Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Ones Who Know the Difference

“Man makes a gun, man goes to war
Man can kill and man can drink
And man can take a wh---
Kill all the blacks, kill all the reds
And if there's war between the sexes
Then there'll be no people left
And so it goes, go round again
But now and then we wonder who the real men are…”

—Joe Jackson, Real Men

As I approached, he didn't move. Hood up, head bent slightly forward, backpack tightly bound to his back, hands in coat pocket, facing due west, he stood as if he longed for something. At least, that's what I projected onto him as closed the distance between us on the beach. I was starting my weekly workout and wanted to catch the morning light that had burst through the cloud cover and landed upon the last of the Natural Bridges, the churning sea around it.

I crossed in front of him and said, "Good morning."

He didn't respond, his eyes fixed on the ocean, a scraggly dark beard masked his mouth. I kept going and then stopped a few yards away to take my picture. Again, he didn't turn in my direction nor did he move.

It wasn't until the last stretch of my workout did he slowly made the trek up the large sand dune that led to the road above the cove. I didn't know who he was, didn't know his story. But yet I couldn't help to wonder what it was, who he was, and why he was. In that moment he represented shades of men for millennia who have who have led or followed, who have loved and protected, who have been abused and neglected, who have assaulted and killed -- or some combination therein. There was no stranger danger here for me. No matter what his story, he seemed to be a broken man.

And I've had plenty of those early on in my life. Boys grow up a product of the biology, their parents and the myriad of complex cultural forces around them pressing down all the time. Of course, it's the same with girls, but I'm focused on the guys in this article. The parental impact is weighted paternal or maternal, even when the combined influence is evident. A recent Hidden Brian podcast -- Episode 44: Our Politics, Our Parenting -- examined how our upbringing, whether strict paternal or empathic maternal, influences how we end up voting. Bigger picture here -- how and why we make the life decisions we make.

Of course there's a whole body of research, decades of it, around how our parents and others influence our behavior and our lives. Most of us I'd argue do the best we can, mothers and fathers, mothers and mothers, fathers and fathers, and especially single parents everywhere.

Unfortunately history shows us that men have pressed down much more violently on the world than women, in the name of, whatever. As parents of boys, we can instill more empathy in them and less "my way or the highway" mentality. We can circumvent aberrant behavior that could lead to abusive behavior later on in life. As I wrote recently, 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. 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.

But we keep hearing about these horrible sexual assault allegations that are allowed to occur with little intervention or ultimate punishment. Like the recent ones at Baylor University and the University of Wisconsin, and of course the Stanford student Brock Turner, and we continue to have conservative religious leaders forgiving and/or justifying related abhorrent male behavior, whether straight or gay. Not to mention the violent suppression male-dominant religions apply to women worldwide.

These are not the men many of us are raising today, at least I'd like to believe that, especially my daughter's friend and the many other boys and men that will come in and out of both our girls' lives in the years to come. But like the drifter I ran into on the beach, whether loved and protected or abused and neglected, we don't know every man's story and if they'll be abusive themselves in the wild.

Which is why we must be vigilant when raising our boys and girls -- why we need to clearly instill being personal responsible for every action and inaction we make and take every single day of our lives. It can never be okay for boys to bully and hurt girls, or for men to abuse and assault women. Ultimately the real men (and women) are the ones who know the difference and who can help save the rest of us from ourselves.

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