Last week, my wife gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, bouncing baby boy. He is all the things that you hope new babies are. A blessing. Loud. Adorable. Soft. Precious. Gassy. Alert. Moderately bemused. Perpetually hangry. Vaguely human. Somewhat reminiscent of Fred Sanford.
He is also life-changing. He’s our second child, but our first boy—my first son—and there are myriad reasons why this first son status is so crucial. I look forward to people asking if I plan to dress him like a miniature replica of me, just so I can respond, “Why would I do that? He’s his own person, not a miniature replica of me,” and walk away. I’m anticipating the day I’m able to teach him how to catch, because then his big sister—who’s practically a catching maven now—will have someone to play with while I’m crafting clever Facebook statuses about fatherhood. And I’m more than anxious at the thought of our first trip to the barbershop, because if it’s anything like my first trip to the barber, I might have to fight a barber—like my dad almost had to—and I’ve never done that before. Mostly though, I’m beyond grateful for this boy person in my life because holding him in my arms and looking into his eyes will finally teach me to do something I’ve never done, which is respect and honor men.
Although I am 39 years old, and although I’ve encountered tens of thousands of men in those 39 years (the vast majority of whom, I think, were human beings) and although I am a man, treating men with kindness and compassion is something that I just never learned to do. When I’d see men and boys—and this includes when I’d look in the mirror—and I’d ponder whether to have any empathy for them, I’d just think “Nah.”
Of course, I’ve grown to respect men and think of them as equals worthy of protection and care. I was—and still am!—aware of all of the statistics about how boys are more likely than girls to drop out of school and how men are more likely than women to be incarcerated and how males (in general) are more likely than females (in general) to be Kappas. And these things mattered to me, but in theory. They mattered mattered. But none of it mattered mattered mattered—it wasn’t real—until that boy was born, and I held that boy against my manly chest. And then, and only then, did I start to really get it.
Now, because of this male child that I’m legally and morally obligated to care for, I am more sensitive to the unique challenges facing men. I’m more cognizant of the language I use, the images I consume, the music I listen to, the people I surround myself with, and the sports teams I root for. I’m more mindful and respectful of my dad and my uncles and my cousins and my homies and my barber and my favorite male barista and the rest of the men currently in my life, and I even find myself thinking back on past relationships I’ve had with men and wishing I’d regarded them with more empathy. I now shudder at the thought of all the times I was on the basketball court and guarded by men shorter than me, and how boorish and vulgar I was when I’d post them up and dunk on them. I’m ashamed of myself.
Just think, for a moment, about how much better men would be to men if more men had boys. That should be a requirement, actually. Vague eugenics aside, how else can you expect men to have any sort of compassion for a gender comprising half of Earth’s population if we don’t literally create one of them with our own sperm? Where else are we going to find that? How else will we learn to respect them?
This transformation hasn’t happened overnight. I still have considerable biases and blind spots about men that need rectified. But now, when I look in my son’s sleepy eyes and he stares back at me, wondering when this awkwardly bearded man is going to hand him back to his mother, I know that I have an investment. A stake. Some skin in the game. (It’s his skin, but still.)
Thank you, son.