This past week my first born son celebrated a birthday and I’ve been reflecting on the past 9 years with him. One story that popped into my head this week was one that I had forgotten about for a long time, probably with good reason. It was a strange encounter at a bookstore.
I had taken my baby boy to a Barnes and Noble and we stopped by the café for a bite to eat. As I sat there with my son, I was in full loving-dad mode. Between sips of coffee, I played a game with him that has been a favorite with all of my kids. In this game, I am a “Kissing” monster and inch my head closer to theirs. As our heads grow closer, I grunt and say, “I’m a gonna git you.” And then I give them a bunch of kisses on their heads.
As I did this in a bookstore in the middle of New York City, a man stood up and walked over to me. I expected him to say something nice, but instead he said, “If you keep kissing your kid like that, he’ll turn out gay.” I sat in my chair dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that someone would say that at all, let alone in New York City, where everyone should feel welcome. Within seconds, my shock turned to anger and I looked up at him and said, in my best stereotypical gay voice, “Wouldn’t that be a dream!” The man quickly walked away.
I learned two things that day. One, no matter how crazy the advice, people love to give advice to new parents. And two, that there was still this insane idea, shoved into little boys’ psyches, that macho-ness equals manliness. For this stranger in the bookstore, affection wasn’t a manly thing to pass on to a child.
Over the past 9 years, I’ve seen and heard similar homophobic concepts in regards to raising a son. Every time I am shocked and disgusted by what I hear. It occurs at the playground, waiting outside the school to pick up my kids, and on the sports field. And even, on occasion, with my own family members and close friends. (As a stay-at-home dad, I get looks and comments that I am not “manly” because of my profession of choice…then I tell them I used to be an actor.)
Manliness, I believe, isn’t about your sexual orientation, job, or even about peeing while standing. It is about taking the load that someone needs you to carry, learning from your mistakes, and striving to better yourself and those around you.
Another manly thing? Showing unconditional love for your family. Children shouldn’t have to earn a father’s love; we give them love regardless of who or what they are. Just like our heavenly Father did for us. That’s a real man.