My boy likes dolls.
This warrants some kind of intro. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you may know that I’m a dad with 3 boys- ages 13, 5, and 3. I’m very close to my dad. He is definitely a standard against which I measure myself as a man, a husband, and a father. I’ve had some missteps and false starts but the one consistent driver in my life has been this- “I want to be a good dad.” This is something that matters to me.
I love all 3 of my boys- nothing special there. That [should be] the basic expectation for any dad- love your kids. That is an important motivator for me. I make the best decision that I can then worry whether it’s good enough.
My 3 boys are different as can be- all 3 of them. My 13 year old is from a prior marriage while the youngest two are the children of my wife and me. Watching them, I see the differences and uniqueness of each one. I think that giving them space to figure out who THEY are is an important aspect of my job as their dad.
I think that the real test for your convictions is the moment at which your convictions tell you to do something that is tough. It’s easy to “be supportive” when you’re reinforcing the need for a kid to apply him or her self in school. But the last year has been a true test in my belief that I need to support my sons in figuring out who they are.
Which brings me back to the opening sentence of this post- my boy likes dolls. In truth, it’s much more than that. My little guy, sometimes nicknamed the Goon, likes everything that you’d typically associate with a little girl. Dolls- check. Favorite color: pink- check. “I’m going to grow up to be a Mommy”- check. Best friends at school: all girls- check. I figure these could be leading indicators that my youngest son could be gay.
Ironically, the little guy wants to wear pink AND is our little bruiser. (Hence, the “Goon”.) His 5 year old brother, AKA Noodle, seems more delicate. Noodle does not handle skinned knees all that well. Although Noodle takes karate and plays with all of the “boy” toys, Goon is the tough guy. Somehow, this doesn’t seem incongruous when you watch the Goon or talk to him. It all comes together perfectly in our little guy.
BUT- it’s altogether an entirely different question when your 3 year old identifies himself with every aspect that our society would label as “girl”. Now how dedicated are you to living your beliefs? You want to support your son when he just wants to be the “girl”? Well, there’s the test, isn’t it?
Although this has been building over the last year, my wife and I were stopped dead in our tracks this week when my wife went to buy the little guys new sneakers. Noodle picked out some cool racing car- or rocket-looking ones. The Goon, though, only wanted girl sneakers. He landed on a beautiful pair of purple-and-sparkly girl sneakers.
To be fair, he didn’t exactly surprise us. As long as he’s been able to articulate a preference, he’s chosen the “girl” stuff. I could list a dozen exhaustive examples but the Noodle actually summed it up best in the type of cutting wisdom that only a 5 year old can demonstrate: as I was getting the 2 little guys set up in a video game and trying to steer Goon to a more traditional “boy” character, Noodle turned to me and exasperatedly stated, “He just wants to be the girl. Just let him.” The Goon’s choice wasn’t a big deal to Noodle- why was it a big deal to me?
Why was it a big deal to me? Fair question. As a dad, shouldn’t I encourage only those masculine ideals? Isn’t that part of the job?
Well, here I am declaring where I stand- No, it’s not.
The Goon is going to be the person that resonates with him. He has to follow those beliefs and ideals that speak to him. If he can articulate a preference at 3, so be it. Whether that means football or ballet (or both), so be it. I love my son and want him to be who HE is, not what I think society says he needs to be.
I recognize that this is a controversial topic. Really, I’m skating along the edges of a polarizing discussion.
- Do I think my son could be gay?
- If so, what should I do about it?
- Is it my fault?
- What’s wrong with him?
Answers to the above questions:
- Maybe. He certainly identifies very strongly with the feminine role in everything.
- I need to support him. The world will be tough enough without his family’s clearly demonstrated love.
- Well, I’m his father so I guess I’m responsible for half of his genes. 🙂
- Absolutely. Nothing.
There are a few watershed moments for me as a dad. I count one of them as a couple of weeks ago, in the beautiful weather and prior to “The Sneaker Incident”, the little boys were riding their new scooters in the driveway. My wife had taken the boys to Target to silence the repetitive cries for scooters. She’d allowed the Noodle and the Goon to pick out their own scooters and sets of protective gear- gloves, elbow pads, and knee pads. (We had numerous helmets floating around from their 13 year old brother.) Noodle had picked out a Transformers set. Predictably, Goon picked a pink-themed Ed Hardy-type of tattoo design that would look OK on a 10 year old girl. Also, the Goon had a beautiful new pink scooter on which to speed around.
It was that moment- as I was kneeling in our garage- that I count among my most proud moments as a dad. As I was strapping Goon into his pink knee pads, I looked up at him.
“You know, dude, sometimes people are going to laugh at you because you like pink or you like girl things. You just tell yourself that it’s OK- it’s OK to like those things. It’s OK to be who you are.”
Turning to his older brother, the Noodle, I shared with him what he was going to hear.
“Some people are going to make fun of [the Goon] because he likes girl things. It’s going to be hard for you to hear that but you know that we love [the Goon]. It’s OK for him to like girl things. It’s OK for you to stand up for your little brother.”
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my 41 years. I’ve been married 3 times. I’ve said things that I wish I could take back. I’ve followed the crowd and looked back with regret because I didn’t have the courage to say, “This is wrong.” But that moment, in the bright sunlight spilling into my garage, I’m proud of the lesson I shared with my two youngest sons. To write about it now brings honest tears to my eyes.
By way of disclosure, I admit that I have bias in the whole “Nature vs. Nurture” argument. I have many family members that are gay. I have dear friends that are gay. I love all of them and stand staunchly by them against anyone that would condemn them merely based on how they identify themselves.
Again, I recognize that this is a polarizing topic. My boys have someone that loves them dearly that identifies with beliefs typically associated with those of evangelical Christians. Out of fairness, I will identify that person only as X. X truly and sincerely believes that being “gay” is an offense in God’s eyes. I don’t think that X is motivated by anything other than sincere belief. Nevertheless, I believe that X is wrong.
Goon has identified with the things that speak to him. Who am I to second-guess him? As a 3 year old, you could make the argument that he has the purity of youth. Goon has no agenda. He has no politics. He is merely being himself. If you believe in God, you should count on His omniscience and omnipotence to render any judgment that He deems necessary. Relax- He’s got it. One could argue that Jesus’s message was, “Love one another.” Focus on that.
And so- I say this: I love all of my sons. If the Goon is gay, or if he is transgender (because he increasingly says, “I want to be the GIRL”), then I will be sad. Not as any kind of condemnation. Merely the sadness of a parent that doesn’t want their child to face the cruel reality of our world. Nevertheless, I can’t shield the Goon from the ugliness of the world. I would hope that he is gay and not transgender because, with so many gay family and friends, I see how difficult being gay can be. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be transgender. I recognize that the worst thing I can teach my son is that he must hide who he is.
I will never do that to my son.
I love him.
In recognition of the great void that is the Internet, this post will come down the moment that the Goon is ashamed by it. Everyone else will need to abide.
To anyone on the fence, I say this: as a parent, it is not your job to protect your children from the ugliness of the world. (Because-DUH- you can’t.) All you can do is make them secure in the belief that being WHO THEY ARE is OK.
This counts. And it’s the most important job that you’ll have as a parent.
[NOTE: Interestingly, this issue has been weighing on both my wife and I. She writes a blog here and separately developed her own post today. I think this acknowledges the importance of this issue to each of us. My thank you and acknowledgment to her for first coining the terms “Noodle” and “Goon”.]
[Update: August 2013- A year later, there’s an update to the Goon’s story. You can read it here.]