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, February 5, 2017

From Boys to Better Men

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” —Frederick Douglass 

Women's March signs made with #BhivePower
I was called a lezbian man-hater for marching. Not directly per se, but the person who posted it within that cradle of uncivil cyber civilization known as Facebook, directed it at my wife who is one of the local organizers of the Women's March (now Santa Cruz County Women's Action) and who had been commenting on the why of the march to those who didn't care for it. He simply lumped her and all the other women who participated into the lezbian man-hater hopper.

That's also how he spelled it -- lezbian. No matter. I'm neither a lezbian, or a lesbian, or a man-hater. I'm a straight man, a husband and a father of two amazing girls. And yes, I proudly wore the pink pussy hat during the march. However, I have no vagina agenda other than empowering our girls to be independent, strong, loving and caring members of society, in spite of them being girls, and because of them being girls. Someday they will hopefully be women leading the way with other women and men to ensure all our human rights are retained and sustained in the proverbial peaceable kingdom known as the United States of America.

There were many other men who marched -- husbands, fathers, grandfathers, brothers, sons and more. There were gay men and transgender men and military men and religious men and atheists alike. But the same can be said, albeit probably a different mix, about the men who marched the week after for the March for Life. Either way, all of us men marched for our families, our communities, our country and our rights.

Personal and politically polarizing reasons aside, I want to focus on the boys now. The boys from every socioeconomic stratum and culturally and ethnically diverse background in this country (and around the world) who witness all this social unrest, the misogynistic, hateful and retaliatory rhetoric from all sides. Those who witness the men (maybe fathers, sons or brothers) and even the women who spell lesbian wrong and degrade liberal women (and probably most women), and those men and even the women who also stereotype and degrade pro-lifers as fascist Christians who want to limit everyone else's rights.

Unfortunately the bigger losers in this environment are the girls and the women. They're damned if they do speak up and damned if they don't. I've seen it happen over and over again with my mom, my sister, my wife and many other women in my life -- some of whom I've been emotionally overbearing with in my own past. Because of all that, I have little empathy for the men who feel left behind, trampled by all these women and minorities who have supposedly cut in line and taken over. Those who perpetuate the elitist, sexist and spiritual divide giving them justification to continue to denounce, degrade and retaliate verbally and physically.

I can't emphasize enough how complicated this all is -- our development and interpersonal relationships are never simple, black and white and wrapped in pretty packages with bright blue (or pink) bows. But it does start with building strong, empathic children, who eventually learn impulse control and to be safe with their bodies and with others, who are willing to listen to others even when they don't agree with them. Especially when they don't.

The other day my wife and I were in the other room when our oldest Beatrice cried out. Her and her sister Bryce had been playing, rough-housing actually, when Bryce got really mad, picked up a toy chair and whacked Bea on the head. We immediately invoked Kidpower safety rules and talked through why it happened and how instead they should've reacted.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) brought out the "hold tight power."

Hold tight power meaning, "Okay girls, grab onto to your pants and say 'hold tight power.'"

Whine. There's always a little whining.

"Hold tight power."

"Okay, if you really feel like hitting or throwing, you can use your own personal power of hold tight power — the power inside of you to not hit or throw and act in an unsafe way."

To then take a beat and be safe and to think about more appropriate responses using our "calm down power" (something we could all use a lot more of right now). I can't emphasize enough how simple and powerful this and many other Kidpower exercises are for children (and for teens and adults).

Because according to UN Women and the current global available data: Between 15 and 76 percent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the available country data. Most of this violence takes place within intimate relationships, with many women (ranging from 9 to 70 percent) reporting their husbands or partners as the perpetrator. Across the 28 States of the European Union, a little over one in five women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014). 

Are targeted. Choice words, yes, and this kind of violence is different than sisters hitting each other because play went awry -- a slippery slope however -- but too many boys are still growing up too violent, and no one's ever asking for it. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year. Less than 20 percent of battered women sought medical treatment following an injury.

It's horrific and complicated, and prevention and awareness still seems to be one of the best paths forward for both children and teens. The organization A Call to Men is one of many like Kidpower working to prevent violence against all women and girls, and ultimately teach safety and prevention skills for all kids, teens and adults of either gender. (Kidpower also teaches self-defense for emergency people safety skills, too.)

For those of us with children, girls and boys, but especially the boys, we have an ultimate responsibility to instill in them their own sense of personal responsibility, empathy, compassion, to be safe with their bodies and their minds, to "hold tight" and not react inappropriately and violently, and to encourage all of the above with others. We need to be clear that violence against women and girls, including sexual assault, harassment, bullying or anything related is never okay.

Whether you feel left behind or taken over -- and no matter where you take a stand in this world -- it's time for us to ensure our children grow from boys to better men.

“It was just before sunrise
When we started on traditional roles
She said sure I'll be your partner
But don't make too many demands
I said if love has these conditions
I don't understand those songs you love
She said this is not a love song
This isn't fantasy-land
Don’t go too far…”

—Rush, Cold Fire

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