Thursday, 19 November 2015

Carry Your Own Bag

If the job of fathers with daughters is to "Keep them off the pole", in the inimitable words of Chris Rock,

then I believe it is your duty as a father with boys to get them to "Carry their own bag."

In each case, the dad's job is both a literal one and a figurative one. I read Rock's view on "keeping them off the pole" as, not only literally giving your daughter the upbringing and options so that she doesn't turn to stripping, but also greater than that - to aspire to be a person of worth and value in her own right who doesn't look on her desirability to men (or women) as a measure of self-worth.

Sure, be 'hot', pretty, desirable if you want. Fill your boots. Take pride in your appearance. Wear feminine clothing, wear make-up and perfume or don't - whatever makes you happy - but don't rely on your looks to get by. Or think that is all you are or can do. Don't seek to please people (men or women) as the cost of your own wishes, dreams and desires. Beauty is a rare commodity and, as such, it is valuable and in some peoples' cases (men and women) maybe that is their best option to make money, exert influence and gain status. That historically has been a route for more women than men but it has never been limited to them and, increasingly, men are taking that route as well.

The point stands - you are not doing your job as a father if you don't demonstrate to your daughter she is more than that how guys look at her. Things are changing for the better but it is still important to underline in a society in which kids are on social media non-stop posting selfies of themselves and subjecting themselves to the thoughtless comments by the public on their appearance.

So, to boys, and "carry their own bag". Again a literal and figurative exhortation. A big problem with raising boys is in the anti-boys atmosphere we live in. I'm irritated with the casual sexism which portrays boys as stupid, thoughtless and useless. One ad I saw in the subway portrayed a boy's brain as consisting almost entirely of thoughts of girls, food and videogames. Yes, it was an ad, Yes, it was supposed to be funny. Yes, to the casual observer that might be all that boys are concerned with. So maybe I should just relax and take a joke? OK. Flip that and think of an ad which posits teen girls are only concerned with boys, their weight and clothes. Sounds funny doesn't it? Hilarious, right, because it's so true? As my son so often says, "Wait! What?"

Another person I know (and like) with boys of her own posted on FB that her teen daughter sniffed that the claim that people can't truly multitask applies only to boys not to girls. And the Mum was proud of that claim of her daughter, saying in effect, 'That's my girl!' WTF? If your son said something like that about girls, would you react the same way?

These are just two examples of an increasingly common and unchallenged new orthodoxy i.e. men are useless. Or how about the sexist neologisms floating around, like:

"Man-flu"? Bullshit. I hear women sneering about their husbands and boyfriends being 'babies' because of their behavior when they are sick. Pardon me? They are ill. OK some guys are wimps but maybe it's as simple as they are feeling unwell and are looking for some sympathy and kindness and being looked after when they are feeling low. Nope. Guess not. So much for men sharing feelings...

"Man-splaining"? Double bullshit. Self-important gas bags propounding on stuff they may not know a lot about is not a male-only issue. Sure, I am terribly guilty of this all the time. But it doesn't have anything to do with me being a man; I just like the sound of my own voice. I hear a lot of self-important women doing the same (see man-flu above). I got a lot of unsolicited opinion from women about parenting while I was at home with my young boys - you see, their lady parts meant they knew more about raising kids. Why the need for the casual sexism? Call a loudmouth a loudmouth - leave their gender out of it.

Am I ever going to get to the carrying your own bag thing? Yes. Here we go. The biggest problem I think boys have is how they are raised. And not only because of  the increasingly negative atmosphere I describe above. You think boys are useless and thoughtless? How did they get that way? Their parents. People raise girls and boys differently. They expect girls to pitch in, help and be thoughtful. Too many people give boys a free pass based on the idea that 'boys will be boys', and let them skate on being responsible. As a consequence, many end up that way. Self-fulfilling prophesy, not biological determinism.

I was sitting in my 13 year old son's Select hockey dressing room for an early team meeting. (Yes, he finally made it, at last). And one of the big announcements was that, starting this year, all the boys would be expected to carry their own hockey bag. (!?!) My son and I looked at each other and laughed quietly.

"Guess that won't be a problem for us," he joked.

My kids carry their own hockey bags. They get dressed and undressed by themselves for hockey. I do tie the younger two's skates since they are hard to tie tightly. They are 8, 10 and 13. They have done this for years. Maybe I was projecting but I was pretty sure I saw a couple of parents and kids look upset by this declaration. I interpreted one of the parent's looks as "We'll see about that."

This required a rule? These are strong athletic 13 year old boys. I have been outraged for years watching small mothers struggling under massive hockey bags stagger in and out of arenas while their sons yell at them for money to buy slushies. But I don't feel sorry for these women because they have reaped what they have sown.

A few years ago, my middle one, who would have been about 8 at the time, and my wife were in a hockey change room which, as usual, was filled with adults dressing perfectly capable children. One boy started screaming at his mother because she had forgotten to put something in his bag. First, of all, that doesn't fly in our house, so my wife was shocked. She was also a little shocked by the woman taking it. Then, however, my son did something that made her (and later, me) very proud. He turned to the kid and said, "But it's your bag. Isn't it your responsibility?"

That rocked everyone back on their heels. But my son was genuinely confused because that is what he has been trained to believe. He not only has to carry his own bag - he needs to make sure he has everything he needs. He is learning how to be useful, use foresight and planning and take responsibility for his actions. It's not magic - it's practice.

My guys help with laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping - because they are expected to. My wife loves going to the grocery store (a slight exaggeration) because she regularly gets envious glances and comments from other women who marvel that boys can do such things as follow a list on their own and fill a grocery cart (we give them their own cart and list - it makes it go faster). While nice, it's a little shocking how low people's opinion of boys (and probably children in general) are.

My boys are expected to talk to adults, look them in the eye, answer their questions and thank them for things they do for them. Believe me, it's not always easy, there is a lot of complaining (particularly about laundry) but it pays off. I am proud of my sons - and you should be proud of yours so give them the skills they need to become real men.

Boys need to be taught to carry their own bags (literally and figuratively ) - so they can be useful and responsible members of society and be able to put paid to those pernicious stereotypes about boys.