...
Although there are those who are better able to tap in (I was), boys just aren't as emotionally accessible as girls. Today is no exception, as Bea has a friend who's a boy who struggles with her now wanting to also be friends with another girl in their small circle of friends. So much so that he's causing angst for her by trying to scare the other girl away, as well as lashing out verbally and physically to Bea and others in the circle.
It's hard not to project adulthood here -- to see this as a microcosm of what happens when we grow up and how we react to one another (and as Ben Folds sings, "Everybody knows it sucks to grow up"). The Mama and I have to remember that they are children still. However, that doesn't mean we don't empower our girls on how to deal with this behavior.
Just like the first kiss Bea received, which was innocent enough, the Mama and I do worry about what happens next, year after year, because we've lived all of this before. So we continue to renew boundary talks with both girls, focusing on the Kidpower strategies (the global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, of which the Mama is an instructor for). This means empowering both our girls to develop the awareness of when something's not comfortable and then literally creating a figurative fence and/or wall and saying aloud:
"Stop! I do not want to play this game."
Because no means no. It's not oversimplifying either; it's a critical empowerment practice for all girls and boys. Putting safety first among many other strategies is the very embodiment of Kidpower’s core principle:
The safety and healthy self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.
Amen. Thankfully we're still in the sweet and innocent years with the girls, and while we're still vigilant and teaching them these safety skills, we recognize that growing up will happen.
And look where we are now. We're in a world where very influential people in politics and entertainment are saying it's okay to demean and degrade women. To bully women. To abuse women. To sexually harass and assault women. And their followers echo these sentiments fervently. Some have even suggested we repeal the 19th Amendment, the one passed in 1920 that granted women the right to vote. Others say we should imprison or shoot those female leaders we don't agree with, that there should be bloodshed. As we all know, this hate isn't just directed at women either.
So this is the part where the Pink Floyd song Run Like Hell could become a reality. And it's not funny, kids. Not at all. It's scary as all hell.
Which is why I need to go from love letters of childhood to the need to speak up (yet again) because of one simple truth: I have a wife and two daughters. Three human beings that reinforce in me every day how precious life is and how important it is to love and respect each other.
I also had a mother, a sister and other strong female role models in my formative years to thank for the respect I have not only for women, but for other men as well. Respect, empathy and restraint. At least for those who share in kind. (God knows the men early in my childhood were no help whatsoever.)
"We're telling our sons that it's OK to humiliate women. We're telling our daughters that this is how they deserve to be treated. We're telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country," said Michelle Obama recently, First Lady of the United States.
No matter what gender, how they dress, how they speak, how they act, their beliefs, their sexual orientation – nobody’s asking to be hated, bullied and assaulted like this. No one. And yet there are those who not only condone this behavior, they enable it and forgive it, and they are setting back our society 50+ frickin' years. We're making it okay to hate and kill just because we don't like.
Not only will the Mama and I continue to empower our girls to defend themselves and rise above this hate, we'll do whatever it takes to evangelize respect and empathy with all girls and boys, women and men, everywhere.
We've been here before in America and it claimed well over 640,000 lives and had many more causalities. I'm sorry, what? you're probably thinking. Is it a stretch to reference our Civil War here, a war fought over slavery and economic scapegoating? I certainly hope so. But don't forget to throw in all the lives lost since because of color, gender and sexual preference.
I'll tell you this -- if the Mama and I had to, we'd rise up and literally fight for this democracy, for our constitution, to keep the United States of America a free country where all men and women are created equal.
Because all this today is not that. Not even close. It's a tragic social setback. But I have more faith in my Brothers and Sisters throughout this country that we won't let this happen. Like me many of you are hopers and a doers and that's what's made all the difference in our lives to date.
This is why I'm with the Mama. Why we have two wonderful daughters. Why I wrote this love letter to them and to America.