The following piece appears in print in the Australian magazine, smith journal.
I was running this morning and passed a guy who was probably in his sixties.
He was walking in the opposite direction I was running and as we passed he said “Good morning.”
I said “Hi” and kept running. I thought about his face and the grey stubble on his cheeks and the set of his mouth. And for some reason I imagined him kissing me and feeling that stubble on my cheek and catching the smell of his breath and perhaps a hint of Aqua Velva. Then I imagined my dad kissing me when I was a boy, to say good morning or good night, and how good that felt. I thought about how happy that probably made him, now that I have two sons of my own, both under the age of three, and I know how much I enjoy kissing their smooth little cheeks. I almost cried and thought I might, but then didn’t, since I had a way to go before I got home and didn’t want anyone to have to see a 6’3”, 230 pound bearded man running down the street in tears in bright workout gear on their way to work or school.
“It’s cool!” I would have assured them, “I’m just thinking about men and boys kissing each other in the context of fatherhood! Not a big deal.”
If you have kids, moments like the one I’ve described above will take place. Perhaps you’ve heard that having kids makes your heart grow in size. This is true, but the growth isn’t neat. Think of it this way: if your heart were a house, having kids doesn’t put an addition on your heart; it explodes your heart with dynamite stolen from a local construction site and then tasks you with rebuilding it five times larger out of the remains you find where your house once was, plus any miscellaneous garbage that might be laying about, some road kill and a few truck loads of silt from the nearest river.
My sons are male, which is the second most popular gender on earth. Before my wife and I had any kids, I’d wanted to have girls. I just thought girls would awaken the fathering instinct in me faster or more thoroughly or something. I know some men would rather have boys and they can be quite vocal about it. They worry about having to protect their daughters, real or imagined, from men. Men like them? Are you afraid men will treat your daughter the way you’ve treated women? Or do you doubt that a girl raised with love of all varieties, tough included, can handle herself in the world? Is it misogyny or self-loathing? Flip a coin; they’re both awful. You should do cartwheels in the street if you have a daughter.
But another thing I’m learning is that that same worldview does a gross disservice to the act of parenting boys. If you need to dote on your daughter and shield her from reality or she’ll crumble or be torn apart by wolf-men, does it follow that boys just raise themselves? No attention required? Can boys not be damaged or led astray? As the father of two boys, are my responsibilities few? Here’s just one reason the way I raise my sons matters to the world at large: my sons will one day wander out into the world and meet your daughters. So one hopes I instill in them, and model for them, behavior that is rooted in kindness, compassion and fundamental respect of others. As well as a work ethic, strength, and the discipline to survive to adulthood in one piece.
It is instructive to examine your feelings very closely when you find out the gender of your child. As I said, before I met him, I’d hoped our first son would be a daughter because I thought that would awaken a stronger parental, paternal urge in me. I now realize that was inherited sexism (“Only a girl would need something as silly as ‘love…’”) But the SECOND I met him, I was a blubbering fool (as I established in the introduction, I cry while I work out, so no surprise) and I felt every molecule in my body explode, reform and realign as a capital D Dad, whose sole purpose was to bludgeon this tiny person with love. And now I’m the dad of two boys I’d hoped were girls, but am leagues beyond happy that they are exactly who and what they are. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go kiss them until they yell at me.